Dear Sir Richard,
Thankfully I don’t have to travel on your trains very often, but every time I do I can’t help but feel sorry for those that use them regularly. Last Friday I travelled out from Leeds on the 11:10 to Cheltenham Spa and returned yesterday on the 11:12 from Cheltenham to Leeds. Whilst neither train was late, I can honestly say that your Virgin Voyager trains are easily amongst the worst designed pieces of engineering I’ve ever had the misfortune to use.
First off, the trains are far too short. How anyone ever thought that four carriage trains would be adequate on busy Intercity routes formally served by 125s is quite beyond me. There simply isn’t enough space, either seated our standing, and this problem is further emphasised by the plethora of other design faults.
Secondly, the onboard information systems are just useless. Most of us are used to a system of information on paper tickets and notices replaced after each journey, but you have done away with that in favour of an entirely electronic system. One of the major benefits of indicating seat reservations with tickets in the seat backs is that one can instantly tell at a glance from either the platform or vestibules whether there are any free seats in a given carriage. Using your digital displays one must examine the screen above each and every seat individually. Your end of carriage displays vary constantly, but never appear to show what one wants at any given moment. You have scrapped the paper notices indicating train routes, and there isn’t even a toilet availability indicator like those found on older trains. I recommend fitting large colour coded lights to the seat backs (red for reserved, green for available) and large clear signs indicating the coach letter, leaving the displays free to show route information. Oh, and why, oh why, are your carriages numbered A, C, D and F?
Finally, despite having spacious toilets, the remainder of the Voyager train feels unusually cramped. The aisle between the seats appears narrow. There is very little leg room. Seat backs feel steep and the table appears too low, yet there still isn’t room for a soft drink bottle from your shop to fit in the cup holder without hitting the back of the seat in front. Overhead luggage racks are too small for anything more than the smallest of bags. There’s barely space to move in the shop, let alone space for a queue, and anyone queuing through a doorway will find the doors constantly closing on them. And I’ve never managed to use the at seat audio, as the controller is just too awkward to use when sat next to a stranger. I don’t understand quite how, but the corridors between coaches feel even more cramped when standing than on the old slam-door trains still operating around my parent’s home on the line out of Charing Cross. I think it has something to do with their being less doors and an almost total lack of either natural light or fresh air.
I hope you find this constructive, but for the meantime I would be prepared to take a longer journey where possible rather than suffer the ordeal of these trains again.