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Grand Central Rail — What is your experience?

A few weeks ago, I bought same-day, return tickets between London Kings Cross & York for a day trip to York on Saturday Oct 19 for a fantastic, inexpensive fare of £35.

Recently, I was looking at TripAdvisor about things in York and came across very negative, descriptive reviews of Grand Central Rail both in terms of reliability as well as the discomfort of the ride. Trains were canceled so often that those that weren’t canceled were packed. People sat anywhere therefore a seat reservation was worthless. The toilets were backed up and thus disgusting even on morning routes. These are just examples that were posted often.

I thought I remember reading that the train cars are relatively new but they could be reserved for weekday business travel service as opposed to weekend leisure service.

For those of you who have traveled on Grand Central, what has your experience been like? Is what I am reading in TripAdvisor hyperbole?

Thanks.

Posted by
1850 posts

I’ve never travelled on Grand Central but often problems are not of a company’s own making – damage to overhead cables, power outage on the network, suicides on the lines, other companies’ trains breaking down.

I don’t think the trains are that new. The newest trains are operated by LNER.

For a two hour journey to York, you have nothing to be concerned about. Once you’ve travelled be good to hear your experience!

Posted by
4528 posts

Grand Central run Class 180 trains, which have never been that great over their 20 year life but GC is usually towards the top of the Customer Satisfaction surveys.

There is an issue with any open access operator in that they don't run many services in a day, so if one has to be cancelled the arrangements can mean a long wait, unless you have a ticket valid on other operators' services.

Posted by
25749 posts

As one single data point - because we all know how reliable extrapolating from one data point can be - LOL - the last train of the day from Grand Central southbound through York, is running this way:

I just checked (at 21:01 UK time) and it left Sunderland on time at 17:30, Hartlepool on time, Eaglescliffe on time, but

left Northallerton 12 mins late, so that's where we had a small delay.

Then Thirsk was 11 mins late and then at York, due to depart at 19:12 it departed 9 mins late.

It was however expected to arrive at 21:08 at London Kings Cross, on time.

Posted by
25749 posts

and indeed at 21:08 the arrivals board shows it arrived on time.

Posted by
3173 posts

Thank you very much for your replies. Some people do love to complain on TripAdvisor; my concern was that there was an abundance of it.

I appreciate the stats, Nigel. Numbers give an an unemotional snapshot. I’m also glad to learn that there is no service disruption planned for that day.

I know things can disrupt a train that have nothing to do with a train line itself.

You all are right. It is just a 2 hour ride so I’ll just go with the flow. I’m looking forward to returning to York too!

I will certainly let you know how it all goes. Again, many thanks.

Posted by
1838 posts

In the event of a train failure, I thought that other companies were obligated to transport any passengers that were ‘stranded’ - even if it involves a rival company. (The rival company on this route is LNER).

Posted by
25749 posts

I don't know of any obligation, but members of ATOC (Association of Train Operating Companies) as it was, now called Rail Delivery Group, do have in place methods to deal with disruption which usually means accepting each others' tickets at some point.

This isn't automatic - the company with the problem has to request assistance and they only do that after looking at the prognosis and time scales.

Most of the train companies in the UK are members, but "Open Access" companies do not have franchises to run trains, are not members, and often do not receive the benefits of the trade association that members get. Grand Central Rail is an "Open Access" operator who pay Network Rail to have access to the rails and stations, and they run fewer trains. I think it is 5 each way between London and Sunderland via York, for example, versus the at least hourly LNER.

Posted by
3173 posts

If worse comes to the worst and my train to/from York were to be cancelled. if the train I'm allowed to take is crowded, are there seats for disabled passengers available in a particular carriage?

Posted by
3173 posts

I am not surprised at the kindness. Thanks Emma. Even on the crowded subway, when I ask, maybe 98% of the time someone allows me to sit down. Such kindness.

Posted by
4528 posts

Usually with Grand Central if one service cannot run they make arrangements with LNER for tickets to be accepted on a specific one of their trains, ie you don't have a choice and it may not necessarily be the next one.

Posted by
3173 posts

How do passengers learn which train that is? Is the specific train announced over a public address system?

Posted by
16860 posts

Probably some of the complaints you read (if recent) as well as the statistics that Nigel linked from this summer were influenced by the heatwave. See this July 26 news article, for instance.

Posted by
3173 posts

Thanks Emma. I was making an assumption, perhaps false, that the platform information would be made available on the Grand Central railway app.

Kings Cross is huge. When I arrive in the morning, I will ask one of the agents for platform information and if he or she doesn’t know, I will ask for the general area so I can at least have a head start.

Posted by
8889 posts

How do passengers learn which train that is?

Because as soon as you walk into York station, on your left is a huge bank of displays listing all the trains, one screen for each train.
See photo here: https://www.google.com/maps/@53.9579461,-1.0929416,2a,75y,188.54h,93.52t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sneqorKM-k0Sw1J8wBnEn2w!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

If you pan this round, you can see all the people standing there, looking up at the displays to find there train.
Google "street-view" appears to have done a "pedestrian-view" inside York station. You can walk your way in from the street onto the platforms.

Posted by
1838 posts

If you go to the following website, insert your station in the location box & then click Submit - up will come the trains as of now. Then click back / forward through the hours +/- to find the platform that your intended train left from today. The odds are that it will leave from the same platform on the day(s) of your trip(s). (You can also use the website at the time on your phone). Clicking on the train code (like 1A34 ) will also show you the calling points and at the time of the journey - whether you are running to time.https://www.realtimetrains.co.uk/search/advanced

Posted by
4666 posts

There are two main disadvantages to Grand Central trains in my experience (have to travel from London to York every so often for work).

Grand Central often use trains which have a diesel engine on each carriage, which means they are noisier than other trains on the route which are electric or have an engine at each end.

The Grand Central trains have very small luggage racks above the seats, which are too small to take a normal small-size suitcase. Therefore you have to put small cases in the luggage racks at the end of the carriage, or between the seats.

Posted by
3173 posts

I will not be traveling with luggage so their reduced luggage capacity won’t be an issue for me.

Now I know that even if my train isn’t canceled at Kings Cross, I need to find an agent to see if he or she can locate where the platform is if that information is available to that agent. I have been to Kings Cross before and know how large it is. I’ve also been to York before and at least I know that will be easier.

Is https://www.realtimetrains.co.uk/search/advanced reliable for Grand Central trains? If Kings Cross has free Wi-Fi, that sounds like an option too.

Posted by
3173 posts

A bank of seats near the platforms? That’s convenient! Thank you for that information and you are right, I should stop overthinking this.

Posted by
3173 posts

Emma, where is the Great Northern Hotel on the map you provided? I can’t find it. Thanks

Posted by
1838 posts

Real Times Trains is reliable for all train companies as it is showing the platforms that the trains are scheduled to use. Because there are so many trains, they have slots where they are timed to arrive/depart. As you can imagine, it would be no good if loads of trains had to queue up at say the approach to King’s Cross in order to get a platform. Things can go haywire when something goes wrong - such as a weather related incident - but usually things go according to ‘plan’. I think that you maybe worrying too much.

Posted by
3173 posts

It’s the big blue shape towards the bottom left. Find the blue egg
shape and move up.

Thanks!

Posted by
23 posts

We just got home from England, and I saw this before we left, and it of course made me nervous....we were taking the same route from York to London on Grand Central. Honestly? It was a lovely and comfortable ride. Zero complaints! Kick back and relax and have a great time. We LOVED York, super charming town.

Posted by
3173 posts

That is super! Thank you for taking the time to come back here and share your wonderful experience.

Posted by
3173 posts

With the exception of the York bound train leaving 35 minutes late, the train ride in both directions was perfectly fine. Delays on Amtrak let alone the Long Island Railroad happen all the time so this was no big deal. Unfortunately, I was assigned seats going backwards both ways. I did specify aisle seats at a table (which I got) but I thought I specified seats facing forward but perhaps that wasn’t an option. At this point, I don’t remember. In both directions, a person seated across from me was kind enough to switch seats with me. On the way to York, that person was the person sitting at the window facing forward and preferred sitting on the aisle so it was win/win for both of us. The train back to Kings Cross departed exactly on time and arrived at Kings Cross exactly on time.

A perfectly enjoyable ride. It was easy to locate where to sit while waiting for my train to York. Plenty of benches on the platform at York waiting the train to London.

I would have no problem taking Grand Central again. The cost savings are huge as well.

Posted by
1838 posts

If you can find an unreserved seat on a British train, then there is nothing to stop you leaving the reserved seat and swopping.

Posted by
4528 posts

Strictly speaking an Advance ticket is only valid for the booked seat when you have one. You don't see it enforced that often but I have on busy trains on occasion.

Posted by
3173 posts

From what I saw, the enforcement of reserved seats is self enforced. On my outbound train to York, I arrived at my seat and there were two women seated across from me. A man came to one of those seats and said it was his. He showed his ticket and both women apologized and left. It wasn’t a big deal.

Posted by
25749 posts

That's fairly typical around here, Continental. No hassle, just polite. Most of the time...