Dear Richard Branson,

This blog is an open letter to your regarding the worst train journey I have ever had curtsey of Virgin Trains. I paid £69 for the privilege  – I’ll be lucky to even receive £6.90 the 10% I’m entitled to under the National Rail Conditions of Carriage in train vouchers instead of cash. It won’t even begin to compensate for the distress it caused to me and other customers tied up in the delays. Now I have to find the strength to dare return to Glasgow on Thursday morning and again on 25th November – by train.

Message from @virgintrains on twitter. It reads: @alisonvsmith So sorry for what was clearly a dreadful experience. Please get in touch.Via Twitter I received an apology. None of your staff noticed any of my tweets till the next day! Yet I was even was offered a place to stay that night by someone living near Preston.

Why are @virgintrains using twitter if you don’t communicate with your customers in real time?  I’ve also been asked to complete a Virgin trains complaint form on the web. The form is not even accessible for disabled customers. It allows no room to give you my full complaint.

If you were travelling 598 miles back and forth for a funeral you want a safe and stress free journey there and back quickly as possible wouldn’t you?

So whilst you were enjoying the delights at the weekend of Formula 1 at Abu Dhab in Dubai, sipping Champaign and being interviewed on the BBC spare a thought for the thousands of us caught up in the flooding chaos between Penrith and Lancaster on Sunday helped in no way by your staff.

Where were the contingency plans in place? Where was the information on notice boards? It’s not the first time we have had flooding on the west coast line. I uploaded all the pictures I took onto flickr click here. A few of them are in this blog.

Carlisle train station packed with passengers taken off trains not knowing where to go. Carlisle train station entrance. Packed with people and bags. Absolute chaos

We have so much digital technology around us, internet and mobile phones why was it impossible for train staff at a train station or replacement bus services to not have up to date information at their fingertips to ensure the best outcome for passengers stranded? (To avoid an unnecessary extra  2 hours on a bus when we could have got a train from Lancaster)?

Carlisle Station Departure noticeboard 13.40

Carlisle Station Depature Noticeboard 13.45

My itinerary on Sunday went like this:

09.45 Driven to Glasgow Cental    10.31 Glasgow Central – train departs

12.00-13.00 Penrith station packed train sits for an hour with passengers standing train pulls out station, turns back to Carlisle

13.15 Now at Carlisle station – everyone off the train chaos no staff, oh 2 staff one with a tanoy, no information zilch.

14.59 Finally on bus to Preston via M6 … it crawls along (another 3 hours to go on the bus)

16.35 Bus drives slowly through Camforth, Bolton Lee Sands and Lancaster (past a sign saying 2½ miles to Morecambe) – bus drives past the station; I find out from my partner in Telford that there is a Birmingham train due at 17.05  from Lancaster taking 15 mins to Preston – we could have caught it. Driver tells me he is not stopping, has no contact with Virgin Trains. No! He continues slowly back onto a very choked up M6 2 lanes doing 30mph.

Preston Station Platform 7 back entrance to station via large flight of stairs.18.04 It’s been over 3 hours stuck on this bus. We arrive Preston station. Chaos; cars and buses – funny still no staff to direct or help. I struggle with my heavy bag up a massive flight of stairs and the down another set to reach the platform. I’d got a text from Telford 10 mins earlier telling me to catch  the 18.25. At least I knew it wouldn’t be long to wait. I’m in tears.

18.13 I’m waiting for Birmingham New St train on platform 6

Finally a train. Notice reads 18.25 to Birmingham New St from Preston station

Wolverhampton Station Departure Notice 19.58

Carlisle station 14.03 chaos outside station with lots of people standing waiting. No buses arrived for ages.18.30 Train arrives I sit in First Class – only because there is no where else to sit.

Conductor is on the other half of train that’s sealed off from our side. Staff in buffet cart contacts train guard. I’m asked to get off at Wigan and get back on the other half of train. I refuse – my bags are too heavy and there are no seats. Train guard refuses to arrange a taxi for me at Wolverhampton because I can get the connecting train even if I have to wait.

19.57 arrive Wolverhampton – it’s been 9½ since I left Glasgow. I’m exhausted. I ask a guard again for help and request a taxi. ‘It’s a natural disaster … tough.’ I go into Customer Services told they are ‘unable to authorise a taxi’.

I face another 2 hours travelling time including 2 more buses in Telford to get home . I’ve got a 45 min wait on a cold platform for the 20.43 Newtown train. It’s usually late arriving at Platform 1, changing to Platform 2 and back again to 1 at the last minute – I can’t stand the thought of going through that.

20.20 Virgin staff agree to put me in cab from Wolverhampton to Telford after witnessing how upset I was. I was very grateful not to have another 2 hour train/bus journey.

20.55 I arrive home in Telford I’m hungry and very very tired out.

Why did I find out more about train connections via text from my partner 200 miles away than from Virgin Train staff or the notices at Carlisle and Preston station or the bus?

On my way up to Glasgow initially (Sunday 25th) I had to catch 4 trains – all packed with people, kids and bags in the isles it went: Telford – Shrewsbury / Shrewsbury – Manchester Piccadilly / Manchester Piccadilly – Preston / Preston – Glasgow [standing most of the way]. The train journey should have taken 4 hours. It took 6.

It took 1o½ hours to get from Glasgow to Telford on Sunday it’s only 299 miles. It should have taken 4. It’s 6 on a Sunday because Virgin Trains only run one train every 2 hours South from Glasgow; starting at Carlisle with not even a direct route to Wolverhampton.

God help you if you are DEAF! It was impossible to find out what was happening from staff at Carlisle station who asked me ‘can you lipread’ and yelled in my ear. Do any of Virgin Train staff under go Disability or Deaf awareness training? What about other disabled or elderly passengers or those with kids? Where was the help? Got luggage forget it. It was a free for all chaos.

Before I left on Sunday am I found  4 different routes for the same journey on the internet. Rail Planner  tells me to go via Lancaster. Virgin Trains via Preston. Virgin Trains – I also download the pdf about engineering works on the same page that I am advised to change at Carlisle. Finally at 10am the Ticket office in Glasgow Central tells me to change at Preson. Confused? Me too.

This experience bypasses the 10 hour journey I had several years ago from Glasgow to London Euston where the replacement bus from Glasgow to Preston was driven by a drunk driver wavering across the M74 and M6 lanes whilst smoking a cigarette (the rest of the bus lit up too despite the no smoking signs). In the end his near misses forced a mutiny and we made him drop us off at Carlisle instead of Preston.

Nope this was worse. Much, much worse.

I hope you enjoyed Dubai Richard.