In order to travel to London yesterday I called First Great Western about a week ago and was told that I could not make a booking on the 20th or 21st because of an impending strike. South West Trains likewise advised that while they had a service, the middle third would be by replacement bus service. Hmm, no thanks! So I looked at my 2008 "Bradshaw" and decided that the best choice would be 2 sides of a triangle: Tiverton to London via Birmingham!
Well, it all worked to plan, no strikes, no delays, no buses and a twenty minute connection at New Street. The nine car double Voyager now operated by Arriva Cross Country crested the 1:37 Lickey Incline without slowing down, very impressive! 1:37 doesn't sound a lot but in fact you can see the incline quite easily by lining up the window frame with buildings, etc. My first real journey on a Virgin Pendolino was effortless (they may be the best trains in the UK other than Eurostar) and very quiet. Unfortunately the journey was in the dark so I could only sense the tilting effect on the bends.
And now for the irony. There was a First Great Western train running direct to London. But of course my ticket was not valid. I understand that customer morale with FGW is now so low that passengers are planning to hold an "unpaid fares" day as a protest to their bad record of service, timekeeping, etc., etc. My experience with other train operating companies certainly puts FGW low on the list of customer satisfaction, though there have been some brighter moments.