GWR First Class: Is it worth it?
I’ve always heard variable things about the First Class experience on Great Western Railway. Of course, they’re famous for their Pullman dining service, which is said to be the best on-train eating and drinking experience left on the railways in Britain. But, that’s only on a select few trains. So, what’s a bog-standard first-class trip like? I went out to take a trip in GWR First Class and see what it was all about.
Where can I get GWR First Class?
If you want to try the GWR First Class experience, then you’ll mostly find it on routes to and from London. These include:
- Carmarthen/Swansea/Cardiff – Bristol Parkway – London
- Penzance/Plymouth – Exeter – Taunton – London
- Hereford/Worcester – Oxford – London
- Bristol – Bath – London
You’ll also find First Class on trains between Reading and Gatwick Airport and selected services between Cardiff and Taunton/Penzance. Be warned though, there’s no on-board service on these trains, nor is there anything on the trains that run only between Oxford and London, or Newbury/Bedwyn and London.
Do I get any lounge access with GWR First Class?
So, this is where the trip in GWR First Class begins. I was going to take the 13:50 train from London Paddington up to Worcester Foregate Street. I arrived at Paddington a little after 1pm, so I had plenty of time to kick back and relax. A word of advice: if you want to head straight for the lounge, and you’ve arrived on the Hammersmith & City Line, then don’t head for the station concourse. Instead, follow the signs and stay on the footbridge over the platforms. Keep going right to the far end, as the lounge is on Platform 1.
You’ll need to show your ticket to get into the lounge, and then you’re free to find somewhere to chill out. I was quite impressed with the GWR First Class lounge here, as you had a nice choice of big armchairs, tables for two, and even a place to work and watch the world go by. As for the food and drink, it was what you’d expect. There were biscuits, crisps, and a variety of drinks. The offering changes a little during the day.
One big plus about the GWR First Class lounge is that not only are there dedicated toilets, but there are showers that are free to use! You’d just need to bring a towel along with you. I also saw a hairdryer, so you don’t have to worry about wandering around with soaking wet hair.
Overall, it was a decent place to wait and enjoy a drink, and it certainly beats standing around on a busy concourse. You’ll also find lounges at Cardiff Central, Penzance and Truro.
What are the trains like?
So, it was soon time to hop on board the train. It had arrived from its previous journey a little late, but not to worry. The cleaning staff seemed to do a very efficient job of getting it tidied up, as within 10 minutes, it was ready to board. Unfortunately, they’d announced it without setting up the reservations properly, so I hovered a little longer before finding a seat in Coach E.
This was a five-carriage train, and it seemed that the GWR First Class carriage with all of the reservations in was D, while E was left completely unreserved. The seats were all in a 2+1 layout, with it mostly being tables for four or individual seats, and a single table for two in Coach D. Coach E had a pair of seats side-by-side, but they didn’t have the best view:
Every seat had access to a three-pin socket and a USB socket, and there was a decent amount of recline. All-in-all, I was fairly comfortable in my seat. It was a little bit firm, but the recline made up for it. We were soon ready to leave, and it was quite a busy service. There were still some seats to choose from, but only sharing at the tables for four.
My main issue with the trains themselves was that they tend to lurch and bounce at high speeds. London to Didcot Parkway was quite lively, and that’s putting it politely. Don’t leave open containers of drinks on the table, as they’ll probably end up on the floor or in your lap.
What’s the GWR First Class service like?
So, what do you get in GWR First Class for the money? We’ve been over the seat and the carriage, and it’s certainly a step up from Standard Class. But, do you get any food or drink? The answer was yes, as a trolley started to come through a few minutes after we left Paddington. Here’s the feast that I ended up with:
Crisps and water. I could have had biscuits if I was so inclined, as well. It was a pretty similar offering to what you’d get in the lounge, really. You could get tea, coffee, coke, Diet Coke, and water when it came to drinks. It was better than nothing, but don’t forget that these trains do journeys such as London to Penzance. That’s a longer journey time than London to Edinburgh, where LNER would furnish you with a plentiful supply of food and drink.
You have to aim for a Pullman service if you want to rely on any sort of food service. You need to pack your own refreshments if you’re making a long trip in GWR First Class, otherwise. It’s a bit of a nitpick, but the bottles of water were definitely overfilled, too. Considering the poor ride quality of the trains I mentioned above, it became inevitable that I spilt water on myself both times I opened a bottle.
The host was friendly, at least, and she came through multiple times. After Paddington, she came through after Oxford, and again after Moreton-in-Marsh (so roughly every 45 minutes). On top of that, she had two customers needing assistance to look after. She was doing a great job doing a balancing act. The GWR First Class service was good from a human perspective, it was just a shame that the food and drink offering was so poor. What’s more, this is only offered between 06:00 and 19:30 on weekdays. If you’re travelling late, or on a weekend, you won’t get anything.
So, is GWR First Class worth it?
I suppose it depends on your expectations and how much you pay. There’s no fine dining. There’s barely any dining at all. But, you get a reasonable long-distance product with bigger seats that recline, and more chances of getting one in general. I wouldn’t recommend paying top dollar for it, but there are ways to upgrade for less.
For example, you can easily upgrade on board if it’s a weekend or Bank Holiday. The maximum upgrade cost is £25. For a bit of peace on a weekend, it isn’t bad.
The main stickler for me is that if you compare it to other long-distance operators, the service offered is among the worst. It’s not a truly ‘premium’ product, and so you shouldn’t go out of your way to pay a premium price.
Is there anything else I should know?
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