Why I Won’t Be Using Pendolino Trains Again

10 Jan 2019

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

Be it bad luck or my frequent use of Britain’s rail network, but on a semi-regular basis, I take a journey and find myself in some bizarre predicament. There was the time the train derailed outside of Paddington and I ended up sleeping in a stranger’s bed in Winchester. And then the time we got stranded in Brussels for 24 hours. And who can forget the time our car had to be pulled out of a swamp by a tractor?

And so here we are again.

Back in November, I was heading up north to go see my mum do a speech at her work conference. At some point, I thought it would be a good idea to book the 8:07pm train from Euston to Liverpool. This was based on the absurdly high rail prices combined with a very recently expired young person’s railcard (rest in peace my friend).

I was v casual about killing the 3 hours between finishing work and actually getting my train but when it came to the day, the prospect of hanging around London stations for 3 hours, doing a two-and-a-half hour train journey and arriving in Liverpool quite late was suddenly seeming rather unappealing. It also dawned on me that I’d never actually dined alone in a restaurant before (assuming we’re not counting many a lunches had alone in Costa) and I felt even more put out. I have no idea how I’ve gone so long without going out for a meal with oneself but I felt like the first date should be somewhere more special than London Euston.

But hey, I am a strong, independent woman and all that. So yeah I had a date with myself in Cafe Rouge. Was v much into it and am all for repeating again. A success.

Kinda went downhill on the train though. Okay, it went downhill big time.

As I strolled onto the platform, chipper from my very pleasant date with myself, I clocked that the train was a Virgin pendolino.

(If you’re unfamiliar with pendolino trains, they tilt back and forth a lot to enable them to take curves at high speed without – apparently – causing any discomfort to passengers. HA HA.)

Probably worth mentioning here that I am prone to travel sickness, and whilst trains are usually a method of transport that don’t strike me down, the last time I’d been on a pendolino train – a few years previously – I’d spent a lot of the journey having to take deeeeeep breaths. But that had been on a completely different line and given my track record with trains is better than any other mode of transport (let’s not discuss boats), I was determined to remain chipper.

This lasted for about half an hour. At first, I was amused by watching people attempt to stay upright whilst walking down the aisles which was akin to watching Bambi learning to walk after one too many tequila shots. I was trying to remember whether that was standard for pendolino trains or whether I was just on a particularly unsteady one.

But then I stopped thinking about much at all because nausea hit with the force of a freight train. Oh the joy. I did all my usual tactics. Moved seats, pressed my face against the window, sipped water, a lot of heavy breathing blah blah blah. What would have really helped was if the train could stop wobbling about like we were in the middle of a hurricane but no such luck.

I eventually decided to brave walking to the loo, naturally chose the exact moment the train tilted really suddenly and I was thrown into the side of a woman’s chair, my arm taking the full blow of the fall and the innocent woman’s ear taking the full blow of my excessive swearing. It hurt, a lot.

This was the final straw as far as my stomach was concerned but don’t worry, I did make it to the bathroom. As the £25 I’d spent on dinner was quite literally going down the toilet, I was suddenly disturbed by a bodiless voice.

‘Hello. This is your toilet.’

Because, you know, Virgin train toilets talk to you. I think it’s supposed to be funny. To take your mind off the fact you’re in a dark-but-glowing-with-a-weird-colour cubicle that smells like piss because what man can be expected to hit the bowl when the train is swaying more than drunk Bambi?!

Reader, you may have guessed, I did not find it funny*.

The very last thing I wanted at that point was to be bombarded with Richard fucking Branson’s sense of humour. Fuck off Richard.

It was only when I finally made it out of the trippy prison cells that are Richard’s toilets that I noticed that my arm had swollen up to twice the size. GOODO. I tried to ignore the pain for a while but the swelling seemed to be getting worse so I eventually concluded that I probably needed to go on a quest for ice. So I staggered on down to the café carriage and asked the bemused woman if she had any ice. She gave me a blank look and seemed unwilling to help me until I held up my marshmallow arm and she told me to head up to first class where they’d give me some ice. Because apparently frozen water is not for the likes of us peasants.

First class was coach A. I was in coach H. Uh huh, I had to stagger through NINE coaches trying to maintain my balance with an arm I couldn’t use because I’d injured it trying to maintain my balance. It is, quite frankly, a miracle I didn’t fall over. Anyway, I got the ice. First class staff were a lot more amenable to helping me and I got a bag full of ice and some sympathy. One of the staff members even admitted that the train was much more unsteady than usual. Of course, the ice bag leaked so by the time I got to Liverpool – approximately 87329873897 hours later – I was damp, bruised and smelling a little bit funky.

The mottled bruising on my arm that came out over the next few days was quite spectacular and my mum was genuinely concerned that I’d broken it. I’m fairly sure I didn’t although perhaps if I had, Virgin would have been a tad more sympathetic. Apparently - according to a letter they sent me - ‘the train was tilting as normal and expected meaning a smoother ride, and there were no reports of rough riding’. Uh huh, sure pal.

Still, they refunded my ticket which sort of made up for the cost of the dinner that was never digested. Maybe I’ll have another date with myself at the Café Rouge in London Euston. Won’t be catching a Virgin pendolino train though. Screw you and your toilets Branson.

*Until later when my sense of humour returned along with my appetite.

In case you were keen to see my mouldy arm


  1. Oh my gosh, that train sounds horrendous and just reading it makes me never want to take that train either! At least they refunded you your ticket. I get like that as well where I think, "3 hours layover? Not bad..." and when it comes down to it, I wish I took a different route.