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The Friends of the Far North Line
Cairdean Na Loine Tuath
the campaign group for rail north of Inverness - lobbying for improved services for the local user, tourist and freight operator

East Coast Meals Not So Hot

Regular passengers on East Coast's Highland Chieftain have been complaining bitterly about the new "improved" catering arrangements introduced in May. In particular the near-absence of hot dishes in the evenings north of Edinburgh is proving to be very unpopular with passengers.

GNER had an excellent restaurant serving a full breakfast southbound in the mornings and two and three course dinners northbound. These were available to Standard as well as First Class passengers. The special "Highland Chieftain High Tea" (as the dinners were called) were legendary.

The rot set in when National Express got in to a mess and restricted hot meals to First Class passengers only. Even if there was surplus food, it was decreed that it had to be thrown away rather than being offered to Standard passengers. At-seat meals in First Class meant that the dining car became unused and passengers who hadn't ordered a meal were subjected to unwanted cooked food smells.

Now that the Government's East Coast "company" is running the service, it has been decided that "hot" food and alcoholic drink should be free on demand in First Class to try and attract more passengers to upgrade. The service offered has now become a lottery ranging from a reasonable breakfast on weekdays to a mere croissant at weekends southbound. The northbound weekday hot food offer may be nothing more than a warm quiche and at weekends a toasted panini. What a comedown from the restaurant car we used to enjoy!

Highlanders are said to be blessed with Second Sight, but you need more than that to work out whether the food on offer will be worth the extra fare. Fortunately, it is not totally a First Class Lottery, as the extra roominess and comfier seats are still on offer. Standard Class passengers have suffered too. Those on for the whole eight hours from London can forget lunch and dinner in the restaurant car and will probably be lucky to find two satisfying alternatives from the buffet car - one perhaps, but not two. Thankfully the trolley service was not one of the ones which were withdrawn.

East Coast have got it very wrong and should rethink their whole service philosophy for the Highland Chieftain. Passengers deserve better.