scotland (4K)
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

Highland Chieftain Northbound

a letter to the train operator

12 April 2012

Karen Boswell
MD East Coast

Dear Ms Boswell,

Catering on the Northbound Highland Chieftain

I would be most grateful if you would commit to improving the availability of hot food on the northbound Highland Chieftain after its 16:30 stop in Edinburgh. Many passengers still have another three and a half hours to go to get to Inverness which may not even be their final destination. This journey extends through both tea time and dinner time and to offer no hot food other than a toasted Panini is appalling, particularly when there is already a capable chef on board.

I believe that this 8-hour journey, which can be much longer than that for passengers with connections at both ends, requires a much better catering service which should be accessible to both First and Standard passengers. There is a business market from Edinburgh northwards also which used to enjoy the satisfying "high teas" available from GNER in the restaurant car. It is more normal to have a hot meal at the end of the day rather than at lunchtime, so a much wider range of hot food available in the evenings north of Edinburgh is essential.

I believe the present East Coast Management has completely misunderstood the strategic role of the Highland Chieftain in providing a link from a wide area of the South of England to a wide area of the North of Scotland. Last week, I was sitting next to a nonagenarian from Hampshire who had left home at 8 a.m. Two other passengers were travelling from Halifax to Lybster via Helmsdale and another lady was going to Thurso. On an epic journey like this, there should be good quality hot food available for all passengers to purchase and thereby increase their enjoyment of the journey on this prestige train.

I had gone south on the Caledonian Sleeper, which was serving dishes such as beef casserole; and Haggis, neeps and tatties, as well as soup. In addition to the restaurant car, the East Coast services used to have microwavable dishes such as Lancashire hotpot, but I was told you no longer have the fridge space for this because it is all taken up by the First Class "offer." ScotRail can manage to serve tasty hot meals to all comers. It seems your priorities are all wrong.

We had been given egg sandwiches by TransPennine on the 12:16 train from Manchester and after an enforced three-hour wait in Edinburgh, more egg sandwiches (with inedible tomato) on your train at 19:00 passing Larbert. Presumably, egg is cheapest to provide? Some co-ordination with other operators would be useful!

Then we were served a dry hot cross bun or fruit scone WITHOUT BUTTER! I was told later by the man from Hampshire that butter had been served with the scones south of Edinburgh.

All this food was dumped on top of a napkin on a plate. This meant you had to rescue an already soiled napkin for your lap. I don't think any of the passengers were impressed with your "offer." We were more understanding of why the train arrived 2 hours 22 minutes late.

The East Coast food is unhealthily full of carbohydrates. I don't see any need for you to provide "free" wine either. Could you please spend the money on some healthy hot food instead? Your breakfast on the southbound service fulfils a need for those who have risen early. There is a similar need to be met for those who are travelling through tea and dinner time, some of them having been travelling for a very long time indeed.

I would be most grateful if your reply would concentrate on what you will do to improve the catering for the unique circumstances of this prestige train. Please spare me any statistics about how the first class carryings have gone up, and use that fact to justify making significant improvements for both first and standard class passengers. That would be appreciated. Yours sincerely,

Richard Ardern.

[There had been no reply to this letter as we went to press on 28 April. East Coast had failed on their "aim to get back with a response within 10 working days." FoFNL believes the matter is too important to wait for our next issue in four months' time. Passengers have already spent 11 months without adequate provision of hot food. - RA.]