Okay, our update below is not quite the normal territory of Europe by Rail, but perhaps a piece which readers of the book will find of interest. Britain has long had short shrift in successive editions of Europe by Rail. The book focuses fair and square on the continent. But the 2011 edition of the book, due out on 3 March, does mark a break with its predecessors. We now have three routes in the book that start in London. No surprises perhaps that one uses Eurostar to speed to France. And for nostalgic diehards who still like to savour the salty tang of sea air, we include two routes that use traditional ferry services across the Channel to France.
Yes, we are that sort of traveller. We think it’s worth taking time to find interesting routes. The fastest way is not always the best. And that’s why we thought Wrexham and Shropshire ran the finest trains in Britain. Too bad that W&S has hit the buffers.
Looking back at rail journeys we made in 2010, we would say a December journey with UK operator Wrexham and Shropshire (W&S) really was one of the highlights. We travelled north from London’s Marylebone station on one of W&S’ sleek silver and grey trains, sliding through rime-clad Chiltern countryside. It was one of those bitterly cold winter days that are utterly memorable for their dry air, clear skies and icy beauty. On the way we enjoyed an early Christmas lunch: turkey with all the trimmings, Christmas pudding and custard, washed down with a glass of red wine.
This was travel as it should be. True, W&S was not the fastest. You could probably get to Shropshire quicker by speeding north on a Virgin service from London Euston and changing trains at Birmingham. But W&S had style, a dash of panache in a country where most folk look only for the cheapest or quickest travel options. So perhaps it is no great surprise that W&S has run into the buffers and the company has folded. No surprise, perhaps, but still very sad.
W&S ceased operations late last month. It was one of a small number of so-called open-access operators who run passenger train services outwith the normal franchise arrangements. Hull Trains and Grand Central are two other such operators. But W&S was unusual in that it shared elements of common ownership with franchise operator Chiltern Railways. Deutsche Bahn had an interest in both companies. Adrian Shooter chairs DB Regio UK as well as the board of Chiltern Railways. And he chaired the W&S board. We have huge respect for Adrian, who is one of the most creative and adventurous rail managers in the UK today. He has worked wonders with Chiltern.
W&S shared the Chiltern main line route out of Marylebone to the West Midlands. So ultimately W&S was a case of DB Regio offering two services that in part competed with each other. Open access operators are not subject to detailed franchise conditions. They are fleet-footed and entrepreneurial. They come, they go. For a spell, W&S offered what we believe was Britain’s most engaging rail service. It is a crying shame that it did not survive.
This article was first published as a hidden europe note.