I made my first longer journey of the year a week ago (Saturday). All very smooth, and at this time of year the number of people travelling is relatively modest, so there’s ample space to spread out a bit on the train. Unlike a few years ago when Saturdays were more expensive and at risk of disruption, it’s now the ideal day to travel, as it’s the only day the 10:44 from Plymouth stops at Westbury and makes a relatively decent connection for the south coast line.
As soon as the train pulled in, something was different. The livery has changed! Getting on, everything’s been reupholstered in a new colour scheme. The seats seem a little harder than before. It’s neither better nor worse than before (hmm, OK, the new headrests may be a tiny improvement), just different. As if the franchise on the line had changed without me hearing of it and a new operator had re-branded it. Looking for branding, I find “GWR”, the common name of Brunel’s original railway between London, west and southwest England, and Wales (being an abbreviation of Great Western Railway).
I get out the ‘phone to google for what’s going on. Turns out it is indeed still FirstGroup, and they’re carrying out a major rebranding exercise. It’s a work in progress: the other train (Westbury-Brighton) still sported the old FGW colours, as did both trains on my return journey on Wednesday.
Alas, whoever is responsible for the rebranding is evidently not a user of the service. For surely no actual user would have failed to take the opportunity to fix the huge, glaring defect on these trains: namely, the critical shortage of luggage space. The overhead racks are far too small for anything beyond a coat or commuter’s briefcase, and the rack provided at the end of the carriage is inevitably overfilled by the time there are enough passengers to occupy just 20% of the seats.
Until fairly recently, much of the seating was in groups of four around a table (trains are still like that on some lines). That left lots of spaces for luggage such as my backpack between pairs of back-to-back seats. Rearranging the seats and losing the back-to-backs lost the vast majority of the luggage space we used to enjoy. We desperately need a replacement!