Trains and bikes – a match made in hell

I’m on a train at the moment, a Virgin Voyager train from Watford Junction to Manchester, as it happens.  I make this journey about every six weeks or so, to stay with my friend and colleague Dave Bancroft in Amersham.

To be sensible about the environment and be good to myself, I always take my bike; panniers laden with laptop and overnight stuff, and I cycle to Manchester, then on from Watford for the final 12 miles to Dave’s house.  It’s quicker and easier than the car, and I get to ride my bike… win – win.

What I HAVE to write about though, is the Virgin Trains ‘policy’ on taking my bike along for the journey.  The trains all have a good section in the front or rear of the train capable of taking a few bikes, I book well in advance, including a very clear request for a cycle reservation, so there shouldn’t really be any problems.  Should there?

Well, on every time I’ve made this journey, there has been what approaches mayhem in simply getting on the train, and off it.  Today’s return journey sums that up:

Having booked my tickets three weeks ago, and being very clearly told that I don’t need a ticket for my bike (just a reservation reference number for it), I arrived in Watford, ten minutes to spare, to be asked for my ticket.  I explained that I was told that I didn’t need one, and then had to explain this to one other person (from a different company), before I was allowed through the gate.  They made it very clear that the reference number was none of their business and they had to see a ticket.

When I got onto the platform, I was asked by not one, not two, but THREE separate people from Virgin trains whether I had a reservation for the bike.  Each time, I showed them the reference number on the piece of paper.  One of the kind people, called Dave, as it happens, helped me onto the train, with my bike.

When I got on the train, the ticket inspector checked my tickets, and I thought it wise to let him know that I had a bike in the train and would be alighting at Manchester.  He asked if I had a reservation number, looked at it, then I started to lose it.  I asked him what the reservation number meant; he said he didn’t know.  I asked him who (on the train staff or the station staff) actually saw that there had been a reservation for a bike; he said that no-one sees this.  I then asked the obvious… why did I have to make a reservation?

I honestly feel like a criminal the way they ask me, each time, whether I have a reservation for my bike.  Now I know that the number itself doesn’t cross-check with anything, I’m doubly annoyed.  Pah!