Arriva Trains Wales Club 55 – a struggle from Mid Cheshire! ….

Posted on January 17th, 2017, by The Chairman

The Arriva Trains Wales (ATW) Club 55 offer is back on again. Potentially great news for those of us over 55.

But from this part of the world, it’s very difficult to use, especially so when compared to the Transpennine Express Club 55 offers.

Being unable to start a journey before 9am Monday-Friday precludes days out for some. Many over 55s are retired or semi-retired and like days out during the week, saving the weekends for friends and family. Travelling around Monday-Friday before 9am is busier, but being at the extremity of ATW’s network, we’d be starting in the peak, but very soon travelling on off peak trains. Leaving after 9am for a day out this time of year would mean often returning in the dark. A shame not to be able to admire the magnificent scenery on the return trip.

There’s the ability to buy an add-on fare of £2.50 for use on Northern trains, but on the Mid Cheshire Line this is only valid between Knutsford and Manchester. Thus, for example, a trip from Knutsford has to start northbound before heading southbound, rather than going direct to Chester. Such a waste of time, especially when already leaving so late.

More complex in our experience is actually buying a ticket!

When the offer was on in 2016, a member of ours in Hale decided to take a trip to Holyhead via Manchester. He arrived at Altrincham with 20 minutes to spare. Although the ticket clerk at Altrincham was able to issue a ticket for the main Manchester-Holyhead part of the journey, she was unable to issue the add-on, in spite of assistance from a colleague who made numerous phone calls to various ticket offices such as Manchester Oxford Road and Knutsford. This meant the whole process took so long he missed his train, the 09:04 departure, meaning that he would also miss his train from Manchester, the 09:50 departure. In the circumstances therefore he abandoned his trip and returned home.

He notes his difficulties purchasing special offer tickets have not been restricted to those offered by Arriva Trains Wales. On 15 July he decided he would use the Northern Day Ranger offer run in conjunction with Newsquest to journey with friends along the Cumbrian Coast, travelling from Hale to Manchester on the 07:57 departure and then from Manchester to Preston on the 08:46 departure. Since this particular offer wasn’t available before 08:45, he realised that he would need to purchase a Hale to Manchester single, as well as the Day Ranger ticket.

Having previously had difficulty at Altrincham, he decided he would purchase his ticket at Hale, which is a Northern station. He decided it would be best to arrive well before the scheduled departure time of his train as he sensed he might again experience problems. This indeed proved to be the case and even though he arrived at the station shortly after 07:30, the ticket clerk had no knowledge of the offer and was unable to issue the ticket, even after phoning colleagues elsewhere. He therefore purchased a single to Manchester, having being advised to book at Piccadilly as they would have more experience. This was hardly ideal, since Piccadilly is a busy station and his connection was only 16 Minutes.

Unfortunately the Virgin staff at Piccadilly were equally in the dark about how to issue the Day Ranger and really quite lazy as well, suggesting initially that he could only buy the Ranger at a station in the Northern area. Since he was now pressed for time he had to ask for his vouchers and application form back and head off to Platform 14. Thankfully, the conductor on the Preston train was very understanding and upon arrival at Preston he once again tried to purchase the Ranger. The Virgin ticket clerk at Preston knew what he was doing and issued the Ranger in about 30 seconds.

He comments it is one thing to promote special tickets but quite another to ensure that the staff concerned are sufficiently well-briefed and trained to be able to issue them. He notes that Arriva now state that you can book the present Club 55 tickets online but having tried to book the same journey as earlier in the year, he has found that the website allocates trains from Altrincham to Chester in spite of the fact that Northern add-on tickets are not valid on that route.

Complaints to the train companies concerned have not been very satisfactory. In one instance he was told he didn’t state the offer correctly, as he had not specifically stated he wished to purchase “an Altrincham to Holyhead via Manchester Club 55 offer ticket.”

He’s found similar attempts at utilising special offers to be equally frustrating. On 5 October he decided he would use Arriva’s Club 55 offer to travel from Altrincham to Holyhead. He initially tried to book this online but was unable to do so as the route I was being offered was via Northwich to Chester and is not therefore included in the offer. On buying it at Altrincham station, the clerk stated it was not valid via Manchester, but he decided to take his chance and no-one queried its use thereafter. A complaint to ATW about this elicited the response that there had been a problem with the ticketing software, and this was being resolved.

Last week a further attempt to purchase a Club 55 ticket from Hale to Holyhead using ATW’s website again only offered the ticket via Northwich, but that route is not valid.

We do wonder if some train companies are that serious about their special ticket offers.

Please leave a comment

  1. John Boardman Says:

    The obstacles are placed in front of us, so that we say never mind, so no ticket sales, hence tickets are withdrawn.

    Appreciate people out in Cheshire trying to get these tickets, but when I purchased my Club 55 on two previous occasions, I had extra money to spend as travel was before 09.30 on both trips.

    Stop moaning and pay your way.

    Talking about staff not knowing about tickets, try buying a Wayfarer ticket at retail outlets in GM area.

    I don’t have the the time to tell you my experiences. Talk about untrained staff, I think they then move on to the ticket offices at the stations. Altrincham excepted.

  2. Michael Ross Says:

    While updating the ‘Take the Train’ pages of the Mid Cheshire CRP website (which list the various possibilities for train-based days out from the Mid Cheshire Line), I found that the Ffestiniog Round Robin is not on the National Rail website and that although there is a Senior Railcard fare there is no fare for a Friends and Family railcard.

    I have emailed Arriva TW about this and also asked them to sort out the Club 55 offer by making the ticket available for and valid on the whole length of the Mid Cheshire Line.

  3. Andrew Macfarlane Says:

    The present ATW Club 55 offer is not valid until 0930 on Monday to Friday and now excludes the trains of other TOCs (e.g. previously you could use Virgin on the North Wales coast) apart from the add-ons. I personally have had no problems in purchasing ATW Club 55 tickets on Saturdays from Northern conductors (after boarding at Navigation Road) or from Stockport booking office during previous ATW Club 55 offers.

  4. Richard Boyd Says:

    Andrew: I’ve noted your comments but unfortunately the fact that staff at Stockport can issue Club 55 tickets without problems isn’t much help to passengers from the Mid-Cheshire line who have no reason to break their journey there. Also, the current promotional literature states, “You must buy before boarding any train where facilities exist for you to do so”. In other words, anyone who has problems and gets on the train during the week without a ticket is at the mercy of the guard, who may refuse to issue the ticket.

    Since the MCRUA member above is me, it may be of interest if I reproduce below the full text of Arriva’s reply to my complaint dated 9 October, received on December 5:

    “Thank you for your additional e-mail.

    Please allow me to explain that with each individual ticket promotion we provide, the discounted tickets have to be manually built and installed into our ticket machines and manually removed when the promotion ends.

    Unfortunately, during the Club 55 promotion we experienced a technical fault with our ticketing machines which resulted in the discounted fares not being recognised. This led to confusion and difficulties when customers tried to purchase them.

    The suppliers of the machines worked extensively on fixing this fault and were able to rectify the problems to ensure the machines processed the promotional tickets correctly. However, this did take a number of days and unfortunately, led to inconvenience to a number of our passengers, and for which we are very sorry.

    I would like to assure you that lessons have been learn from this incident however, I am grateful for your continued feedback.

    I hope I have managed to address your query but please let me know if you have any further queries or comments.”

    Unfortunately the above does not reproduce the two different fonts that Arriva Customer Relations used in what was obviously a copy-and-paste reply but does show very clearly that in spite of assurances to the contrary, lessons have not been learned.

  5. Andrew Macfarlane Says:

    Richard,
    I regard Saturday as being the only worthwhile day to use this offer given the 0930 bar during the week. Also many of us are at work during the week! Of course if you travel on a Saturday from Hale you can board the train without a ticket because the station is not staffed. Also those with a GM Over 60s pass would not need to buy a ticket to Stockport on a Saturday. Surely you have got to change at Stockport because the offer is not valid (according to the leaflet) if you travel direct from Hale to Chester.

  6. Richard Boyd Says:

    Andrew, I am puzzled by your suggestion that a change at Stockport is a prerequisite for using this offer. On the occasions I used the Club 55 offer last year, I travelled to North Wales, changing at Manchester Piccadilly every time. Breaking my journey at Stockport would have been disruptive. Equally importantly, it is incumbent on the railway industry to adequately brief all staff about special offers, as opposed to expecting passengers (who may not be experts on ticketing) to seek out ticket offices where staff are familiar with the offer and who know how to issue the relevant tickets. It is also incumbent on the industry to make sure internet bookings reflect the permitted routes.

    As for when travel is worthwhile, I’m afraid we must differ. Even with the 09:30 restriction during the week it is still possible to have a day out from the Mid-Cheshire line in, say, Llandudno or Bangor without getting back too late. A day trip to South Wales would be more difficult but return journeys do not need to be made the same day. This brings me to your point about people working in the week, which is of course true. However, I suggest the reason the offer is for those aged 55 and over is because of the increasing likelihood that they will have retired.

  7. The Chairman Says:

    I have brought this Blog post to the attention of Arriva Trains Wales.

    I’ll place their response as a comment, once received.

  8. The Chairman Says:

    I’m pleased to let you know I’ve had a response from Lynne Milligan, Customer Services Director with Arriva Trains Wales.

    **************************************************************************************************************

    Dear John,

    Many thanks for your message and for your interest in growing the railway.

    I asked our Head of Retail to take a look at the detail and provide some observations. His thoughts are below:

    • Altrincham to Holyhead does have a Club 55 ticket.

    • The first train after 09:30 is 09:59 from Altrincham changing at Piccadilly and Chester arriving at 14:14.

    • It is not valid earlier as services are busy and being used by commuters and full fare paying passengers.

    • There may be an issue with staff awareness of this product outside of ATW by other TOC booking offices. Users can quote the ticket name Club 55 or ticket code 55P to the station clerk.

    • We can only make Club 55 available at other TOC stations where that TOC allow hence it is not available for all stations on the line he represents.

    I do hope that helps but feel free to come back with any other queries you may have.

    Regards

    Lynne

    **************************************************************************************************************

  9. Simon Barber Says:

    Unless I’ve missed something, this doesn’t address the question of why Altrincham to Holyhead (or to any other Welsh station) isn’t valid by travelling direct to Chester. The availability from other Mid Cheshire line stations is presumably something we could take up with Northern, once this point is addressed.

  10. The Chairman Says:

    Hi, Simon,

    I think Lynne is saying this is up to the local TOC, i.e. Northern.

    Let’s put this on the agenda for our next meeting with Liam.

    John

  11. Michael Ross Says:

    I suggest we take the issue up with Northern now, rather than wait for the Liam meeting (unless it is very close). I read the ATW comment to mean that if Northern will accept that the ticket can be bought from any station on the Line then a westward connection to Chester becomes possible.

    Taking it up now will mean that Liam would be able to ask about progress when he gets briefed for his next meeting with us – since I guess we would send him a note of what we wanted to talk about in advance.
    It would also allow us to raise it at the CRP meeting on 1 March as well – we can ask Matt for a progress report on the request. I suspect that in practice it will take time and will feed into next winter’s ATW Club 55, if that happens.

  12. The Chairman Says:

    Hi, Mike,

    Good idea about letting Liam know about this now.

    I’ve emailed him with the details, the question and also about the ticket buying difficulties at staffed stations.

    John

Leave a Comment

*