Posted 13th May 2019 | 12 Comments

New GWR IETs under fire over lack of buffets

RMT members demonstrated at Plymouth today

THE RMT has been holding demonstrations today at London, Swansea and Plymouth about the lack of buffets on GWR’s new Intercity Express Trains. Surfers have also been protesting about the simultaneous withdrawal of space to carry their boards.

The last scheduled HST is set to depart from London Paddington this Saturday on the eve of the timetable change, marking the end of more than 40 years of service on lines to south west England and south Wales.

GWR has retained some refurbished HSTs, which it has dubbed Castles’, for routes between Cardiff and the west of England, but these consist of four Mk3 standard class trailers and do not have a catering counter.

The HST’s replacements, built by Hitachi, include a full kitchen for GWR’s Pullman Dining services but have no buffet area. Apart from the restaurant, which is only provided on a few trains, the catering service relies on trolleys.

The RMT said it had warned GWR that passengers would be unhappy about the abolition of buffets, and has now published the results of research which appear to justify the claim.

A survey of GWR staff revealed that 19 out of 20 staff think the lack of buffets is a mistake, and has had a negative impact on passengers. More than three out of four believe safety has been affected.

The RMT has included some comments, such as: ‘Every regular passenger to whom I’ve spoken about the buffets believes it’s a disaster that they were ever taken off. Revenue has plummeted, but first and foremost, safety has suffered,’ and ‘Passengers are constantly telling us how they miss the buffet car.’

The staff also claim that the substitute trolleys are ‘not fit for purpose’, and that ‘the weight alone is ridiculous and many people have back, neck, shoulder, hip and knee problems’.

An online petition calling for buffets to be provided has been signed by more than 1,500 people, according to the RMT.

The union’s general secretary Mick Cash said: ‘The axing of the buffet car was a cash-led move that was all about maximising profits at the expense of the traveller. RMT catering members are an integral part of the rail team and deserve respect and support. It is those members who face the backlash when the catering services are letting down the passenger.’

Another controversy has flared over surfboards, which were traditionally carried in the guard’s brake sections of HST power cars but for which GWR says there is no room on the Intercity Expresses.

On 10 May, Steve England from Newquay-based Carve Surfing Magazine told BBC Radio Cornwall: ‘We're used to surfers getting on the trains and they'd let you use their guard van. If they take that away and definitely make it a set thing, then they're going to lose a lot of customers.’

A GWR spokesman said significantly more seats were now being provided on the IETs, and that passengers have been saying they prefer not to leave their seats to visit the buffet ‘for a variety of reasons’.

As far as surfboards are concerned, James Davis of GWR said: ‘Our new Intercity Express Trains are providing more than 3,200 extra seats every day between London and Penzance, with over 100 more seats than the trains they have replaced. To accommodate the extra seating, the space in the guard’s van previously used for surfboards on long distance trains no longer exists.’

Surfboards can still be taken as hold baggage on flights to Cornwall’s airport at Newquay, although the airlines charge a fee.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Gail Lark, London

    I agree with the RMT against the removal of buffet cars however I would like to know why the RMT suddenly scrapped industrial action over the removal of the buffet cars several years ago - was it a sell out to retain the guard?

    All 9 car trains should have had a quality buffet car and am at a loss as to why GWR's own procured 802's did not have a buffet counter as they were designed the west of England route which is a different market base compared to the InterCity commuter market on the Bristol and Cardiff routes.

    Also GWR's own 802's should have had far better interiors designed with quality first class based on their last HST refit with curtains, privacy screens, quality carpets and table tops. Also a guard's van to store items such as surf boards or excess luggage. Providing an extra 20 - 30 seats is a waste as those 20 seats will hardly ever be used to maximum capacity over the course of the year. Very few trains go out of Paddington with every single seat taken especially f you exclude the local flow between Reading and Paddington.

    All 9 car trains must be retro fitted with a quality buffet as other people have said here the buffet was a place where passengers came to for ticket queries, connections and a whole host of other customer service issues. The buffet car provided hot food (not available on trolley) as well as providing a space for stocks especially during times of service disruption for all passengers. The trolley service should be complimentary to the buffet counter (like they operate on LNER in standard class)

    I travel First Class and seem so many times on the IET passengers from standard class looking to purchase an item and walk into the kitchen in first class.
    I personally hate these IET trains regarding their interior ambience in first class and have reduced my business travel on GWR significantly as a result and drive more often to place.

    Secretary of State Grayling and his revolving door of DfT officials who lack experience are principally to blame although I do suspect if RMT had a formal strike then I do suspect we would have some buffet counters today.

  • Paul, Greenwich

    I've been in contact GWR about this and they come out with some rubbish about a few extra seats being provided through the scrapping of the BC. They said that DfT gave them authority to remove the BCs, which is obviously going to be correct. However, it doesn't tell us who requested their removal. Yes more seats are handy on busy services but this has to be weighed up against:

    1. The buffet service not reaching a large part of the custom because the isles are too busy on peak services
    2. The extra standing space in the BC that does not clutter isles
    3. The extra variety of stock that can be carried in the BCs.

    The best evidence we have that GWR already regret their decision is that one of the very last HST services they took off the Penzance route was one with a BC.

    I was on a service not long after the new trains were launched and the guys working on the trolleys already hated their jobs and the trolleys they were pushing.

  • Brian Russell, Swansea

    The Buffet is a place people can go to if they've lost something It's closer that the guard It is always nice to meet people at the Buffet bar

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    Some years ago , East Midland Trains ( or was it Midland Main Line?), got round this problem by having trainboard staff to take food and drink orders , take these to the buffet, and bring back to the passenger ( and collect their payment). And this was in Standard Class !

    Whether EMT / MML found this innovation too expensive to run, I don't know, but it was very useful for passengers.

  • Roland Harmer, Bristol

    There are at least three problems with the trolley service:
    One - you have to wait until it come around.
    Two - It blocks gangways.
    Three - The choice is limited to what can be put on a trolley. A buffet can have a much bigger range.
    Buffets are nice a good excuse to get up and stretch you legs. If someone finds moving difficult someone can surly offer to get something from the buffet.
    Bring back the buffets please GWR.

  • jak jaye, surrey

    The 800(IET's) are rancid rubbish rock hard seats.suspension,the whole train just looks plastic and tacky(and yes ive been on one).
    As as been said who actually designs/approves these trains? not anyone who travels on one for sure.
    As for the lamentable lack of a buffet car,its a sad reflection on modern life that people are too lazy to walk even a few yards,they concentrate on plugging their laptops and cellphones in as if they were all captains of industry!
    It should be a condition of any franchise that full buffet's should be on all long distance routs

  • Andrew Gwilt, Benfleet Essex

    People will have to get used to the new trains in service. Wow don't we have so many people who moan about anything whilst traveling on trains.

  • Michael Turberville, London, EU

    ECML 'azuma' trains have buffet cars.
    Take out a few seats per 5 cars and make identical buffet cars as ECML.
    Also from the images of the azuma trains - their seats look far more comfortable than GWR 'Ironing Boards'. Sit too long as count the miles to bum numb!

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    My Company used to pay back in the 1980s for me to travel everywhere by First Class and to have meals. Lovely experience. However I often had to rush the Meals as the services got faster and faster, and there was little time to relax over meal and wine as I used to. I now buy my Tea and Coffee on the Platforms like most passengers and finish it before I sit down on the Train. On flights I never use the 'Trolley' service whilst on short-haul (60 mins or less) and I expect few on the Trains do either. Its days too are numbered. If you really want to experience it do as I have done this weekend, and hire the South Devon Train for my Family to enjoy a 2 hour meal slowly chugging up and down the Dart Valley. Excellent service from a retired British Railways 'Silver' Steward from the East Coast Main Line.

  • Paul Harley, Newport

    I prefer the trolley service to a buffet, as it means I don't have to worry about leaving personal items unattended.
    Perhaps the RMT should speak to passengers who purchase from the trolleys, to ascertain their views?

  • Andrew B, Stockport

    Who are these people who prefer the trolley to going up? If you want something from a trolley you can be waiting for ages for it to turn up. With a buffet you just go up and get it. So much quicker.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    To what extent is the procurement of new trains done by the operating companies or by DfT? Are the operators bound to run trains that may not be their ideal ? Is one ( of several ) problem with the franchising system highlighted here , with short - termism ( typical franchise only lasts about 7 years) ruling out more fundamental investment ? ( Wasn't access to the private capital market supposed to be one of the reasons for privatisation in the first place ?)