It seems that Virgin Trains East Coast deliberately withold information on Twitter about on-board issues such as issues with toilets, short formations, missing reservatioms and catering failures. Information about these rarely appears on Twitter but sometimes it appears on the VTEC status page. So if I get the information (e.g. from train crew) I will try and tweet the information out.

Today I knew that the 18:30 from King's Cross to Edinburgh was planned to be operated without coach H (the catering vehicle) this was well before this information was made available on the VTEC website.

I decided to take this service to see how well VTEC handled the situation.

Details of the catering issues appeared on the VTEC status page a few hours before the scheduled departure but this was significantly later than this information was known internally. There was also no mention of the issue on Twitter and despite me booking a seat on this train using the VTEC website there was no message sent to me directly (email or SMS) about the issue. The website mentioned those booked on this train could travel instead on the 18:00, 18:19 or 19:00 if they wanted catering. This is a reasonable option.

At King's Cross station the departure boards indicated the catering issues (no hot food) and interestingly also showed that reservations were moved to different carriages which seemed odd as the missing coach is an unreserved coach.

On the platform staff were located at the train doors and were letting people know about the lack of hot food. It did seem odd having a mk 4 train where there's no kitchen separating first and standard class.

On boarding I was told my booked carriage (K) had no working air conditioning. It was suggested I go to M, usually that carriage is packed but I took their advice and there was plenty of seats. I'm not sure whether that's because many took the advice to change trains for a full catering service or these trains are just not as busy in first class when it's not Friday.

Initially we were told there was no food at all in first class which contradicted the info screens and website which said no hot food. Fortunately this was a mistake and sandwiches and snacks were available. 

Due to no kitchens hot water needed to be provided through a tap on a standard class trolley so an extra one of these was provided to service first class. These contain an urn of hot water it did mean that the drinks were served in the larger disposable cups rather than the china cups.

In the end I had a salmon sandwich, cake, crisps, tea, Hop on Board and a sparkling water. This was fine as I was just going to Peterborough and hopefully most of the people going further who wanted more had got the message they could take an alternative service.

An announcement was made that in standard class they were unable to take cards on their trolley. I think the handheld card machines need to pair over WiFi with the terminal in the Foodbar, as there was no Foodbar then the card machine didn't work. It should have been possible to mention this on the screen before boarding or refreshments should have been given complimentary. I've been told before when the card machine isn't working it should be possible to offer complimentary, the only reason I can think of is because there was no Foodbar they couldn't restock the trolley once it ran out so they didn't want to offer things for free in standard class as it'd run out quicker.

After arriving at Peterborough I noticed the departure screen there was incorrectly mention the Foodbar being available. Ideally it should have been displaying a custom message like at King's Cross.

Verdict

I think the staff on board did the best they could in the situation. They tried to get the message across to the people before boarding and on-board they were helpful and did their best with the limited facilities available.

As for Virgin Trains East Coast it is a mixture of good as well as areas for improvement.

What's good is that they clearly displayed the catering issues on the departure screens at King's Cross and on the status page of the website. They also allowed you to travel on an earlier or later train if you wanted full catering. This is showing that there's definitely some people within VTEC that understand it's important to notify passengers about catering issues and offer them alternatives. If I had been going to Newcastle I would have taken the option to travel on the 18:19 and if I was going to Edinburgh I would have taken the 19:00 (the 18:00 is too early due to work). When catering issues happen being able to offer alternatives means a passenger can take a different train if catering is important or to take their booked service if they're happy enough to accept the limitations.

The areas that could be improved would have been contacting people who booked direct through their website that were booked on this service and also a mention on social media. There should have been a mention that the standard class trolley was going to be cash only (although ideally they should have a backup system for card processing if their main system is down) as this would allow people to visit a cash machine before boarding commenced. Finally the departure screen in Peterborough didn't have the same helpful info on it.

Overall this was one of the better examples of VTEC informing passengers about catering issues. Quite often even if there's a known issue with the kitchens there's no information made available to the public. Hopefully this is a sign that they're realising it's important to get the information out to passengers so they are aware of the options available.

What's more worrying is the increase in maintenance issues lately. The coach out of service is because of corrosion discovered in the carriage which might take a while to fix if it is serious. Also many air conditioning units are failing at the moment as well as toilets. Depending on who you ask it's either because of maintenance cutbacks or just because the stock is aging. It does seem though that it's becoming more commonplace.