Tracks apart: How train journeys can make or break a commute

East Midlands trainsAs I looked around the train carriage each day at the men and women who could sleep in an instant, their heads drooping precariously over the laps of their seat buddies and the workers who looked so miserable that their frowns were etched into their faces, I often wondered how long they've all been enduring the commute.

In the world of work, I'm a newcomer. Having graduated earlier this year, I got my first real job a couple of months after and was promptly waiting for the 7:09 c2c service from Thorpe Bay, Essex to Fenchurch Street each morning.
At first, it was great. Being the second station on the line meant a guaranteed seat in the 'Quiet Zone' with that most coveted commodity –the humble plastic table.

I couldn't fault the service. According to rail industry figures, c2c is the best performing and most punctual operator in the UK. The 97.8% punctuality record seemed about right, considering I was only an hour late for work once in three months (almost unheard of in commuter circles on other lines). I was also fairly surprised at the price. For an hour's journey, a monthly ticket was £285.40. Compare that to the price of a monthly ticket to London from Milton Keynes at over £500, and it almost looked like a bargain. Almost.

It was only after a few weeks that the honeymoon period abruptly ended. The tedium of small seats, bright lights and smelly, legroom deficient carriages started to wear me down. When my commute was an hour and 50 minutes there and back each day, I longed for a comfortable service. Just how do some people endure it for 20 years or longer?

Last month I moved into my first flat. Three hours from home and now living in Bedford, it's given me the perfect opportunity to compare services. My first thought when I stepped onto the new train to St. Pancras was that I had mistakenly ambled into First Class. A sudden burst of excitement thronged through me as I saw the cavernous space between seats. The train was carpeted (yes, carpeted) and there was even a table accompanying every seat. Oh how I rejoiced at feeling like a fat cat instead of a trundling member of the cattle herd.

The trip home is even better. The trains are quiet, plug sockets are placed at your convenience and the seats have arm rests. It's relaxing, comfortable and is the equivalent of British Airways. I've yet to decide whether c2c was Easyjet or RyanAir.

Of course there's always a catch, and it's a rather pricey one at that. My monthly ticket now costs over £70 more, yet that stabbing feeling in my abdomen is now subdued when I hand over my debit card. When 6% is added in January to the price of my season ticket, I will have to cut spending elsewhere in my budget to pay for my commute, yet I'm willing to as the service is so markedly improved.

For the moment, I continue to sit back, relax and unwind while reflecting on the instant gratification that the InterCity has brought, even if the train has been late for the past seven out of 10 working days.

If I was still travelling with c2c every day, chances are that I'd be just another commuter with a sad clown expression, dreading every moment the train rolled up to the platform.

So how does your commute compare? Are you happy with your service and has the planned price rise prompted you to question what you're paying for?
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