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Will's Web Watch: Let the train take the strain

Why I choose to travel by rail...
Written by Will Sturgeon, Contributor

Why I choose to travel by rail...

Will Sturgeon explains why business travel by train within the UK is a far more beneficial and enjoyable experience than flying, thanks in large part to the installation of wi-fi on many routes.

As I write this, I'm on my way up to the annual Citrix iForum in Edinburgh. In past years I've chosen to fly but this year I'm letting the train take the strain. My thinking, given I'm travelling on business and would rather get some work done in transit than catch-up later, goes a little something like this:

When flying: Time to travel to Heathrow from home, about one hour and 30 minutes. Allowing an hour to check in and pass security, plus an added 15 minutes should the Heathrow 'Xpress' (ho ho) be up to the levels of service I normally seem to experience, we're already up to two hours and 45 minutes - and that's before the obligatory airport delays at either end.

Throw in flight time plus taxi transfer at the other end and I've found it all makes for a total travel time of more than four hours and 30 minutes door-to-door, during which you're pretty much on the move the whole time, bar 30 minutes on the flight during which you could reasonably start up your laptop.

Thirty whole minutes! Shall I rattle off a column, or perhaps more reasonably answer five emails and shift them into the outbox for an untimely sending the next time I can get online?

When taking the train: Time to Kings Cross from home, about 45 minutes. Grab a quick coffee (two minutes), get on train (no security, no hassle). Then a walk or short taxi ride to the hotel then check-in. Time, door-to-door (providing GNER doesn't succumb to it's own occasional delays): about five hours and 17 minutes (don't forget that coffee), during which there are at least four hours on the train when I can work, with wi-fi keeping me in touch with the office and a power point beside my foot for added juice.

Actually, as I write that line the woman opposite me says, in broad Geordie tones after a loud phone conversation with her father: "Dad says they've got no electricity back home."

She doesn't add whether this is a news flash or just a statement of fact. I plug my laptop in on the train to get a final charge of juice, just in case the same is true north of the border.

So all in all there's little difference between train and plane travel times. The major difference is being able to work effectively and comfortably (though even without work to do, I'd argue train-time is more pleasant than travelling by air, so London to Paris or Brussels would be a train journey for me every time as well).

What's more, travelling First Class on GNER I get the wi-fi access free of charge, on a ticket which still costs less than a flight (£56 single, £120 return). In standard class GNER's wi-fi would cost me £9.95 for access during my entire journey, which seems a little unfair on people travelling in standard who would have paid much more than £120 had they turned up at King's Cross on a whim or had an urgent need to travel.

What's more, the wi-fi service is not too shabby either. Such faint praise might be less forthcoming if I'd had to pay a tenner but it does the job. And there are helpdesk staff on the end of the phone, who can pinpoint your train and troubleshoot problems remotely if needs be (as I discovered on a previous journey).

Don't get me wrong, through all of this I'd far rather sit back, get my book out and relax en route but the ability to work while travelling does keep those of us on the move closer to a nine-to-five kind of existence, if that's what we want.

I started writing this column just outside Peterborough. I've just submitted it flying through Doncaster station...

For those business travellers making longer journeys and hoping to make the most of some downtime at the airport, check out atlarge.com, for peer-reviewed, up-to-date info on wi-fi access at the world's airports.

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