Rail food drops pork pie image

THE FACT that a glass-encased cheeseburger holds pride of place in the National Railway Museum in York speaks volumes about food on trains. Railway fare has long endured the same reputation as train fares: over- priced, difficult to swallow and apt to leave a bad taste in the mouth.

But a range of upmarket, fresh dishes launched last week is expected to alter that image. GNER, the Sea Containers subsidiary that runs high- speed trains along the east coast to Scotland, has ditched the traditional fare of pork pies and curly-edged sandwiches in favour of delicatessen sustenance. Now travellers can choose from smartly packaged foods that include Jalapeno pepper and root vegetable flavoured crisps, focaccia bread rolls, Thai-style chicken breast, and sun-dried tomatoes.

Where, typically, the food was expensive and of poor quality, the average passenger will find it is now merely expensive. A family of four's lay- out for, say, one hot baguette with mozzarella cheese with roasted mixed peppers and salsa (pounds 3.35), one chicken tikka masala with rice (pounds 5.25), one smoked salmon with cream cheese sandwich (pounds 2.95), and one ham and cheese toasted sandwich (pounds 2.50), plus a quarter bottle of red wine (pounds 3.70) and four glasses of orange juice (pounds 1.25 each) could add the price of another train ticket.

GNER, driven by market forces - it has doubled the number of vegetarian snacks - can at least rely on a captive audience. The company sells a million sandwiches - the cheese and pickle is still its bestseller - and five million hot drinks a year. Its onboard catering is worth, in all, pounds 15m a year.

Jim Gilbert, GNER's head of catering, admits food for railway passengers has been thoroughly neglected. "I don't think any will mourn the passing of the stale sandwich and the microwaved burger."

There is some comfort for the nostalgic - GNER is still laying on the traditional grub, including egg and cress sandwiches and bacon butties.

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