An unremarkable Monday in May hailed the first working day of the new National Rail timetable and my first day back at work after two weeks leave. Whilst these events played very little importance, an event at King’s Cross station a few days earlier heralded the dawn of a new era on the East Coast Mainline (ECML). To quote London North Eastern Railway (LNER), “Azuma is here!”.
My arrival onto platform 7 at King’s Cross on the evening on Monday 20th May made what had been an unremarkable Monday into an exciting opportunity to take my first ride on an LNER Azuma. The diagram operated by the first Azuma includes 1H10, the 1718 London King’s Cross to Hull and the inbound service arrives early enough that Azuma 800113 is waiting in the platform when I arrive 40 minutes before our departure, leaving plenty of opportunity for photos.
On entering Coach A at the front of this 9-car version of the Azuma, I was impressed by how smart, spacious and airy the coaches seemed. Whilst walking down the carriage, it seemed that the aisle was wider than on the existing trains and there was much more light within the carriage. The new seats in Standard class unfortunately seem to be a little bit hard, although are still much better than those on Thameslink’s Class 700s and I was pleased to find that every individual seat has access to its own power socket down between the seats (removing the awkward leaning over whoever has the window seat).
In terms of luggage there is much more space for storage on board the Azuma, with a larger overhead luggage rack (no issues fitting my bulky rucksack) and well as more space under your seat that you would find on most airlines. There also appeared to be more space for larger bags at the end of the carriages, so hopefully the new trains will mean the end of the luggage assault course to alight during holiday periods!
Having a wander through the carriage, I found the electronic reservation system extremely easy to read and understand, although the presence of a paper reservation ticket indicates that LNER is aware there may be some teething problems. The standard ‘airline-style’ seats appear to have slightly more legroom than on the existing Mark 3 and 4 carriages, with the tray tables also being adjustable allowing either a small space for snacks or a larger space for your laptop. The sets of table seats are very similar to the existing trains, although the table leg is now by the aisle (no more accidently kicking it as you stretch) and the tables appear to be slightly narrower which may cause space issues on busy commuter services.
Leaving King’s Cross on time, the first thing I noticed was how quickly the train accelerates compared to the High Speed Train (HST) that had been operating the route prior to this week. On my journey, with a clear run, we arrived into Peterborough 3 minutes early, despite having had to slow down for a speed restriction at St Neots. With top speeds the same, LNER will probably be able to shave a few minutes off journey times once performance data is gathered, especially on the Newark and York services with multiple stops. You can see a comparison of the acceleration on LNER’s Instagram page here.
Although the seats were a little bit harder than I am used to on LNER services, I found the ride quality much better than usual, especially compared to the HSTs and so I feel that overall the comfort won’t be affected much. In terms of other facilities, the trolley didn’t make it to the front of the train during my journey, however I believe LNER are retaining both a trolley and café bar (unlike GWR) and the onboard wi-fi seemed faster than usual. If you want to find out more about the Azuma, you can find LNER’s page about them here!
As this journey was part of my commute and not a full review of LNER’s service on the new Azuma, I have not rated the trip as I usually would for Train Reports. However, I think the new Azuma trains are a suitable replacement for the HSTs and Class 91s that have been the workhorses of the ECML for decades. Whilst I believe standard class will be comfortable enough, personally for any journeys over a couple of hours I’ll look at upgrading to first and the (hopefully) slightly comfier seats.
Operator: London North Eastern Railway
Route: KGX – PBO
Date: Monday 20th May 2019