After arriving with East Midlands Trains and enjoying a quick adventure on a class 37 hauled train (read about those here and here!) I arrived back at Norwich station in preparation of my journey to London with Greater Anglia. Bank Holiday Monday’s are a good time to experience the first-class product of the various train operators within the UK as the vast majority provide the full Monday-Friday service whilst advance ticket prices can be a lot cheaper due to the reduced demand.
As with the East Cost Mainline and the Great Western Mainline, the inter-city rolling stock on the Great Eastern Mainline is due to be replaced over the next year, with Greater Anglia having opted for 12 carriage Stadler FLIRT electric multiple units, which will be classified as Class 745/0s. You can have a look at the new trains via an online 360 tour on the Greater Anglia website here. Until the introduction of the class 745s, the Norwich to London inter-city services are comprised of Mark 3 carriages hauled by class 90 electric locomotives, which previously operated services on the West Coast Mainline prior to the introduction of Pendolinos.
I was looking forward to this trip on Greater Anglia, as although I experienced their first-class product a few years ago, I believe they have undertaken an interim refurbishment of the Mark 3 carriages since then and so was interested to see if this had improved the offering. It is worth noting that Greater Anglia’s first class offering includes a lot less than other operators, however the twice hourly Norwich to London service (and return) are the company’s only ‘inter-city’ service unlike LNER and Virgin Trains who’s only focus is their long-distance services.
My advance single ticket with a railcard cost me just £11.90 a couple of weeks prior to travelling. Looking again a week before, this had gone up slightly to £13.85, however the same type of ticket for Standard class was only £1.30 cheaper at £12.55. Given that even Greater Anglia’s basic offering includes free coffee and biscuits, I probably actually saved money on the total cost of my journey by paying the extra for a First-class ticket given that I would have otherwise bought a coffee and snack at the station. Disappointingly there is no first-class lounge at Norwich and so during the 40 minutes I had prior to departure I decided to explore the station itself a bit more. The general waiting room near platform 1 has a display about the Norfolk Broads including a map of the area and the connectivity the railway provides. There is also a small book-share scheme and a display containing one of the ceramic poppies from the WW1 centenary display at the Tower of London.
The station frontage is extremely grand having been built during the height of the railway boom in 1844. The station is the terminus of 4 different railway lines (the Great Eastern Mainline, the Breckland line, the Bittern Line and the Wherry Lines) and is served by approximately 7 trains per hour. Of these, two per hour are on the Norwich to London Liverpool Street service leaving at xx00 and xx30 each hour. The xx30 train has less stops and maes the journey in just over 1hr 45mins calling at Diss, Ipswich, Manningtree and Colchester en route to London. The departure on the hour additionally calls at Stowmarket, Chelmsford and Stratford. As part of Greater Anglia’s franchise agreement there are plans for a ‘Norwich in 90’ service which will call only at Ipswich on its way to/from London.
Heading back to the platforms, I notice the large display on the side of the information point advertising the station as a ‘refill point’ for water bottles, part of Greater Anglia’s ‘Greener Anglia’ scheme in partnership with Aviva. Despite platforms being displayed against departures up to an hour ahead at Norwich, access to the platform for inter-city services is restricted until the train is prepped for departure. In this case I was able to access the platform and train approximately 15 minutes before our departure time.
With first-class being at the London end of the train, I had a bit of a walk down the platform to coach K, however this did mean that upon arrival in London I was one of the closest to the exit and the Underground. The first-class coaches on Greater Anglia inter-city services are laid out in a 1+2 configuration, meaning seats are available which provide both a window view and aisle access. My seat (K37) was one of these and I had no-one sitting at the seat opposite all the way to London, allowing access to two power sockets and leaving me with plenty of leg room and table space. Whilst comfortable, I did find the seats to be fixed at a rather odd slightly reclined angle, with no ability to adjust the seat to an upright position.
Departing Norwich on time, we briefly head west and alongside Norwich Crown Point depot where a number of Greater Anglia’s new trains are visible. Crossing the River Yare the railway turns towards the south and we head towards Diss. After a brief pause at Diss, we continue south and about 35 minutes after our departure from Norwich, we pass the freight yard north of Ipswich station. Ipswich has a slightly more frequent London service with the two ‘inter-city’ services as well as an hourly stopping service to the capital calling at all stations to Shenfield and then fast to Stratford. As part of the ‘Norwich in 90’ service mentioned above, there are plans to reduce the journey time between Ipswich and London to 60 minutes on some services.
South of Ipswich we hit the line’s maximum speed of 100mph, completing the journey to Manningtree in just 9 minutes, less than half of what it would take by car. Crossing the River Stour and skirting the edge of the Stour estuary, we pass the junctions that lead the railway off towards Harwich. Despite the evolution of the railway through the years, there are still two daily ‘boat trains’ from London through to Harwich which are timetabled to connect with the ferry to Holland. Greater Anglia also has a partnership with the ferry operator, Stenna Line, and the Dutch national railway to enable the selling of through tickets from any Greater Anglia station to any city in Holland.
After Manningtree, the service called at Colchester, around the time that the trolley service finally made its way through to first-class to offer the on-board service. As previously mentioned, Greater Anglia’s first-class offering is limited, however I was still disappointed by the small size of the drink and biscuits offered (the latter being only slightly larger than a £2 coin!). From Colchester the service runs fast to London in just over 45 minutes, and we arrived early into Liverpool Street at 1614 a total of 1hr 44 minutes after leaving Norwich.
All in all I was rather disappointed with Greater Anglia’s first-class offering, even despite my low expectations prior to the journey. Whilst the hard product was generally okay (with the exception of the oddly reclined seats), the soft product was poor and could be vastly improved. I was also confused to discover that Greater Anglia did not have a first-class lounge at Norwich, despite it being the terminus and the station having a large footprint which could easily accommodate a small lounge. Despite these negative points, the service was punctual and had a full offering of facilities (power, wi-fi, trolley & toilets). Given these and the extremely cheap price paid for the distance travelled (about 8p a mile), I have to rate these factors highly.
In conclusion if the price difference between standard and first-class was about the same (£2-3) in future I would probably go for the upgrade given the extra space and free coffee, however I probably wouldn’t pay more than £5 extra for the benefits and certainly wouldn’t pay the £10 extra that Greater Anglia charges for a weekend upgrade to first-class.
Punctuality 5* Comfort 2* Facilities 5* Cost 5* Overall 4*
Operator: Greater Anglia Headcode: 1P45 Route: NRW – LST Class: First Seat: K37 Date: Monday 6th May 2019