This is not the post I was supposed to write and the journey I completed was certainly not supposed to happen. In fact, I had already written the original introductory paragraph of this post before the plan changed. I was supposed to be departing St. Pancras International with East Midlands Trains on a train to Derby, unfortunately a failure of the power supply between Luton and Bedford caused major disruption to the Midland Mainline and I therefore diverted onto an alternative route. Eventually my journey to Derby resulted in three different trains with three different operators, however in this post I am purely going to review the first leg which was London King’s Cross to Grantham with LNER.
When I booked my journey with East Midlands Trains, I was able to get a first-class ticket for £24.10 with my railcard which was less than £4 more than a standard class ticket. When purchasing this ticket, I used my usual rational of “even if all I get is a complimentary coffee, I’ve probably made my money back”. Given that Train Operating Companies honour your existing ticket when you’re diverted during disruption, I got a lot more for my £4 than I expected!
The 1103 LNER service to Leeds departed on time, although by this point it was 93 minutes since I should have departed St. Pancras. Making myself comfortable in one of the solo seats within, I was glad to have this added privacy as first-class was soon full with a combination of regular passengers, those diverted from St. Pancras as well as those wanting to take advantage of LNER’s weekend upgrade. The service was a High Speed Train (HST) with 43208 Lincolnshire Echo leading the service and the beautifully liveried 43274 Spirit of Sunderland trailing and the rake of Mark 3 coaches operating in reverse formation (just to add to the confusion!)
LNER has the full range of facilities available with plug sockets available to every pair of seats, free Wi-Fi for all passengers as well as the choice of both an at seat trolley service or a café bar. Soon after departure from King’s Cross the on-board service began with LNER’s weekend first-class menu being of a much higher standard than most other train operators. On offer was either a Beef & Horseradish sandwich or a ‘Summer’ wrap accompanied by crisps or popcorn as well as a treacle muffin. Before we reached Stevenage all three first-class carriages had been served with the standard choice of non-alcoholic beverages (both hot & cold) being offered.
Pulling into Stevenage I was able to observe the progress of the Network Rail works to provide Stevenage with a fifth platform. Being constructed to the west of the existing lines, this new bay platform will serve Great Northern’s suburban services to Moorgate via Hertford North and will free up the existing platform 4 for an increase in Thameslink services through the station. Previously the half hourly local services occupied the platform for 15 minutes each, approximately five times the average time through services dwell for. Essentially by moving these two services to a new platform, capacity is freed up for a potential 10 additional services to Cambridge or Peterborough.
Continuing north we head through Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire before arriving at Peterborough, my home station, and it felt slightly odd to be remaining on the train north of here. A settlement has existed in Peterborough since 655AD when the monastery was founded and the city’s cathedral celebrated its 900th anniversary in 2018 with construction having started in 1118 and being completed in 1237. The city is the UK’s ‘Environmental Capital’ having been designated as one of the four UK ‘environment cities’ in 1994. Evidence of this status can be seen even at the railway station with platforms 2 & 3 being home to a bee friendly miniature garden. This was installed by LNER in partnership with the Bee Friendly Trust as part of their efforts to make the East Coast Mainline more bee friendly. According to a sign on the garden, there is also an observation hive at Durham station as well as bee friendly plants on platform across LNER’s network.
Just north of Peterborough is Werrington Junction, another area of Network Rail construction work as part of the East Coast Upgrade. Currently any trains on the Stamford lines (having come from Ely & March) that are heading towards Spalding, Sleaford and Lincoln, have to cross the four track East Coast Mainline at Werrington to reach the Great Northern Great Eastern (GNGE) joint line. To remove these conflicting moves, and therefore free up space on the mainline, Network Rail are creating a new double track, 3km chord which will pass under the mainline and therefore grade separate Werrington junction.
Just 20 minutes north of Peterborough is Grantham where I alight, having enjoyed a very comfortable 70-minute journey with LNER. Grantham is a railway junction where a spur joins the Nottingham to Skegness line with the East Coast Mainline. Grantham itself is a historic market town and famous/infamous (depending on your point of view) for being the hometown of the late former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Grantham has also been a key town in the industrial development of the UK with the UK’s first tractor produced here in 1896 and the first diesel engine being developed four years earlier in 1892. Watching the HST I had arrived on depart, powered by a modern successor of that original diesel engine, I remained on the platform at Grantham for the short 15-minute wait until my connecting train arrived.
Unfortunately for rail enthusiasts the days of HSTs operating on the East Coast mainline are numbered with LNER replacing the classic trains with modern Azumas over the next year. With the last HST having recently operated on the Great Western mainline from Paddington and the replacement of EMT’s sets being planned, there is not long left to see HSTs operating on their traditional home of inter-city services from London. Of course, some HSTs have found a new lease of life in Scotland and the South-west of England meaning the classic trains will be around for a while yet!
All in all, despite the disruption to my original planned journey, I thorough enjoyed my trip with LNER and found their weekend first class product vastly superior to most of their competitors and miles ahead of some operator’s weekday offering (I’m looking at you Greater Anglia!). The quick and punctual journey to Grantham prevented my delay from becoming greater than it already was and the customer service provided by the onboard crew was as always excellent. With my parents having recently moved to Derby, I’m sure I’ll get a chance to book another trip with EMT soon and hopefully won’t encounter service disruption next time.
Punctuality 5* (I’m marking LNER, not my overall journey) Comfort 4* Facilities 5* Cost 5* Overall 4.5*
Operator: LNER Headcode: 1D11 Route: KGX – GRA Class: First Seat: J19 Date: Sunday 2nd June 2019