Operator: East Midlands Railway Headcode: 1F12 Route: STP – DBY Class: First Seat: G16 Date: Monday 19th August 2019
Monday 19th August 2019 brought a clear and chilly morning as well as the first weekday trains operated by the new East Midlands Railway (EMR). EMR had begun operation just a day earlier, beginning it’s period as the operator of the East Midlands franchise having taken over from it’s predecessor East Midlands Trains. Although many branding changes had already taken place, there was very little change this early in the franchise and so the 0831 departure from St. Pancras to Sheffield was still the sole train each day that offered a full breakfast service from London.
Having arrived from Peterborough into neighbouring King’s Cross, I crossed over Pancras Road and into the architectural gem that is St. Pancras International. Designed by William Barlow and originally opened in 1868, the station features a large single-span iron roof and is fronted by the impressive Midland Hotel. Interestingly due to the height of the railway after crossing the Regent’s Canal, there was 20ft space under the lines at St. Pancras and so the station was designed using a beer barrel as the basic unit of length. This allowed the vast under croft (now the main concourse) to be used to store freight and more specifically the vast amount of beer arriving on the Midland Railway from Burton-upon-Trent. In the 1960s the station became surplus to requirements and with services diverted into alternative London termini it was planned to be closed and demolished. Fortunately fierce and successful opposition to these plans was led by Sir John Betjeman and a statue located on the Grand Terrace pays tribute to his significance in the station’s history.
EMR operates a first class lounge at St. Pancras which is accessible to all first class ticket holders for up to two hours prior to departure and is located on the mezzanine level near to the EMR platforms. Due to the early hour the lounge was empty when I arrived, however it slowly started to get busier during my visit. The lounge has a range of seating as well as the standard offering of tea, coffee, juice and water. There was also a small selection of snacks including cupcakes to celebrate the start of the EMR franchise. Whilst the lounge was basic, it was perfectly functional although starting to look a bit tired, so hopefully EMR will give it a refresh in the near future.
About 20 minutes before departure the platform was announced and I headed along the ‘Grand Terrace’ to where EMR’s platforms are located. St. Pancras has a slightly odd layout with the three national rail operators (plus Eurostar) all having dedicated and segregated platforms, with EMR and Southeastern being either side of Eurostar on the mezzanine level whilst Thameslink operate from platforms A & B underneath the main concourse. I was departing from platform 3 and found a Class 222 Meridian awaiting me still wearing the colour scheme of it’s former operator.
EMR currently operate five trains an hour from St. Pancras with these being split between ‘fast’, ‘semi-fast’ and ‘stopping’ services. There is one fast service each hour to each of Sheffield and Nottingham, whilst Sheffield is also served by an additional ‘semi-fast’ service. A stopping service to Nottingham and an hourly service to Corby make up the remainder of services. I was travelling on the ‘semi-fast’ Sheffield service as far as Derby with stops at Leicester, Loughborough, East Midlands Parkway and Long Eaton, with the train also calling at Chesterfield and Sheffield after I alighted at Derby. The ‘fast’ service to Sheffield omits all stops prior to Derby with the exception of Leicester.
Prior to departing St. Pancras it was announced there would be a limited offering in first class due to a fault with the water boiler on-board the train. Whilst obviously this is unplanned it was disappointing considering this is the only train with a full breakfast offering. Departing St. Pancras on-time, we passed over the Regent’s Canal and I noticed that the former Gas Holders near St. Pancras Lock had been tastefully replaced by apartments and open space which retained the iron framework of the gas holders. Heading north towards Kentish Town the line then begins to turn and continues to snake through North London towards Edgware and the M25.
As we passed over the M25, a drinks trolley was brought through first class with hot drinks (not sure how these were provided without a water boiler) and orange juice. Overall on this journey I was disappointed with the service provided by the crew. Whilst I can understand that the fault preventing a breakfast service was not their fault, the crew did not seem apologetic about this and were not very forthcoming with the limited replacement option. When I asked about this replacement during the second drinks service I was offered a pack of shortbread biscuits.
Between Wellingborough and Kettering the work being done by Network Rail to upgrade the Midland Mainline is obvious with Overhead Line Masts being installed, new sidings being built and a much straightened platform at Wellingborough. Once these upgrades have been completed they will allow a sixth ‘long-distance’ path from St. Pancras which will be used to provide a second train per hour to Corby. These services will also be operated by electric trains with EMR splitting it’s brand into ‘EMR Electrics’ (for the Corby services), ‘EMR Intercity’ (for services to Nottingham and Sheffield) and ‘EMR Regional’ (for local and regional services across the East Midlands)
An hour after departing London we began to slow as we passed through the outskirts of Leicester and Welford Road, the home of Leicester Tigers, before arriving at our first stop one minute early. The other passengers in my carriage all alighted the train at Leicester and so I essentially had a private carriage for the remaining 30 minutes of my journey. The remaining stops at Loughborough, East Midlands Parkway and Long Eaton were uneventful and soon we were passing Derby County’s Pride Park Stadium on the approach to Derby.
In conclusion I was unfortunately left disappointed by my journey with East Midlands Railway. Obviously the biggest issue was the key offering of this service (and the reason I’d booked it) was not provided with very little being provided as a replacement of this. Unfortunately in addition to this the on-board crew seemed bored and made it feel like providing a service was too much effort. Overall the service lacked the usual friendliness and helpfulness that I have previously found on East Midlands Trains and hope that this is not the way the service and attitude is going to be under EMR. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to try this service again soon and see whether anything is different.
Lounge 3* Seat/Facilities 4* Food 1* Service 2* Punctuality 5* Overall Rating 15/25 (read about my rating system here!)