Operator: TransPennine Express Headcode: 1K29 Route: MAN-LDS Class: First Seat: E17 Date: Saturday 25th January 2020
On the final Saturday in January, I decided to have an impromptu ‘railday’ and so headed to Pennines to explore the region with a South Pennines Day Ranger. This ranger ticket costs just £25.20 for adults or £16.65 with most railcards and allows unlimited standard class travel on most operators within a region bounded by Bradford (Interchange), Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield.
As part of this railday I was travelling with TransPennine Express (TPE) from Manchester Piccadilly to Leeds (via Manchester Victoria) and so opted to try out their weekend first-class upgrade which is just £10 between the two cities. These upgrades can be bought on-board and when the anytime single is £20 more for a first-class ticket, offer a clear saving for first-class on the route.
Piccadilly is home to a wide range of services including local services by Northern, regional inter-city services by East Midlands Railway, TPE and Transport for Wales and long-distance inter-city services provided by Avanti West Coast. A year or so ago any length of time spent at Piccadilly would cause your ears to hurt from the screeching brakes of Britain’s most hated train, the Pacer.
Thankfully for many ear drums, Northern are replacing these trains with new class 195s and 331s (read about my trip on a 331 here) and I didn’t see any during my visit to the Pennines. TPE are another operator undergoing a massive fleet replacement with three new types of train being introduced which they have branded as Nova 1 (class 802s), Nova 2 (class 397s) and Nova 3 (class 68 hauled coaches).
Having checked online, the TPE website advised that the first-class trolley served this route until approximately 1830 and so after some back and forth with the TPE Twitter Team (thanks ^AB!), I had managed to establish that the 1735 departure from Piccadilly towards Newcastle would be operated by one of the new Nova 1s. This service starts at Manchester Airport and with just one prior stop at East Didsbury the train was almost empty upon its arrival at Piccadilly.
Departing Piccadilly on time, we soon called at Manchester Oxford Road before being held whilst approaching the Ordsall Cord for a path across the busy Castlefield Corridor. The Ordsall Cord is a relatively new stretch of line that allows a direct connection between Manchester’s Piccadilly and Victoria stations. Prior to the cord being built, the only direct connection was via tram, with rail passengers required to change at Salford Crescent.
After calling at Manchester Victoria, there were only 3 other passengers in first-class and so the carriage had a very quiet and relaxed atmosphere. As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes the cost of an upgrade to first-class is worth it just for the space and quiet, even if it does only include a coffee and some biscuits, which it did on this journey.
We had a good half an hour non-stop run to our next stop, and despite some slow running at points, we pulled into Huddersfield precisely on time. Huddersfield is home to one of Britain’s railways most famous animals, Felix the cat and her assistant Bolt. Felix began to work at the station as a 9-week old kitten back in 2011 and is designated the ‘Senior Pest Controller’ for the station with Bolt being brought in to assist in these duties in 2018. There are two best selling books about Felix, ‘Felix the Railway Cat’ and ‘Full Steam Ahead Felix’, which you can probably (hopefully) find in all good bookstores!
The seats in first-class were very comfortable with recline and retractable arms rests both sides, and each seat had both a USB and standard power socket. Unfortunately, whilst supposedly the on-board Wi-Fi also provides access to an entertainment system, I couldn’t get either my laptop or phone to connect. Whether this was an issue with the system or the new train I’m not sure, however the train was also operating without any reservations or destination information displayed.
Dewsbury was my penultimate stop as whilst the service was continuing onto York and then up the East Coast Mainline to Newcastle, I was leaving the train at Leeds. Whilst the weekend on-board service was basic, I still feel the £10 upgrade is worth it for the space and quiet environment and the seats were definitely more comfortable than in standard class on the class 185 I’d been on earlier in the day. I think the new Nova fleets are a massive step up for TPE and I certainly would be happy to travel the 3+ hours on their longer routes on-board these trains.
Lounge 0* Seat/Facilities 3* Food 3* Service 5* Punctuality 5* Overall Rating 16/25 (read about my rating system here!)