Operator: East Midlands Railway Headcode: 1C50 Route: DBY-STP Class: First Seat: G44 Date: Monday 6th January 2020
The first Monday in January saw most of the UK returning to work or school following the break for Christmas and New Year. For me, having been lucky enough to get an extra day off, the day saw me at Derby station in the early afternoon ready to head home, via London with East Midlands Railway (EMR). This journey came four months after my last journeys with EMR (a three leg round trip from London via Derby and Corby) and I was interested to see what changes had been made in the months since the franchise changed hands.
The first impressions provided by the lounge at Derby were that not much had changed, with the lounge being almost identical to my last visit and hints of the former East Midlands Trains branding still visible. The lounge has a basic selection of drinks (tea, coffee and juice) as well as a reasonable selection of snacks including biscuits, cake and pretzels. My only real complaint with the lounge is the limited workspace, with only one ‘breakfast bar’ style table available, although on this visit the lounge was extremely quiet.
After a relaxing 45 minutes in the lounge, I headed outside to the platform to await my train to London. My service today was operated by one of EMR’s class 222 Meridians, 222004 and was a ‘fast’ service from Sheffield to London St Pancras with only three intermediate stops at Chesterfield, Derby and Leicester. We departed Derby on time at 1404 and as we pulled out of the station the crew came through the carriage providing the on-board service.
The complementary onboard selection was exactly the same as that provided in the lounge, although menus at the seats did suggest that further, more substantial selections could be purchased. The paid for selection ranged from hot meals such as Chilli with Rice to sandwiches and jacket potatoes, however I chose not to investigate these as I had only recently had lunch. Personally, I have always been disappointed with the limited complementary offering provided by EMR and its predecessors in first class, with its weekday service being less than some operator’s weekend services and only really ranking ahead of Greater Anglia in my experience.
With a stop at Leicester completed 20 minutes after our departure from Derby, we had an uninterrupted run of just over an hour to London ahead of us. As we headed south, the weather brightened slightly (well, the rain stopped) and the rolling countryside eventually gave way to electrification masts and the urban corridor that runs south from Luton towards London.
Various upgrade works are visible across the route, including the aforementioned electrification masts which will allow electric services to run between London and Corby. In the next few years this will mean Class 360s will be cascaded to operate on Corby services whilst Hitachi Class 804s have been ordered to replace the Class 222s and High Speed Trains on services to Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield.
For some reason we slowed down in the Harpenden area, and although the timetable seemed to provide us with some leeway, we were a couple of minutes late as we passed the EMR and Thameslink sidings at Cricklewood. It would appear that the timetable south of Bedford is extremely generous as even with us passing West Hampstead (just a few miles north of St. Pancras) 3 minutes late we arrived into our destination a minute early.
All in all, my journey south from Derby was pretty identical to my previous journeys with EMR. Seemingly other than branding changes, and even then, only where their name is mentioned, EMR has made very few changes to the product of the previous operator since taking over in August 2019. Onboard, if not for the EMR branded menus, I wouldn’t have known I wasn’t on an East Midlands Trains service. Whilst there are certainly changes planned on EMR, I hope we don’t have to wait until 2022 and the new fleet of trains to see any.
Lounge 4* Seat/Facilities 4* Food 3* Service 3* Punctuality 5* Overall Rating 19/25 (read about my rating system here!)