Operator: Avanti West Coast Headcode: 9S44 Route: EUS-BHM Class: First Seat: H2 Date: Thursday 2nd January 2020
The morning of the 2nd January saw me at Euston station before 6am following the completion of my final night shift of the festive period. Although my final destination was Derby, I was heading first to Birmingham and en route trying out the first-class service of Avanti West Coast. Avanti are the new operator of inter-city west coast mainline services, having taken over from Virgin Trains the previous month.
Having arrived at Euston an hour early, I was hoping to spend the time waiting for my train in the excellent first-class lounge. Unfortunately, due to the early hour, the lounge was not yet open and so I couldn’t see what changes Avanti had made since taking over. Instead of the lounge, I chose to wander around Euston and see what changes had been made since my last visit, given that Euston is under redevelopment as part of the HS2 programme.
About 15 minutes before departure, boarding was announced, and I headed down to Euston’s gloomy platforms and the awaiting Class 390 Pendolino (390148). Due to the recent change in operator most of Avanti’s trains are in an all-white, brand-less livery, with my train being no exception to this. Avanti do have one train in their new livery, a smart mix of dark green and white, and I look forward to seeing more trains carrying this across the west coast in the future.
We departed Euston’s platform six exactly on time at 06:43 and began to weave our way through north-west London and our first stop, Milton Keynes. Less than five minutes after departure the on-board crew came through taking breakfast orders and serving drinks, offering a choice of tea and coffee as well as juice and water. I was pleased to see that Avanti haven’t yet made any major changes to the menu, and the Great British Breakfast still include black pudding, however on this trip I decided to opt for the Eggs Benedict.
Just 10 minutes after ordering, my breakfast was served and looked absolutely delicious. Considering this was a meal on-board a train travelling at 125mph, the portion size was generous, and the food well presented. Tucking in, the eggs were perfectly cooked, and the entire meal was delightful and definitely appreciated following my run of night shifts.
The 06:43 service is one of Avanti’s longest, operating from London to Edinburgh via the West Midlands and taking 5 hours 39 minutes and 14 intermediate stops to connect the capitals. I was only onboard for just under an hour and a half, with the service only calling at Milton Keynes Central, Coventry and Birmingham International en route to England’s second city.
At Milton Keynes a few more passengers joined the train, although my carriage remained mostly empty, and shortly after departing the crew came around with a second drinks service. Throughout the journey the friendly crew were absolutely excellent, and Virgin’s excellent customer service has definitely carried through to the new Avanti franchise.
My journey with Avanti was just a few of weeks after the change of franchise and so, apart from changes to branding, there hadn’t been many changes to the product previously provided by Virgin Trains. The only changes to the first-class seats since my last journey on the West Coast Mainline was the removal of the branded head rest covers and after almost 20 years of operation, the seats are beginning to look a bit tired.
After quick stops at Coventry and Birmingham International we were on the approach through the maze of railway lines into Birmingham New Street. New Street is the heart of the British rail network with direct trains to pretty much every region of the mainland UK (except the South-East) including Britain’s longest train service which starts at Aberdeen and calls at 43 stations on it’s way to Penzance, a journey of over 700 miles.
In conclusion, my first journey with Avanti showed that at this stage not much has changed from the Virgin Trains days, although this is certainly not something to complain about. The high quality, friendly staff have all transferred across and so the standard of customer service remains high and the food was excellent as always. I look forward to travelling with Avanti again in the future and seeing what changes they’ll bring to the West Coast Mainline.
Lounge 0* Seat/Facilities 5* Food 5* Service 5* Punctuality 5* Overall Rating 20/25 (read about my rating system here!)