Operator: TransPennine Express
Date: Wednesday 14th April 2021
With just eight minutes in York to buy my ticket and make my way to the remote platform four, I thought that my plan to undertake the East Yorkshire Round Robin was done for. Thankfully the excellent staff in the LNER Travel Centre sorted the ticket in just a couple of minutes and I just had time to grab a photo of my train before jumping on board.
With the retirement of Greater Anglia’s class 90 fleet and the temporary withdrawal of LNER’s class 91s, TransPennine Express’s (TPE) class 68 fleet is one of the few remaining loco-hauled services remaining in the UK, and certainly one of only two (alongside the Caledonian Sleeper) with modern coaching stock. As a self-confessed train geek, travelling behind a locomotive is always a treat and so I was looking forward to the 50 minute ride from York to the coast at Scarborough.
TPE have, over the past few years, introduced three new types of rolling stock into their fleet, all given the ‘Nova’ branding. Hitachi’s class 802s operate the longer distance East Coast Mainline routes and are branded ‘Nova 1’, whilst the CAF class 397s, ‘Nova 2s’ operate West Coast Mainline routes. The class 68 locomotives and mk5A rolling stock are ‘Nova 3’ and operate between Liverpool, Scarborough and Middlesbrough via Manchester, Leeds and York.
The mk5A carriages are a derivative of the Caledonian Sleeper’s mk5 carriages which were the first new passenger carriages built for use on the British railway network since the mk4 carriages in the early 1990s. Whilst the mk5s are designed to operate with the locomotive always at the front, the mk5As include a ‘Driving Van Trailer’ (DVT) allowing them to be operating as a ‘push-pull’ service. The design of the DVTs, with the window design and buffers, have led to them being known as Darth Vaders in the railway community. Unfortunately whilst the window design on the DVT has become a fan favourite, the layout onboard is disappointing as the majority of seats don’t line up well with the windows.
Onboard the new carriages, the seats are reasonably comfortable and are the same across the Nova fleets. They have unfortunately gone the way of most modern trains with streamline seats, although these ones are definitely more comfortable than some. It would be interesting to see how comfortable they are on a journey from Liverpool to Newcastle or Manchester to Edinburgh. In standard they are in the usual mix of ‘airline style’ and bays of four with tables, and each pair of seats has access to both a standard and USB style socket. TPE have also invested in onboard entertainment of sorts, with a selection of movies and TV programmes available to watch on your own device via their wi-fi platform.
Due to Covid-19 there is not currently any catering onboard TPE services, and whilst I certainly don’t want people to be put at risk unnecessarily, it is hard for TPE to justify the ongoing suspension of refreshments given the number of other operators that have reintroduced them in a safe manner. Hopefully before my next journey with TPE, they’ll have reintroduced some catering so I can try it out. However, given that catering is being offered by other operators now, I feel it is fair to include that category in the rating system below.
Whilst in ‘normal’ times the Scarborough service would begin at Liverpool Lime Street, it is currently curtailed to operate as a shuttle service between Scarborough and York. With this being an hourly service, TPE only require two or three sets of rolling stock, and therefore drivers and guards, to be available compared to the twelve sets required to operate a full service on the route.
Between York and Scarborough there are just two intermediate stations, Malton, famous for its local food produce, and Seamer, famous for its Mesolithic Age settlement. With it only being a couple of days after restrictions were lifted in England the train wasn’t overly busy, although a good number of people did board at the intermediate stations to travel to Scarborough given the good weather.
Scarborough is one of the UK’s railway stations that is just a shadow of its former self due to the decline in people holidaying in the UK. The station has five platforms, although needs just a couple for the regular service, whilst platform 1, by far the longest, has a large unmaintained section at the far end. Scarborough does still have a claim to fame though as the bench on platform 1 is the longest railway bench in the world at a whopping 139 meters (456ft) long!
Overall, my short journey on TPE’s new Nova 3s was enjoyable and relaxing despite the difficulties seeing out of a window. It’s disappointing new rolling stock has been designed without aligning the seats, however I suppose this is the trade off with increased capacity. Now I’ve tried the Nova 1 (here) and the Nova 3, I’ve definitely got to find a reason to try TPE’s Nova 2 at some point soon!
Overall Rating 12/25 (read about my rating system here!)