When East Midlands Railway (EMR) was announced as the winner of the East Midlands Franchise, it announced it was going to operate its services under three sub-brands. EMR Intercity, for services on the London to Nottingham/Sheffield routes; EMR Regional, for local services and the Liverpool-Nottingham-Norwich route; and finally, EMR Connect for the future half-hourly service from London to Corby.
Until the May 2021 timetable change, the EMR Connect brand hadn’t made an appearance, however with the retirement of EMR’s HSTs (see here & here) also came the introduction of the franchise’s first electric services and the EMR Connect brand. With life and work getting in the way, it took a few weeks before I was able to head back down to St Pancras to try out these services, but on Friday 25th June, I did just that, arriving at St Pancras a little after 10am.
Having purchased an advance ticket to make the most of the saving (1/3 of a anytime single), I was booked onto the 1045 service and upon arrival at St Pancras realised I had made an error! The 1045 isn’t a Corby service, it’s a Melton Mowbray via Corby service meaning it had to be operated by a diesel train (the wires only run as far as Corby). Shortly before our platform was announced a glimmer of hope arrived in the form of a class 180, a train I’ve reviewed with Hull Trains and Grand Central (read those here and here) but not with EMR.
With about 10 minutes to go before departure my final glimmer of hope was destroyed as our platform was announced and it was revealed 222104 would be my chariot to Corby. Essentially, my trip to Corby with EMR, purely to try out one of their new old trains was completely foiled by me not checking the end destination! Thankfully after my journey on the 1045 (which was used for writing my Time on the Tyne blog – here), my day was fairly flexible with a 1510 departure from Bedford being my next fixed point, leaving me four hours to find some electrics.
Looking at the timetables, and the price of tickets, I worked out I had enough time to ride of three of the class 360 pairs in operation before needing to be at Bedford. The first of these was the 1211 Corby to St Pancras as far as Luton, operated by 360110 and 360120. First impressions were good, with high levels of cleanliness and the seating recently reupholstered. EMR have declassified the first-class areas at either end of the train, providing these bays with half-tables.
The planned refurbishment of these units has not yet taken place, and so the interior layout is still very much the same as when the trains were operating with Greater Anglia with the bulk of seating in a 2-3 high density layout. There are no tables (except the half ones in declassified first-class) and no standard or USB power sockets meaning, ironically, EMR’s electric services don’t provide electricity for passengers!
In terms of journey provision, the EMR Connect services have provided improvements, with regular half-hourly services for Corby and all EMR stations south of Kettering. These services also once again see Wellingborough and Bedford connected, removing the need for the replacement bus introduced by EMR for commuters between these two towns at a previous timetable change. However, the EMR Connect services have also had some negative connotations, with stations south of Kettering only served by these trains, meaning a change at Kettering for journeys to or from stations north of there.
However, the new trains are powered by electricity, with the wires having been extended from Bedford to Corby, resulting in quicker journey times and greener journeys. When I travelled from Corby to St Pancras back in the summer of 2019, the journey took an hour and 14 minutes, without us calling at all stations. Most timetabled journeys on the EMR Connect services are now a few minutes quicker (around an hour and 11 minutes), whilst stopping at all stations (meaning fairly slow running between Luton and Luton Airport Parkway).
The electric class 360s also provide a 77% reduction in emissions compared to the diesel trains they replace, whilst also being quieter during the journey for both passengers and lineside neighbours. Unfortunately, de-specification of the Midland Mainline electrification, means that the wires will now only eventually go as far as Market Harborough, meaning EMR’s new inter-city trains are required to be bi-mode.
So, at the moment, the EMR Connect services are fairly neutral in terms of provision for customers with more frequent regular journeys, but less direct destinations. The trains also have less facilities that those that previously served these stations, so hopefully the upcoming refurbishments will resolve some of these issues.