Operator: Hull Trains
Date: Monday 9th August 2021
With the aim of ending up in Derby by the evening, my choices for episode 3 of ‘Exploring the East Coast’ were to head south and eventually get an EMR service from St. Pancras to the Midlands or head north and make my way back down to Derby from Yorkshire. In a way I chose both, as to head north to Retford and Doncaster, I first headed south to London to catch the second Hull Trains service of the day out of the capital.
Hull Trains are one of Britain’s few Open Access operators, along with Grand Central and Heathrow Express, which run services to meet demand otherwise not covered by a franchise operator. Hull Trains operate six return services a day from Hull, in East Yorkshire, to London’s Kings Cross, with a couple of morning and evening services starting or ending in Beverly, a couple of stops beyond Hull.
Hull Trains doesn’t have any of its own first-class lounges including, surprisingly, at Hull and unfortunately first-class tickets with any operator other than LNER doesn’t grant access to the lounge at King’s Cross. Having arrived on a Great Northern service, I only had about 10 minutes to wait before boarding began about 20 minutes before departure. The two half carriages (E is all first-class but has the kitchen, whilst D is half standard class) dedicated to first-class were soon relatively full.
Only a couple of Hull Trains services stop at Stevenage and so the first stop for our train was Grantham, somewhere I’d visited a couple of weeks before for episode 2 of Exploring the East Coast (Video & Blog here & here). Somewhere between King’s Cross and Welwyn Garden city we had our tickets checked shortly followed by a drinks service and orders being taken for breakfast sandwiches. Opting for the sausage option, I only had a short wait before my ciabatta roll was on the table with the usual choice of red or brown sauce.
Whilst the food onboard Hull Trains is generally pre-packaged and reheated, its of decent quality and often tastes better than freshly made food from station outlets. Drinks wise we had a limited choice of tea, coffee, or water but the coffee tasted decent enough and definitely helped wake me up. Surprisingly we also had a second drinks service before reaching Grantham ensuring I most definitely got my fill of caffeine for the morning!
Last year Hull Trains proudly declared that it was the only UK operator with an entirely new fleet, something that is not incorrect, but is also a bit cheeky considering the entire fleet consists of five units, half of the next smallest, Grand Central. The new class 802 ‘Paragons’ replaced Hull Train’s former fleet of class 180s and are much better than the rather tired units that have now cascaded to EMR.
Cousins to LNER’s ‘Azumas’, GWR’s ‘IETs’ and TPE’s ‘Nova 1s’, the class 802 ‘Paragons’ are Hitachi AT300 bi-modes that can run on electric under overhead lines but also contain diesel engines to allow them to run on unelectrified routes, such as between Doncaster and Hull/Beverley on Hull Trains’ network. Whilst having routes such as Hull line unelectrified is not ideal, the introduction of bi-mode trains at least makes best use of the electrified portions of the network, as previously the class 180s would have operated on diesel engines for the entire journey.
Arriving at Retford, I was pleased with the uneventful journey that certainly met my expectations of Hull Trains as an operator that continues to do that little bit extra. All the onboard staff were friendly, the service provided was prompt and more than many other operators are currently offering and most importantly we arrived safely on time. If you’re heading north from London and you can make the two-hourly Hull Trains service work, I’d certainly recommend catching them as I’ve always enjoyed my journeys with them.
Overall Rating 17/25 (read about my rating system here!)