KGX-MBR LNER – 1st Class – The Inaugural Service to Middlesbrough

Operator: LNER

Headcode: 1N23

Route:    KGX-MBR

Class:    First

Seat:     D02

Date:     Monday 13th December 2021

Another day, another LNER review, although this one is a bit different with me travelling onboard the inaugural Kings Cross to Middlesbrough service, the first direct service from the capital to the Teesside city since 1990. The first southbound service departed with much fanfare, so I was intrigued to see if there were any events planned at Kings Cross for the return.

Back Chat Brass at Kings Cross

Arriving into Kings Cross following a morning in Soham (read about that here), I had a couple of hours until departure and so headed to the first-class lounge for what is actually the first time since Flights and Times has been a thing and my first time in an LNER lounge since pre-Covid. (Leeds in Sep 19 was the last time – read about that here). If I’m honest the Kings Cross lounge was just a bit disappointing with a feeling of cost cutting disguised as a reduction in service during Covid. What made it worse was the interrogation to get in as the staff didn’t know of the existence of the Middlesbrough service and couldn’t believe there was a 1525 service.

Whilst the LNER website doesn’t specify exactly what is available in its lounges, it does state that there is a “complimentary selection of hot and cold drinks and light snacks available”. Whilst there was a wide selection of hot drinks (I do like those coffee machines), water was the only option for a cold drink and the ‘selection’ of light snacks consisted of crisps. Whilst I’m not expecting an extensive selection, there did used to be packets of biscuits and fruit cake, along with soft drinks, so I’m not sure why these aren’t available.

LNER’s advertising of the new service at Kings Cross

With the lounge being rather underwhelming I headed down to the platforms early to see if there were any events going on as part of the inaugural service. Although the speeches all seemed to have occurred in Middlesbrough in the morning, there was Back Chat Brass, an Octet of musicians who provided entertainment as we boarded the train. On the platform there were also a number on LNER staff handing out goodie bags containing a pen, Azuma branded water bottle and a poster celebrating the Middlesbrough launch. The train for our journey north was 800202, with bi-mode five-car Azuma’s operating the route due to the fact the route north of Northallerton is unelectrified.

Departing Kings Cross platform 6 on time, we were soon racing north, with the engineering works at Kings Cross having done their job of speeding up departures. Years of engineering works have allowed the Kings Cross Uncrossed project to reopen a closed tunnel, rationalise point work and upgrade signalling meaning that the station now has six arrival/departure lines with higher line speeds. Theoretically it’ll improve reliability and, along with other East Coast Mainline (ECML) improvements, will reduce journey times.

The contents of the goodie bags

When booking this trip back in October I had been hopeful that LNER’s new ‘Dish’ menu would have been launched in first-class, given their assurances it would “be by the end of the year”. However, when the menus were distributed, I was slightly disappointed to discover that, whilst different to the normal ‘Deli’ menu, this was an interim Christmas menu and not the ‘coming soon’ ‘Dish’ menu.

Despite my disappointment at this not being the new menu, the interim Christmas menu did provide some better options than what had become standard, including Waffles with a choice of plum & port jam; maple ‘flavour’ syrup; or Nutella. Opting for the jam accompaniment, it wasn’t long before these were delivered and I’ve got to say, for train food, they were delicious! There was also various snacks available and so I accompanied my late lunch with a chocolate pot and a packet of crisps.

The waffles with plum & port jam

Regular readers know that one of my measures of good service is the number of times drinks get served during a journey in first-class. Well, this journey was a bit of a mix, with a seemingly good three drinks runs through the two half carriages forming first-class. However, only one of these runs had the full range of hot and cold drinks with the tea & coffee staying firmly in the galley once we were north of Peterborough. However, this did give me an excuse to have an ale following lunch once the coffee had dried up.

LNER Middlesbrough services have only two intermediate stops en route, running fast from Kings Cross to York and then calling at only Thornaby on the final run to Teesside. With a bit of buffer built into the schedule we were running a few minutes early as we approached Retford and unfortunately had to slow to a stand to allow a stopping York service out ahead of us. Thankfully the stop was brief and, with fast through lines at Doncaster allowing us to pass the York train, we continued fast to York.

The rest of my lunch selection

The stop at York was brief but also allowed a very necessary driver change, with a Doncaster crew having brought us north from King’s Cross, but a Newcastle driver taking us on to Middlesbrough. New services are a logistical nightmare for operators, especially if they’re to an area they don’t usually serve. For LNER to introduce the Middlesbrough route both driver and Train Managers had to be trained on the route and any diversions, including the route for the empty stock beyond Middlesbrough station itself.

Thornaby was an uneventful stop and we were soon on the final short run into Middlesbrough. Arriving into platform 2 with a very healthy 85 passengers onboard (although it helped the TPE service ahead was cancelled), a few photos were taken by the large enthusiast contingent (and some of the crew) before the Azuma runs empty to Shell Junction before reversing and heading back through Middlesbrough to Heaton Depot via Sunderland and Newcastle.

800202 upon arrival at Middlesborough

Its always good to see new services being introduced as it shows the railways are growing and there is sufficient demand from the communities for a service to be successful. Whilst the initial services are timed for people on Teesside to head to London for the day, there is the possibility of more Middlesbrough services allowing the reverse. Generally the journey was enjoyable and the Christmas menu was a nice change, however the limited refreshments in the Kings Cross lounge definitely let the side down.

Lounge              2*

Seat/Facilities     4*

Food               4*

Service             3*

Punctuality         5*

Overall Rating      16/25 (read about my rating system here!)

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