Date: Tuesday 14th December 2021
Until recently there was only one operator that connected Edinburgh and Newcastle with London Kings Cross and that was LNER. Of course, from Edinburgh you could also catch Avanti West Coast or the Caledonian Sleeper to London Euston, whilst from Newcastle you could, at a push, travel to Sunderland and catch Grand Central. If these weren’t an attractive option, you could fly from both Edinburgh or Newcastle to a ‘London’ airport, however most of these would leave you in Luton or Gatwick.
However, from late October, there is a new operator connecting Kings Cross with Newcastle, Morpeth and Edinburgh aiming to challenge the airlines and offer a cheaper alternative. That operator is Lumo! Running as an ‘Open Access’ operator, Lumo had to show the Department for Transport that they wouldn’t take customers away from existing operators and would bring new customers to the railway which is why they are focusing on challenging the airlines.
Initially operating two return services a day, Lumo have already increased this to three and are due to up this to five a day in ‘early 2022’ on weekdays. There are currently two services each way on a Saturday and one on a Sunday, however until April 2022 these only operate between Edinburgh and Newcastle due to engineering works on the East Coast Mainline (ECML). At the moment the timings aren’t great for a day trip, only allowing 55 minutes in Edinburgh or 3.5 hours in London, so hopefully the other two services yet to come will improve this.
Having travelled to the North East on LNER’s inaugural Middlesbrough service (read about that here) and then having a day Exploring the ECML (one here, one to come), I was booked onto the evening Lumo service which departs Edinburgh at 1612, calling at Morpeth, Newcastle (where I was picking it up at 1747), Stevenage and London Kings Cross. From Newcastle the journey time to London is scheduled as exactly three hours, about 7 minutes longer than the fastest timings due to the set-down stop at Stevenage.
Operating a ‘single-class’ of travel that they avoid describing as ‘standard class’ at any point, Lumo are operating Hitachi class 803s similar to LNER’s Azumas and TPE’s Nova 1s. However, with more comfortable seating, added touches such as reading lights and on-train entertainment via the Wi-Fi, I can certainly see how Lumo are trying to make rail travel more attractive to those who currently use the airlines between Edinburgh and London.
Departing Newcastle’s platform 4 on time, I was treated to another stunning view of the River Tyne and its numerous bridges as we crossed the King Edward bridge to head south up the ECML. The onboard ‘Customer Experience Manager’ made an ‘airline-style’ announcement telling us all about what we could expect from the journey including that the trolley service wouldn’t be a trolley and would be operating from a fixed position in the middle of the train.
Having waited for the ticket check to be undertaken, I made my way back through the busy carriages to coach C where the ‘trolley’ was based. To be completely honest, Lumo’s onboard offering was extremely limited considering most journeys on their services will last more than four hours. The most substantial food offering was a sharing bag of Milky Bar bites with no sandwiches or similar available.
Although the onboard offering is poor, Lumo do offer an alternative for passengers boarding at either Edinburgh or London, ‘LumoEats’, which is essentially UberEats for Lumo. LumoEats allows you to order your food from station eateries up to six hours before departure and have this delivered directly to your seat. However, this option isn’t available for passengers boarding at Newcastle and so didn’t help my hunger.
Tucking into my stash of chocolate, I settled down for the journey south and decided to check out Lumo’s on train entertainment, ‘LumoGo’. This is similar to systems I’ve seen on a couple of other operators where, once connected to the Wi-Fi, you’re able to access a collection of programmes, films, magazines and podcasts. I had a browse through and, whilst there is a wide selection, I couldn’t find anything that took my fancy so settled down with a Spotify podcast for the rest of the journey.
Other than the brief stop at Stevenage to let passengers alight the rest of the journey was uneventful and unremarkable with us arriving into Kings Cross a couple of minutes early. All in all I was reasonably impressed with Lumo as a ‘standard class’ product with certainly elements, such as the seats and LumoGo, better than the competition. The catering situation whilst disappointing, can be planned around, but the biggest problem at the moment is that the timings don’t work particularly well for a day out. Hopefully when the five service timetable is up to full strength the timings will work. I’d certainly recommend Lumo over the airlines if you’re travelling from city to city, however I think LNER will remain my favoured option from Peterborough.
Overall Rating 14/25 (read about my rating system here!)