Monday 21st October 2019
LNER’s flagship AZUMA trains started running between Lincoln and London Kings Cross today. They’re journeys which previously just ran between Newark North Gate and Kings Cross now projected back to start at Lincoln, so they’re not new journeys on the actual East Coast Main Line (ECML).
They provide a significant boost for people living, working or visiting Lincoln who now have four daytime journeys direct to and from London in addition to long standing peak hour journeys (07:30 from Lincoln and 19:06 return from Kings Cross) which LNER continue to run for now with an HST.
There’s also a peak hour direct train from Lincoln (07:05) to St Pancras via Nottingham and return (at 18:05) operated by East Midlands Railways but this takes almost three hours – an hour longer than via the ECML.
As you can imagine LNER rolled out the Azuma PR and marketing launch machine in Lincoln this morning to mark the occasion but it was noticeably low key compared to Azuma roll outs seen elsewhere during the summer. In fact although some razzmatazz was laid on for the first Azuma departure bound for Kings Cross at 11:18, this was all being quickly packed away at midday when I arrived on the first Azuma into Lincoln from the south (the 10:06 from Kings Cross). Twitter commentators also observed that only invited guests had been able to get close to the goodie bag action too.
I looked around for some colourful leaflets promoting the exciting new journeys that now leave Lincoln for London at 11:18, 13:23, 15:26 and 17:14 but all I could find in Lincoln station’s ticket office was the standard LNER timetable and a leaflet about the Azuma trains themselves.
The extra London journeys are shown in LNER’s May timetable booklet and they’re coded to show they’ll start at a date in the future to be confirmed on the website.
And thinking about the timings of the new southbound direct journeys, that first one at 11:18 doesn’t arrive into Kings Cross until 13:23 which is a bit late for a day out especially if you want to get the last new Azuma direct train back which leaves Kings Cross at 16:06.
It seems to me the new timetable is more geared to bringing people into Lincoln for a day out than taking people down to London. As said, my 10:06 train from London arrived into Lincoln at midday and there’s a new return at 17:14 giving a nice five and a bit hours to ‘do Lincoln’.
Southbound passengers do have earlier train options than 11:18 by either changing at Newark North Gate or via Sleaford and change at Peterborough – for example, there are options at 10:16 via the former (arrives Kings Cross at 12:22) or 10:18 via the latter (arrives Kings Cross 12:40).
It would seem a good idea if EMR and LNER could collaborate and produce a nice attractive leaflet showing all the Lincoln London travel options.
The plan is to run five coach Azumas on these new direct Lincoln journeys and this morning my train left from the north end of Kings Cross platform 0 where a ten coach train that had arrived earlier had been split.
We left exactly on time at 10:06 as the 10:03 to Leeds was also leaving slightly late and it was interesting to see us both enter the two bidirectional tracks together through the middle portal of Gasworks Tunnel especially as the Leeds train was unusually an HST and another HST was leaving through the western portal at the same time bound for sidings; and all this just six minutes after an HST left on the 10:00 to Inverness.
By the time we were north of Copenhagen Tunnel we were in the correct order behind the Leeds train as we were stopping at Stevenage but that wasn’t.
One odd thing was our formation was in reverse form with first class (coaches D – half of – and E) at the front, so as we pulled into Stevenage, Peterborough and Grantham passengers had to make a mad scramble up and down the platform as they were waiting at the lettered signs marked for the normal formation with A/B at the front.
It was also noticeable that despite being only five coaches we stoped at the extreme north ends of the platforms (as a ten coach train would) to line up with the letters (had they been correct) so passengers had much further to walk back to the station buildings and exits which are generally in the middle platforms.
The first class catering offer and menu is the same as on all LNER trains but sadly no hot food was available on my journey ‘due to a problem in the kitchen’. Luckily the ‘problem’ didn’t include the toaster and the usual biscuits, crisps and fruit were handed out.
The catering team alighted at Newark North Gate, the pantograph came down and the driver turned the diesel engine on as we headed off around the curve by the infamous Newark flat crossing (with an orange army platoon on hand) …… and on to the tracks towards Lincoln where we passed the southbound 11:18 from Lincoln held at a signal until we cleared the single track curve.
That train then headed into Newark North Gate where it would wait from 11:45 until the long standing scheduled path with departure at 11:56, adding eleven minutes to the overall journey time.
My midday arrival into Lincoln was four minutes ahead of the 12:04 scheduled time and there were 92 of us on board as we pulled in; so not bad for a first journey.
I’m sure these new direct journeys will prove popular as people do prefer direct travel over changing trains on journeys of this kind. It’s just a shame there’s not an earlier southbound off-peak departure before 11:18 for now.
It’s interesting to receive a comment below that perhaps LNER are not fully committed to the Lincoln Azuma project – that would certainly explain the somewhat limp launch – and the franchise commitment to further enhancements.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement enjoy Britain’s splendid scenic delights travelling by bus and train, and commenting along the way.