Friday 17th Janurary 2020
Last month’s timetable change saw a greatly improved train service for Harrogate with LNER introducing direct trains to and from London Kings Cross every two hours; a substantial increase over the once a day journey which previously ran.
Six daily southbound departures from Harrogate leave at 07:34; 09:36; 11:36; 13:36; 15:36 and 17:36 and northbound from Kings Cross at 07:33 and two-hourly until 17:33 (with the latter journey departing at 18:33 on Saturdays). The six departures run at slightly different times on Sundays.
I caught the 15:36 departure from Harrogate to Kings Cross yesterday afternoon and was struck by how the nine-coach bi-mode Azuma Class 800 only just fitted into Platform 3. I understand the departures at 09:36, 11:36 and 17:36 are scheduled to be operated by even longer 10 coach bi-mode Azumas made up of two of LNER’s five coach sets joined together.
I’ve commented before on the odd decision by the DfT and some Train Operating Companies to order five coach trains when they’re largely operated in joined up formation as ten coach trains, but at least I thought I could see the logic when it came to running trains on to smaller destinations (eg Harrogate) beyond the principal destination (eg Leeds) when I’d assumed the trains would be split at Leeds and only one portion of five coaches extended to Harrogate. But it seems that potential is not being pursued. Perhaps it’s too much faff to join and split the trains in Leeds but Southern manage to do this every half hour at Haywards Heath for Coastway services with very little fuss.
The train I caught to Lincoln when that enhanced service began in October had arrived into Kings Cross as a joined together five coach train but was split during its stand time at the terminus and only five coaches went to Lincoln which seemed a sensible move.
Heralding the enhanced Harrogate service, David Horne, LNER’s managing director was quoted as enthusing “we hope our new Azuma services will not only revolutionise the customer experience for those who travel with us but also open up huge economic benefits for the area thanks to the increase of services from one train each way to six”.
It does sound like a revolution. A direct journey to London six times more frequent than the previous once a day offering. But in reality the only difference is the fact you don’t have to change trains in Leeds, but can stay in your seat (or switch to one pointing the opposite way if you like facing the direction of travel as the train switches direction in Leeds).
Since Northern enhanced the Harrogate to Leeds timetable there are now hourly departures from Harrogate to Leeds at 02 minutes past each hour which also call at Hornbeam Park and Horsforth, taking the same approximate thirty minutes journey time as the non-stop LNER trains, and provide a decent twelve minute connection on to the LNER 45 minutes past the hour departure for Kings Cross from Leeds. That’s revolutionary – a decent hourly service to London (albeit with a change) in addition to LNER’s through service every two-hours.
Sadly the same slick connection doesn’t work in the Harrogate bound direction with the Leeds-Horsforth-Hornbeam Park-Harrogate semi-fasts leaving at 15 minutes past the hour whereas the train from Kings Cross arrives into Leeds at 16 minutes past the hour. What a shame the Northern departures at 15 couldn’t have been delayed to say 23 minutes past the hour. It could have cleared the way ahead of the 29 departure which is a stopper through to York via Harrogate and Knaresborough. The other departure per hour from Leeds is at 59 and is a stopper to Harrogate and Knaresborough; this is preceded every two-hours by the LNER non-stopper at 53 minutes past the hour (having arrived from Kings Cross at 46 minutes past the hour).
We were treated to the usual long winded announcement by the train manager as we waited to depart from Harrogate yesterday afternoon telling us all the tickets which weren’t valid as well as the news that there’d be no refreshment facilities until the train reached Leeds. It didn’t feel very welcoming. It didn’t feel like I was part of a revolution.
Nor did I find the onboard refreshment offer particularly revolutionary when it came on board at Leeds and appeared as we approached Doncaster over an hour after I had boarded. The options for an afternoon journey seemed particularly restrictive, especially for Veganuarians!
In contrast, I’d earlier spent an enjoyable few hours with Alex Hornby, the enthusiastic and passionate chief executive officer of Transdev Blazefield, sampling this highly regarded company’s services between York and Leeds and on to Harrogate including the revolutionary electric fleet running on local Harrogate services and which receive a top up charge each time they pass through the bus station.
There are so many neat touches you see as you travel around this innovative company’s ‘territory’ including the little battery level indicator as the bus tops up (it’s only symbolic but a nice touch)…
… and the now well established count down to when the bus is departing.
Another noteworthy feature inside the electric buses is the way space is utilised including these bench type structures. Why don’t other bus companies take up these ideas?
It’s great to also see Harrogate’s local bus routes continuing to offer free travel for all passengers on Sundays – a revolutionary initiative now in its second year and receiving support and financial backing from a range of businesses. A great idea to encourage people to take a ride into town on a Sunday.
The Company’s star performing route is of course the 36 between Leeds, Harrogate and Ripon. This has seen many innovations (leather seats in 2+1 format on the upper deck) and frequency enhancements (now an impressive every 10 minutes between Leeds and Harrogate – 20 minutely on to Ripon) over the years and is obviously continuing to do well.
The 49 minute running time compares well with the 38 minutes taken by the half hourly stopping trains between Leeds and Harrogate and it’s clear from riding the bus it does well on the route out of Leeds with many passengers using that section of route which is well away from the train tracks.
The word ‘revolutionary’ is certainly apt to desecribe Harrogate’s public transport. It’s always a pleasure to visit the town.
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.