Thursday 22nd July 2021
It’s wonderful to see the ‘Staycation Express’ run by Rail Charter Services back again on the Settle & Carlisle Line for the summer. And even better than last year’s trial, it’s being run by a former Great Western Railway High Speed Train in a very smart green and silver livery.
This year’s timetable began on Monday operating for eight weeks until Thursday 9th September. Last year the service ran from Skipton as far north as Appleby but for 2021 a return journey leaves Skipton at 11:18 and runs all the way through to Carlisle arriving 13:13 stopping at Settle and Appleby with a return time from Carlisle at 15:09. There’s a southbound positioning journey from Appleby (where the train is presumably stabled overnight) down to Skipton in the mornings at 09:40 (arriving at 11:00) returning at 17:18, getting back to Appleby for 18:28.
The journeys are once again slotted around the main timetable operated by Northern between Leeds and Carlisle which continues unchanged together with any freight movements on the line.
Slightly different times apply on Saturdays snd Sundays and no service operates on Fridays giving time for the train to be serviced.
Ticket sales on Rail Charter’s website began when Covid restrictions were still in place so last year’s arrangement of only selling tickets in pairs was the rule at that time but this now seems to have changed and tickets for just one person or any number travelling together are now available.
A single from Skipton to Carlisle is £34 with a return at £59. It’s more expensive than standard ticket prices of £26.40 single or £27.90 for an off-peak day return but they’re worth every penny of the excess.
The train comprises five coaches with a power car at each end. It looks absolutely splendid in its new livery; my travelling companion on Monday, design legend Ray Stenning, gave it his seal of approval so it really must be good.
Ray especially liked the crest logo on the side of each coach.
Inside, the coaches are kitted out in GWR’s luxury style former First Class leather seats throughout the train. Oh, how we miss them.
There’s even a kitchen and buffet car which as well as offering counter service also provides a brunch option in the morning for £15 and afternoon tea for £18 on the return journey. These can be added at the time of booking online.
Brunch and tea are served at set tables with real crockery and glassware.
There was a slight teething problem with the hot water supply on the first trip so only cold drinks could be served. But no-one minded and even cold drinks served from the buffet came in a proper glass – none of your plastic throwaway stuff here.
To add to all this luxury is a huge dose of scenic delight along the entire journey especially the famous Ribblehead Viaduct and the gorgeous valleys along the way.
I was a bit surprised the toilets didn’t seem to have been modified to prevent effluent falling straight on the track if the notice was still relevant – maybe there’s an exemption for heritage charter type trains?
The train had a reasonable number of passengers on board for its inaugural run on Monday, including a tour party who’d also commissioned an open top ‘Queen Mary’ former Southdown PD3 to bring them to Skipton station.
There were still plenty of empty seats though, although this was just as well as a number of bookings had couples not travelling together around a table for four but the RCS team were on hand to sort any such problems out with impressive efficiency and politeness and moved people to empty alternative seats.
I hope custom picks up over the next few weeks and this year’s operation, like last year’s will be a success. I see that for forward bookings tickets for brunch and afternoon tea are already sold out for some dates which is an encouraging sign.
It really is a pleasure to see the leisure market for train travel being encouraged with this initiative thanks to entrepreneurial private enterprise and I’m sure there’s more scope for enterprises like this across the rail network. Train journeys like this one offer a great alternative to what are now somewhat bland uncomfortable coaches on many long distance journeys nowadays.
Travelling along the Settle and Carlisle line – England’s most scenic railway line – is always a delight, but to do so on the luxury of a smooth running, quiet running HST really is a special treat.
The ‘Staycation Express’ is highly recommended.