Wednesday 27th October 2021
If you’ve been wanting your train company to “conceptualise its commitment to its customers individual well being combining all elements of physical, spiritual, corporal, emotional and social being to ensure that any journey leaves you positively ready” …. then Lumo’s the train company for you.
When you travel with Lumo, as well as a whole load of marketing clap trap like that previous paragraph (lifted from Lumo’s “It all starts with philosophy” page on its website) you’re promised “Travel Well, Beyond Expectations”.
I know my blogs can sometimes be riddled with typos, but you’d think a brand new website for a brand new train company which has obviously been crafted at great expense by Siobhan and her branding team at ‘Perfect Curve’ (as featured on the BBC’s wonderful spoof comedies : Twenty-Twenty and W1A) or some other such bean bag sitting head in the clouds team of creatives, would have been proof read a few times by now to eliminate such howlers as …
Siobhan reckons Lu represents “fresh thinking and innovation as luminosity” while mo “is the essence of travel to which it is relevant as motion”. I bet that took a tough afternoon’s brain storming to dream up. I just hope First Group didn’t get conned further by paying a premium bill for this complete and utter rubbish especially as Lumo is “a new movement, reimagining travel … with a well designed service without being charged a premium”.
It does make you wonder whether this is the same First Group which won the bid to operate trains on the West Coast with a “reimagined”innovation … namely a second tier of premium pricing in Avanti’s new Standard Premium class. So much for “inclusivity” with “no premiums” being the name of the reimagined game in train travel at First Group.
The wordsmiths have been even busier on Lumo’s webpage entitled “Reimagining Rail” – I’ll spare you all the bulls**t – if you’re desperate you can read it here – but in a nutshell they “hear us cry” why are they “reimagining rail”?
And keen to answer, the buzzwords come thick and fast: Lumo is … “green … inclusive … great value … wellbeing … ambassadors … LumoEats … comfort”.
Despite this diarrhoea of diction Lumo does actually provide no frills, very low priced train travel between Kings Cross and Edinburgh. Which is all slightly baffling as to why our new look Great British Railways way of keeping things simple needs another rail company to use the precious limited train paths on the crowded East Coast Main Line when the proposed main stream services are having to be pared back despite spending zillions on upgrading the route over the last decade, for example Trans Pennine Express current half-hourly calls at Northallerton are proposed for slashing to once every two hours.
In their wisdom the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) granted First Group permission to start up its open access operation back in 2016 using half a path per hour (0.5 tph). At the same time it granted what was then Virgin Trains East Coast an extra path per hour also to Edinburgh (1 tph) to make for two trains per hour as well as a new half a path an hour to Middlesbrough (0.5 tph) but turned down other applications from another open access operator, GNER, to run a similar London/Edinburgh service (1 tph) and another London/West Yorkshire/Cleethorpes service (0.5 tph).
Crucially what the ORR didn’t take into account in its 2016 review was the DfT’s new Trans Pennine Express franchise out for bids at that time and which included a requirement to extend an existing hourly Liverpool to Newcastle train to Edinburgh (and a York train to Newcastle) because “we had not formally received applications for any of these services”. So in the strange world of train contracts the DfT awarded a franchise to First Group to run Trans Pennine Express trains to Edinburgh, but long term with no paths available (because the ORR hadn’t received a formal application for them), and instead granted the same First Group paths to run open access journeys from London to Edinburgh which, of course, duplicate LNER’s increased two trains an hour service between the same cities.
No wonder leaders in the North gave the recent consultation process for the new East Coast Main Line timetable for next May the thumbs down resulting in the DfT having to go back to the drawing board.
Meanwhile millions have been spent revising the track layout into Kings Cross, reopening Copenhagen Tunnel, building a dive-under at Werrington, north of Peterborough, and upgrading the electricity supply north of Doncaster but plans to take advantage of all these improvements are now in doubt.
The complexity of train pathing can be illustrated by looking at the Newcastle to Edinburgh corridor. Now Lumo’s new service has hit the tracks, northbound departures leave the Geordie capital at, for example, 13:35 (Cross Country from Plymouth); 13:43 (LNER’s 10:30 ex Kings Cross – KGX); 13:47 (Lumo’s 10:45 ex KGX) and 13:54 (LNER’s 11:00 ex KGX). Cross Country stops at Alnmouth, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Dunbar; the following LNER runs non-stop; Lumo stops at Morpeth and LNER at Berwick upon Tweed. Arrivals into Edinburgh are 15:09, 15:16, 15:17 and 15:22. You wait ages for a train …. and then four arrive together!
There would then normally be nothing to Edinburgh from Newcastle for an hour until 14:43 but Trans Pennine Express (TPE) have just started running some Newcastle to Edinburgh ‘shorts’ and there’s one at 14:21 calling at Morpeth.
And only the rail industry could be spending millions building two new stations on the East Coast Main Line north of Berwick-upon-Tweed (Reston and East Linton) to great acclaim but restricted train paths means only a limited train service will be able to call – probably those TPE ‘shorts’.
While all this debacle plays out First Group began running its five years in the planning Lumo service on Monday and I took a ride on the first journey to give it the once over.
Initially there are just two return journeys a day but the intention is to build up to five by next year when Lumo’s fifth and final Hitachi Class 803 electric train will be delivered.
Managing director Helen Wylde, who was impressively in the thick of it on board Lumo’s inaugural public journey on Monday explained to me the timetable will build gradually to five journeys a day to bed in the trains and crews and iron out teething problems which very much makes for a sensible approach.
For now, trains leave Kings Cross at 10:45 and 14:36 calling only at Newcastle and Morpeth arriving Edinburgh at 15:17 and 19:15. Southbound trains leave Edinburgh at 09:11 and 16:12 with the latter also calling at Stevenage as well as Morpeth and Newcastle arriving Kings Cross at 13:48 and 20:47. There’s just one return on Saturday (10:25 northbound and 08:49 southbound) and two return journeys on Sundays.
Lumo’s main differentiator to LNER is the promise of a cheaper one-class service with the aim of winning passengers over from BA and easyJet.
Initial advanced single fares have been available for as little as £19.90 (£13.60 with a Railcard) but when I took a look at the website last Friday all the cheapo fares had been snapped up with the cheapest being £69 for any day this week with LNER offering cheaper fares on some of their journeys. Lumo have pledged that 60% of advanced fares will be £30 or below – the £19.90 fare being just an introductory offer available until the end of November.
Lumo tweeted a couple of weeks ago “we’re completely sold out” for the first Monday which actually meant the allocation of cheap tickets had sold out rather than “completely” sold out as the 10:45 from Kings Cross had 300 passengers on board giving a 75% load factor for the train’s 400 seat capacity. Interestingly numbers on board after Newcastle reduced to 250.
First Group have pumped over £100 million investment into Lumo so they’re going to need to achieve consistently high load factors on the five coach all electric trains to make the necessary return on that investment. I’ve no idea what that critically important load factor is but Monday’s inaugural 10:45 must be a good start not least as, aside from the inevitable first day train riders like myself (probably around 15%), the vast majority of the 300 on board were a complete mixture of families, couples and individuals travelling for leisure purposes no doubt attracted by the heavy promotion of those cheap fares.
Which gave rise to the perennial problem on long distance trains these days …. luggage.
Lots of it.
EasyJet have solved the ‘try and cram it all in the overhead locker’ syndrome by strictly enforcing restrictions on suitcase size at the boarding gate as well as charging handsomely for storage in the hold.
Lumo don’t have the luxury of a ‘hold’ but that makes the problem all the more acute especially as long distance passengers are increasingly travelling with wardrobe sized luggage.
Helen Wylde’s career has involved working with Parcelforce and she was telling me she hopes to encourage more passengers to use Lumo’s send your luggage ahead facility ‘LumoLuggage’ but I have my doubts that’ll suit many people.
It feels like an unwanted added complication to me.
I suggested converting the window less seats at the ends of coaches to luggage racks and Helen agreed that makes sense but the ORR may not authorise such a change as it stipulated each train must have 400 seats to give the overall seat capacity the paths demand.
This strikes me as ‘regulation gone mad’ and working against the interests of passengers. As it is , Lumo’s seat layout severely limits the number of tables (two per coach) in favour of airline seats with only a precious few aligning with windows but to ignore a potential solution to a very real practical problem smacks of statistics over substance.
It also makes we wonder how market oriented open access train companies can be when the dead hand of the regulator is counting the number of seats to that degree. LNER are making a seats-with-no-view to luggage rack modification on Azumas and I’m sure Lumo will follow suit, ORR permission or not It’s the obvious practical place to stow the stuff.
It was lucky no cyclists rocked up for the 10:45 on Monday as Lumo’s on board ‘ambassadors’ spent the first half hour after we left Kings Cross gradually sorting the luggage out by filling up the cycle store.
The train interior is very similar to other Class 800 family members. They’re kitted out in a smart darker blue than the Trans Pennine Express lighter version which I prefer. As mentioned, there are only ten tables for four people, much loved by families and groups travelling together (especially on long journeys) – two per coach.
A couple of welcome features are the grab handles at a sensible level (they’re mid way down the seat in LNER and GWR)…
… and a two stage brightness reading light above the fold down tray, which itself is nice and sturdy.
The seats also have a handy protrusion either side of the headrest to lean your head on for on board slumbers.
The seats are more comfy than standard class on LNER and GWR and similar to Trans Pennine Express.
Theres a three pin socket and two usb sockets below each seat pair which are easy to access.
The two wheelchair spaces are in the now standard positions in an end coach (A on Lumo)…
… close to one of two accessible toilets …
… (the other being in the other end coach (E on Lumo). There are only two other toilets meaning four per train. A bit tight for a fully loaded 400 capacity long distance train perhaps.
I did spot a couple of tip up seats in the vestibule area of coach E which I assume are there to get to that magical 400 figure but they’re hardly suitable for a long journey of at least three hours, if not four and a half.
Being all electric, rather than bimode, Lumo aren’t able to use diversionary routes when engineering works close part of the East Coast Main Line as LNER does. On such occasions the service won’t operate.
Inevitably there were a few teething problems on the first journey on Monday like the seat reservations not downloading – they livened up as we approached Newcastle – and some issues with Wi-Fi. But the main shortcoming was the refreshment trolley or rather the lack of a refreshment trolley.
Lumo advertise a facility to pre-order your refreshments ten hours before travelling either online through its website or through its app. LumoEats food and drink is delivered to your seat once the train departs – ‘deliveroo’ style.
This seemed to take up the first half hour or so of the on board ‘ambassadors’ time in a rather rudimentary fashion too.
I don’t know what time the trolley got started in coach A but my guess is somewhere around Peterborough once the pre-orders had been sorted but it had only got towards the end of coach C as we approached Newcastle three hours after leaving Kings Cross meaning those of us in coaches D and E were refreshment starved.
A full crew change in Newcastle – Lumo are based in the city – meant a new crew took over yet still no sign of refreshments until the trolley finally reached coach D at 14:26, 3 hours 40 minutes after leaving Kings Cross.
It was a shame Helen hopped off the train at Newcastle as it would have been a nice gesture to have offered complimentary hot drinks to those of us in coaches D and E to make up for the long wait. I bet last Thursday’s press launch trip offered complimentary refreshments!
I understand a problem with the trolley caused some of the delay – thankfully a Hitachi fitter was on board so I’m sure he lent a hand in fixing it – but I also reckon they’ve underestimated how many passengers will buy refreshments bearing in mind the long journey time everyone travels compared to LNER where there are more comings and goings during the journey. Two ambassadors for a well loaded train is going to take some time to pass through especially having to sort out all those pre-orders too.
I’d also got high hopes of a significant plant based offering having read Lumo’s website which promised a “50% plant based range” including “our on board catering trolley service”.
In the event it was just a Kitkat or crisps on the trolley and even the pre-order LumoEats range from M&S, Upper Crust and Pasty Shop only offer a selection of three vegan options out of 26. That’s not 50% by my maths.
If it wasn’t for ORR’s obsession with the number of seats I’d have said a nice buffet bar offering hot sandwiches (plant based too please) would go down well and frankly offer a better profit margin for Lumo than tickets for the journey itself.
As to the journey there was an initial hiatus at Kings Cross with gateline staff restricting the numbers allowed on to the rather narrow platform 10 prior to the train’s arrival from the depot for fear of overcrowding.
The train arrived slightly later than it’s scheduled 10:27 and doors didn’t open until 10:39 once the driver arrived at the front end …
… with passengers still boarding at the 10:45 departure time mainly because of congestion in the lobby areas as passengers worked out what to do with their luggage.
Consequently we left two minutes late but had made that up by Potters Bar and by the time we reached the avoiding lines bypassing York Station (nice to tick them off as now done) we were eleven and a half minutes early and had to slow down to let that 10:30 LNER departure from Kings Cross which we’d caught up (it’s a stopper) get ahead of us, only for us to pass it when it stopped at Durham and then it passed us again by leaving Newcastle ahead of us so we could stop at Morpeth – the joy of train paths!
Impressively we arrived into Edinburgh two minutes early at 15:15 instead of 15:17 and it felt good to have done the journey with only those two station stops.
Usually when I travel between London and Edinburgh I either try and bag a bargain priced first class advanced ticket with LNER or travel with easyJet from Gatwick Airport which usually price matches the cheapest train fare and living near the airport always works out quicker.
I’ve made the journey many times but Monday was the first time I’ve ever travelled the whole way in standard class. I have to say it was more comfortable than I’d been expecting so to that extent Lumo went “beyond expectations” and at £13.60 I can’t complain nor wouldn’t.
But personally if I’m going to be four and a half hours on a train I’m happy to pay more than that and enjoy more luxurious surroundings – and have some refreshments! However since the advent of LNER’s Azumas I find the term ‘luxurious’ no longer appropriate to describe first class train travel.
What would really suit me is as well as having a Lumo style cheap and cheerful offer for Newcastle bound trips, is another train path every two hours to be allocated to a fast fully kitted out London, Newcastle, Edinburgh only service taking that all important four hours Flying Scotsman style end to end journey time with decent first class seating and, crucially, full catering on board. I’d pay five or six times the price that Lumo charged me on Monday for that.
What Lumo does offer me is a great bargain price for London to Newcastle journeys especially being non-stop (and even that evening stopper at Stevenage is handy for my Thameslink connection to Brighton) – and I’m happy to take standard class for just under a three hour journey. I reckon canny Geordies will be flocking to Lumo as word spreads.
The early signs are Lumo’s low price business model will attract passengers in big numbers – I reckon it’ll grow the overall market rather than simply abstract from LNER, BA and easyJet, which can only be good – but only time will tell whether the load factor will be consistently high enough for First Group to make a profit.
And I’d recommend leaving that large suitcase at home, travel light and take a thermos flask and some sandwiches with you (I did).
Good luck Lumo. Once it’s all branded Great British Railways with the much coveted holy grail of “simplified ticketing” will we still need you? I suspect … yes.