Saturday 27th August 2022
Yesterday afternoon saw the second outing of an interloper’s new weekly appearance competing on the West Coast Main Line.
The rail tour company Locomotive Services Ltd (trading as InterCity) has started running a southbound journey between Crewe and Euston followed by a return back to Manchester leaving London in the busy Friday evening peak thereby snapping at the wheels of troubled Avanti West Coast, as well as competing with London NorthWestern which also provides journeys on this key corridor.
I took a ride on the new service yesterday intrigued to see how many other passengers are prepared to shell out £75 for the first class only single fare on the one hour 43 minute journey from Crewe to Euston and the lengthy three and a half hours return to Manchester via Birmingham.
If £75 sounds a lot, an equivalent walk up first class single fare from Euston to Manchester on Avanti West Coast is an eye watering £169.30 and £68.60 for standard class with an off peak standard return costing £98.10. But when I checked for advanced tickets yesterday afternoon for Euston to Manchester, Avanti’s app was only offering first class or standard premium (£93.60) options with no standard class available for yesterday’s peak departures.
InterCity’s £75 option, which you can buy in advance on its website or as a walk up fare on the train, is therefore a realistic alternative especially for a single trip, not least when the Avanti reality at the moment is likely to be a rammed standard class with floor seating almost certainly in play on a peak Friday afternoon to Manchester.
Checking out options for next Friday shows no advanced ticket reductions available over walk up fare prices.
Passengers with a Railcard can enjoy a discount on those Avanti prices of course but not with InterCity where it’s just the advertised one rate fare. Personally I’d have gone for something like £50 as a promotional offer to try and capture the imagination of potential passengers, but I’m no expert in pricing rail journeys.
InterCity’s southbound journey at 14:29 from Crewe runs non stop to Euston while the return at 17:42 to Manchester calls at Birmingham International, Birmingham New Street, Wolverhampton, Stafford, Crewe and Wilmslow, hence the longer journey time, not arriving into Manchester until 21:12. Avanti normally does the journey in just over two hours although the 17:12 from Euston takes two hours 22 minutes due to extra stops. So InterCity is over an hour longer, although has comparable timings from Euston to Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
The company has been given permission to run following Avanti West Coast’s reduced timetable introduced from 14th August (now famously providing only one train per hour between London and Manchester – Grant Shapps please note, not four but one) meaning there are now vacant train paths available on the West Coast Main Line which InterCity has taken up.
The two Friday only journeys began on 19th August so my journey yesterday was only the second outing. At the time of writing the InterCity website offers forward bookings for what it calls The Friday Charter for two more Fridays: 2nd and 9th September. It’ll be interesting to see if they continue beyond then, no doubt dependent on what state Avanti are in by then. Avanti’s website shows normal services returning from 11th September but that seems unlikely to me.
InterCity’s train is made up of nine former Greater Anglia Mark 3 first class coaches topped and tailed by a Class 87 locomotive and Class 82 Driving Van Trailer. The Class 87s began life performing on the West Coast Main Line so it’s a bit of a homecoming.
The train has been given the full InterCity livery treatment and looked absolutely splendid as it cruised into Crewe’s platform 5 ready for the southbound journey yesterday afternoon. Not surprisingly there were many train enthusiasts snapping and videoing at Crewe and along the journey as well as to meet us when we arrived into Euston’s platform 16.
On board passengers enjoy the spacious and open ambiance these workhorse carriages provide as well as lovely comfortable seating, all at tables (either for two or four), and, crucially, all lining up with windows.
Clear plastic partitions have been added which post Covid also give an added sense of privacy.
The train has two buffet cars in its formation (one in the middle and one behind the Class 87) but only one needed to be open on the southbound journey yesterday afternoon.
That’s because there were only 33 of us on board. Mostly male (32). Mostly train enthusiasts (33).
Obviously we spaced ourselves out throughout the nine coach train, but we could have all fitted into two-thirds of one coach.
InterCity’s biggest challenge is to create awareness of its new competitive offering, especially as it might be very short lived.
Staff made a high profile presence on Crewe’s platform 5 well in advance of the train appearing yesterday afternoon and it was interesting to see how many queries they dealt with – but inevitably all were about Avanti’s services since everyone already had tickets for their journeys by then.
The awareness is not helped by the journeys not appearing in National Rail’s journey planner or main publicly available data streams. The station departure screens didn’t show it either other than at Crewe on platform 5 it was shown as ‘Private Charter’.
The departure at 14:29 leaves after an Avanti train from Edinburgh via Birmingham to Euston departs Crewe at 14:01 and a Liverpool to Euston at 14:24. Both were running late yesterday afternoon with the former departing at 14:24 and the latter at 14:30 making our departure six minutes late at 14:35.
Being on the tail of the ex Liverpool train there wasn’t scope to make up time, especially as our maximum speed is 110 mph so although we were on target to arrive into Euston five minutes down at 16:17, a slow final approach meant it was 16:19.
The return journey to Manchester via Birmingham is at 17:42. I was going to hang around for an hour and a half to see how many passengers boarded but decided to head home and write this instead and leave that as a matter of speculation. My guess is not much more than 33. Suffice to say it wasn’t advertised at all on the jammed packed Euston concourse and hundreds of passengers would have been blissfully unaware it was running.
You’d think a railway that’s supposedly pulling together and working in the best interests of passengers, knowing how awful the current service level being provided on the West Coast Main Line is, would go out of its way to help promote this new facility to get passengers on their way. What have Avanti got to lose by promoting these extra journeys? The company is taking no revenue risk at the moment (that’s with us, the taxpayer) and is literally leaving passenger behind. Why aren’t the RDG and the DfT shouting about this initiative? It’s doing no one any good keeping these journeys secret, other than for train enthusiasts.
Well done to Locomotive Services/InterCity for taking this initiative which certainly makes for a contrast to the company’s usual tour programme. I hope awareness increases for the next couple of weeks and the journeys get the promotion they deserve.
The company’s staff are so friendly and enthusiastic too and deserve for this initiative to be a success.
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