Wednesday 25 February 2015

Looking back and peering forward: The East Coast Main Line

Image from National Railway
At the end of this week we say farewell to East Coast Trains, the unique government-owned company which has run services on the East Coast Main Line since the last private operator suddenly pulled out. As East Coast developed its service there were some disappointments, notably for me the cutting of most of the planned through trains to and from Lincoln because the recession brought worries about their viability, but on the whole it has been a great success. It was a success for the nation, making some great returns on investment, and its regular and frequent passengers have been delighted with its services.

< NRM Blog carries image of pre-LNER East Coast Route poster

A few years ago the timetable was shaken up to match better the needs of the age, and the First Class service was reinvented to provide complimentary refreshments including light but worthwhile hot meals with beer, wine and spirits as well as good tea, coffee and soft drinks and snacks. Also new was a loyalty scheme without rival. Reward points could be spent on a variety of fripperies as with most of these schemes, but for me the only thing to do was to keep saving them until I could afford the package of four First Class single tickets so that a trip to Scotland could be made to enjoy the first-class hospitality of East Coast First Class! By buying all my tickets through the company's website I was able to acquire enough points to make about one free trip per year. All of these have been described in this blog, and I thought it would be good to provide a list of references to posts about these and other significant East Coast postings by way of saying goodbye to what has been a great few years.

Almost all my trips begin and end with Cross Country Trains because they provide most of my local service, but a good proportion include a change at Peterborough into or out of an East Coast train, and the feeling of settling into a first class seat at a reserved table with my coffee mug awaiting me and staff ready to bring me all I need is a feeling hard to beat.

The new company, Virgin Trains East Coast, is taking over from 1st March, a consortium 10% Virgin and 90% Stagecoach. How much of this wonderful service they will continue is hard to gauge. Of course all the publicity says it is an exciting new service, but it will almost certainly continue much the same for quite a while, but with red paint. The one certainty, though, from Day One, is that the Rewards scheme is ending immediately. We have until September to spend the points already accumulated but now can only earn the next-to worthless "Nectar" points: no more free travel. They can be used in part payment for Virgin advance tickets, but will only save the sort of amount that Waitrose give away as coffee every time one visits their stores! If this is a sign of things to come, and now that Stagecoach and Virgin have a monopoly on main line service between London and the north, then I fear that the first class First Class might be ready for a downgrade, too. I know that Virgin currently have a similar offering on the West Coast Main Line already, but do they need to maintain it now that they've bought out the competition? We shall see.

So, the end of a great era. Goodbye, East Coast, and thanks for everything!

Here are the links to my "adventures" on East Coast:

One for the road?

1 comment:

  1. Since the sale of this route to Stagecoach and Virgin I have only used it between Peterborough and London or Newark, so not much of a test, but it does still seem to offer the same standard of service as before. The only thing is that there is no longer any advantage in buying all my train tickets in advance through the East Coast website as I used to do. There are no longer any points to collect towards free tickets. I find it hard to take the "Start of an amazing journey" advertising simply because the service already was more exciting than Virgin's current offer on the West Coast main line and their first decision here was to scrap the most exciting thing about East Coast's existing offer. Ah well: we'll just have to see ...