Friday 31 January 2020

First Class from Lincoln

I do not travel to Lincoln as often as I used to do before I retired, but I have kept some interests there and occasionally have to attend meetings in the city. When I had to go this week I booked my tickets in advance so that I could use LNER’s new service between Peterborough and Lincoln, and I even managed to book First Class for the return leg, still saving money on the route I normally used to use via Spalding with East Midlands Railway. Not quite as quick, but I was hoping for rather more comfort than the single-car trains with insufficient legroom used on the other route.

On the way top Lincoln I was travelling Standard Class on one of LNER's legacy electric trains and I bought some lunch at Peterborough station while awaiting my connection. I had to change trains at Newark Northgate on this leg of the journey, so one more change that I used to have to make going the other way: through trains to and from Lincoln by LNER's route are only two-hourly, whereas the little East Midlands trains are slow but hourly. I was pleased at Newark to see that the connecting train to Lincoln, also provided by East Midlands Railway, now had two coaches and consequently was not overcrowded as they often used to be. As this train was going forward from Lincoln to provide the next service towards Peterborough via Spalding I could see that the shortage of coaches on that route was at last being addressed. I need no longer worry on that score if I chose in future to travel by that route.

My train arrived just a little early into Lincoln, as they often do, and I walked across to the bus station to ride up to the Cathedral and then walk round to my meeting, arriving nicely in time.

Early evening  at Lincoln Central
When my meetings were over and it was time to come home I walked down the hill to the station, having plenty of time before my LNER through train to Peterborough. Lincoln station was very busy with people going home from work, college and shopping, with a variety of local and regional trains going to all sorts of places, and not a single-car train in sight! Nor a "Pacer" unit with four-wheeled coaches; every train had improved beyond what we used to see here just a few weeks ago, and then, to cap it all, in came my train to Peterborough, a London-bound LNER "Azuma".

This was a brand-new class 800 5-car set operating a route which has been beefed-up from just once a day to five times, and I had a First Class ticket this time! The train cruised smoothly away from Lincoln station and into the night and I began catching up on email etc which had not received attention during my meetings, and before I knew it the train was stopping at Newark. I had been able to choose my seat reservation when I booked, and I had a single seat with table towards the end of a coach, very peaceful and convenient for the entrance, the luggage rack (which on this trip I did not actually need) and the toilet.

At Newark the diesel engines were switched off as the train was transferring to electric power for the rest of its run to London. On leaving Newark the at-seat catering trolley made its way through first class and I was served sandwiches and white wine - I was to dine at home later so I did not need any more than that, but I do hope the cooked meal was available for those going all the way to London (and I have no reason to believe it was not).

Although Azumas are no faster than the older electric trains in terms of top speed (both are capable of 140mph and restricted to 125 mph by line speed limits), the acceleration is far superior and departures are always quite a thrill; further, any delays are normally made up with very little difficulty and early arrivals are common, until the entire fleet has been updated and the timetable is rewritten to take the better performance into account, that is!

It was a good run and well worth the effort of booking in advance to grab the First Class journey home for less money than I usually pay for Standard! With East Midlands Railway promising a better timetable for its Lincolnshire services from December 2020 and the possibility of one or two more LNER services to Lincoln as well, the county is finally getting something approaching a decent train service. There will still be scope for more improvements, of course, with better trains to Scunthorpe, Grimsby and Cleethorpes badly needed, but whether anything can be done about the east Lincolnshire coast and Boston is another matter.

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