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Author Topic: A review of LNERís Azuma  (Read 1703 times)
IndustryInsider
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« on: October 26, 2019, 10:43:05 am »

Yesterday I decided to pop up to Lincoln to sample the new additional direct London<>Lincoln trains that started running every couple of hours from the week before last.

Lincoln is certainly a popular enough place for such a service, but since a plan to use five Class 180s for a similar service fell through ten or so years ago the various operators of the franchise havenít had enough/suitable rolling stock to provide it, leading to a change at either Peterborough or Newark onto a local service and a risk of missed connections and an inferior train.  Now the 5-car Bi-mode Azumaís have arrived, that situation has changed.

I boarded the 10:03 at Kings Cross at the far end of Platform 2.  Clearly the train had arrived as a peak 10-car train and had split off the 5-cars for our train.  Several people were optimistically trying to get on the rear locked unit.  The 10:00 HST to Aberdeen was boarding on the next platform and left shortly before us full and with dozens standing - not great given York is the first stop and nearly two hours away!  That service will be going over to an Azuma soon, though Iím not sure what kind of seating increase that will offer over the HST?  Whatever it is will be greatly appreciated though!

We left on time and I estimate the train was about 50% full.  Custom will no doubt pick up over time, but this would suggest a 5-car is ideal for this service.  As for the train itself.  Well, I wasnít surprised to find it is basically an IET in different colours.  The external appearance is nice enough but I much prefer the classy green of a GWR IET.  Internally the bright red standard class seats were a little overpowering and again I prefer the internal colours of an IET, though the first class colour schemes worked well and the toned down brightness works better than on an IET.  All very subjective depending on your personal tastes of course.

As I suspected, the seats themselves are exactly the same.. The seat covers are slightly fluffier than the revised ones on an IET (thankfully the original ones have mostly been replaced now) and that might give an appearance of making them better to some, but the levels of firmness felt identical to me.

Reservations were working.  There was a trolley service (though it was cash only) and the cafe bar - a pretty poxy looking thing - was at the end of my carriage.  Sensibly it is separated from the rest of the carriage by a door, so passengers sat nearby arenít disturbed by chatter and noise emanating from it.

A lady sat behind me brought £5 worth of drinks and snacks from the trolley, despite the buffet being less than fifteen feet away.  Perhaps it was an impulse buy, perhaps she was unaware the buffet was so close, perhaps she didnít want to leave her seat - I suspect there would have been no sale had there not been a trolley, but at least with LNER you have the choice of either which is still important for me on longer journeys of three hours or more.  Though perhaps a bit more than necessary on the two hour trip to Lincoln?

I got off at Peterborough as I wanted to go on the Ďjoint lineí to Lincoln via Spalding and Sleaford - as I had never previously been on it.  Class 153s formed all services I saw on it, including mine which was formed of two units.  I hopped off at Ruskington and back on the following service formed of a single Class 153.  Both trains had plenty of spare seats but were far from deserted. 

The quality of the signalling and permanent way, upgraded a few years ago, means this route has so much more to offer.  Perhaps GNER could route one of their new direct London trains this way instead of them all going via Newark?  Spalding and Sleaford (combined population of well over 50000) could be served by a direct London train, with a journey time penalty from Lincoln of less than ten minutes over the Newark route and giving a boost to those two market towns?

Anyway, back to Lincoln for the 15:26 Azuma to Kings Cross.  It pulled out of the sidings it had shunted to after arriving at 14:07 on its previous trip from London, with about ten minutes until departure.  Reservations were loaded and it was much harder to find some green lights amongst a lot of red and a few yellow ones.  How much better (when working!) are these colour coded systems over other electronic systems such as on Voyagers or the old fashioned paper reservations!?

Having secured a seat, I reckon we departed about two-thirds full - not bad at all for a Ďnewí service, even though it was a Friday.  Two people on the larger side sat opposite me and upon taking their seat said ďWhat a life-changing thing. Itís almost as if these trains were built for real people!Ē, so perhaps theyíre not as universally hated amongst normal passengers as some seem to think?  In fact the only complaint I heard all day was from one lady trying to find Coach B on the platform at Lincoln who couldnít see the letter being displayed on the external electronic displays.  To be fair to her, LNERís colour scheme and other labelling near the electronic displays makes this less obvious than on a GWR set.

Changing from diesel to electric at Newark and picking up passengers there and at Grantham, we were pretty much at full seating capacity with the odd person standing up, and with roughly the same numbers leaving as joined at Peterborough and Stevenage we arrived in that same full state.  The trolley service continued to come through despite the train being quite full, with no Ďstatic trolleyí excuses some would make on GWR.  Should growth be significant that train will soon struggle as a 5-car on a Friday, but it would be interesting to hear how busy it is during the week.

So, there we go.  Basically an IET in different colours with very few differences and as a result a perfectly pleasant trip both ways.  Great to see these trains able to provide Lincoln with a service it has deserved for so long.
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« Reply #1 on: October 26, 2019, 11:24:38 am »

Thanks for posting the review. Hadn't realised a colour light system is used for seat reservations...not much use to the 7% of variably colour blind of the population. Surprised that wasn't picked up by the rep from the 'disabilities' lobby. I know paper ones must be a time-consuming hassle for the guard, but there's nothing more useless than a note 'may be reserved later in the journey'.
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Bmblbzzz
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« Reply #2 on: October 26, 2019, 12:33:17 pm »

The colour light system tells you precisely between which stations the seat is reserved. At least it does on GWR, I presume it works the same way on LNER.
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« Reply #3 on: October 26, 2019, 01:10:29 pm »

I rode on a full-size Azuma to and from Grantham in September, and thought it (heresy alert)  better than the Hull trains HST I had previously endured on the same route. Yes, it's a red IET with a buffet, but I can live with that.
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« Reply #4 on: October 26, 2019, 02:32:13 pm »

Thanks for posting the review. Hadn't realised a colour light system is used for seat reservations...not much use to the 7% of variably colour blind of the population. Surprised that wasn't picked up by the rep from the 'disabilities' lobby. I know paper ones must be a time-consuming hassle for the guard, but there's nothing more useless than a note 'may be reserved later in the journey'.

The display by the light gives you detailed Ďnow and nextí information, but the coloured lights give you a great way of quickly glancing at the status of a carriage, even from outside the train as I was doing - though you can only see one side then!
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« Reply #5 on: October 27, 2019, 01:00:58 am »

As one of my regular trips is to Scotland I'm curious to see how the Azuma's turn out so very useful review. Thanks.

Doesn't sound too discouraging although my own experience of the reservation system hasn't been great but hopefully it will improve.
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« Reply #6 on: October 27, 2019, 12:08:57 pm »

One thing I forgot to mention is the carpets.  A much better choice of pattern and colour on the Azuma's which will do a better job of masking stains.  Whoever decided on the light grey colour for the IET ailse really does need to hang their head in shame!
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« Reply #7 on: October 29, 2019, 11:32:46 pm »

One thing I forgot to mention is the carpets.  A much better choice of pattern and colour on the Azuma's which will do a better job of masking stains.  Whoever decided on the light grey colour for the IET ailse really does need to hang their head in shame!
Is the carpet on the Azuma softer than the seat material, as it is on the GWR version?  I suspect that wasn't on your list of things to try though.
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« Reply #8 on: July 01, 2020, 05:20:18 pm »

A good example of the pace of a Class 801 'Azuma' was this run today from Kings Cross to Edinburgh.  Delayed by 26 minutes at Kings Cross (by a fault!) it then covered the trip to Edinburgh in 4h 18m with a total of 8 scheduled stops, recovering all that delay to arrive on time.

We've seen some sparkling runs on the GWML, but this shows what they're capable of on the ECML.
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« Reply #9 on: July 01, 2020, 08:36:14 pm »

Looks impressive but the 15 mins of recovery/engineering time in the schedule presumably helped, with less traffic around that probably wasn't needed. And the station stops were much quicker than usual, given low passenger numbers, which saved another 9 minutes in total.

So I'm not completely convinced that it was all the Azuma's sparkling performance, but it certainly shows how much easier it is to run a railway without too many of those pesky passengers.
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grahame
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« Reply #10 on: July 01, 2020, 09:15:26 pm »

It's an average of 95 mph from the wheels starting to turn at Kings Cross to coming to a halt at Waverley ... and that is impressive with 8 dead halts and restarts. The target set by the timetable is artificial when measuring performance, but needs to be lax enough to allow for a drunken group to be taken off at Peterborough, a wheelchair unloaded at York where the assistant who's there to do it was at the wrong end of the train, a delay at Darlington as Flossie dropped her doll down the gap between the train and the platform edge, and the chap who wedged the door open at Berwick-upon-Tweed while his wife locked the car and paid for the parking.
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« Reply #11 on: July 01, 2020, 10:21:08 pm »

a delay at Darlington as Flossie dropped her doll down the gap between the train and the platform edge,
Never mind Flossie's doll, a chap I know rescued Flossie herself from the gap between the train and platform edge! Flossie was about 2 or 3 and had slipped her mother's hand, actually his mother's hand. This happened at Birmingham New Street about 5 years ago and it wasn't an Azuma. (He was later told the first thing to do is actually to jam the doors so the train doesn't move, then rescue the kid.)

Anyway, well done the Azuma and the timetablers and signallers and not forgetting the driver too.
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« Reply #12 on: July 02, 2020, 11:17:11 am »

So I'm not completely convinced that it was all the Azuma's sparkling performance, but it certainly shows how much easier it is to run a railway without too many of those pesky passengers.

No, undoubtedly there were other factors.  I'm not sure how many speed checks are on to know whether the engineering allowances were needed or not, and it had a clear run apart from being checked a minute or two by a freight at York, which in normal times is virtually unheard of.  But I can guarantee a lumbering Class 91 wouldn't have done it that quick.
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