Back in the days of British Rail a four hour London-Edinburgh rail journey was possible in both directions.

In truth only a few trains accomplished that timing on weekdays, but since the 1990s we have seen journey times extended little by little.

Today the fastest LNER London-Edinburgh service is the 1500 out of King’s Cross which takes four hours 19 minutes. The others take anything between four hours 20 minutes and four hours 50 minutes.

Matters are better in the return direction. The only train with a four hour journey time is the 0540 out of Edinburgh Waverley – but I am sure readers will agree that’s hardly convenient for anyone coming from the other side of the Forth. Others have similar timings to northbound ones.

It had been hoped that four hour timings would return in 2020. But The Scotsman reports that this would not now happen until 2021. According to the DfT that’s because necessary track upgrades will not have been made in time.

So why have schedules deteriorated since the 1990s? For two main reasons:

  • Firstly the ECML (East Coast Mainline) has become more congested, especially at the Southern end, as service frequency (over the ECML) has increased. This has affected schedule integrity. I remember travelling on one of those four hour trains to London in the early 1990s and, after being brought to a stand in Northumberland for a few minutes, the driver had to work hard in an attempt to regain lost time.
  • Secondly the need to regain passengers lost to air has resulted in the train firm having to add more calling points to the schedule. That obviously slows matters when you consider today’s sole four hour Edinburgh-London schedule involves running non-stop Newcastle-London.

LNER’s Azuma trains are now taking over more and more ECML duties.  In the case of Scotland they now operate to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness.

Subscribers will be able to read our rail feature looking at the ten best new trains in the UK, in the forthcoming February 2020 edition of Business Traveller.