Tried & Tested

Rail check: The Flying Scotsman

13 Jan 2012 by BusinessTraveller

Business Traveller checks out the first class offering on the recently relaunched “Flying Scotsman” East Coast service between Edinburgh and London's King's Cross.

First impressions The Flying Scotsman is one of the most iconic brands in British rail travel, an express service connecting the Scottish and English capitals dating back to 1862. The original journey took some ten hours, but since the reintroduction of the service in May last year the scheduled journey time is now exactly four hours.

Part of the East Coast network (a franchise previously run by National Express but currently back under government management), the Flying Scotsman service runs only once per day in the southbound direction (the fastest journey northbound journey is around four hours and twenty minutes).

The service departs from Edinburgh Waverley at 0540 daily, with one stop at Newcastle at 0703, before proceeding directly to London and arriving into King's Cross at 0940.

Boarding I arrived at Waverley station at 0530 – there is a first class lounge at the station (as there is at King's Cross) but I proceeded directly to platform 11 where the train was available for boarding. The first class cabins were located in carriages L and M.

I was travelling on an open return first class ticket, so wasn't sure how many seats in the first class carriage would be pre-reserved, but I needn't have worried – on this Friday morning service none of the seats in carriage M had reserved tickets on them, and only myself and one other first class passenger boarded the same carriage at Edinburgh.

An announcement reminded passengers that super saver tickets are not valid on the Flying Scotsman service, and just before the train departed staff came through the carriage offering the Independent newspaper and a choice of tea or coffee.

The carriage East Coast uses its electric 91101 locomotive for this service, which has been rebranded as the Flying Scotsman to celebrate the relaunch. There were a total of 63 seats in carriage M, with luggage racks and toilets at either end, and overhead racks for smaller items.

The carriage was configured 2-1 with alternating forward and backward facing seats opposite tables. In the middle of the carriage there was a set of four seats configured 1-1 (seats 29 and 33 facing forward, and 27 and 31 facing backwards) – this section felt more spacious to me, so I chose seat 33.

Seats felt wide and comfortable, and were furnished in either dark blue or beige cloth, with white headrest covers emblazoned with first class. To the side of each seat there is a recline button, which pushes the seat pan forward to allow the back to recline slightly. 

There are also plugs on the side of each row. This means that on the side of the train where the carriage is configured with just one seat backwards and forwards each customer has seat power, but in the blocks of two there are just two plugs per four seats, so on busy services passengers might be left having to share.

The journey First class passengers benefit from free wifi internet access – I logged on as soon as I sat down, and it worked fine (although was noticeably slower during certain periods of the journey). In standard, the first 15 minutes are free, then it costs £4.95 an hour or £9.95 for 24 hours.

The tables are large enough for two people to be working on laptops opposite each other, although as there was nobody opposite me on this journey I was able to place my laptop at the far side of the table, and continue browsing while having my breakfast.

At times the bumpy nature of rail travel meant it was tricky to write emails without a considerable number of spelling mistakes (hopefully this hasn't extended to this review which was also written en route).

East Coast revamped its first class food offering last year (see online news April 15, 2010), including the replacement of restaurant cars with a table service. This was offered soon after we departed, and consisted of a bakery basket with a choice of toast, croissants (which I found a bit on the dry side), brioche and cherry Danish plus butter and preserves, followed by one of:

  • full English breakfast comprising two rashers of smoked back bacon, pork Cumberland sausage, scrambled egg, mushrooms, grilled tomato and potato scone
  • vegetarian breakfast comprising bubble and squeak, grilled Halloumi cheese, scrambled egg, mushrooms, grilled tomato and potato scone
  • toasted bacon sandwich on white or malted bloomer bread
  • porridge served with your choice of sliced banana, honey or preserve
  • scrambled eggs with mushrooms on toasted bloomer bread

I opted for the full English – with only two of us in the carriage this was served very quickly. The sausage and bacon were tasty, the mushrooms and tomato were fine but the scrambled egg was dry and I left most of it. Fresh juice (orange or apple and rhubarb) and fresh refills of tea and coffee were offered.

Having eaten I read the paper and checked a few emails, before there was an announcement that we were approaching Newcastle, along with an apology for being ten minutes late due to our train “following a late running service”. We departed the station at around 0715.

At Newcastle around half a dozen passengers boarded my carriage, and the same breakfast service was repeated – I was half tempted to ask if I could have another breakfast but thought better of it and settled for another glass of juice.

It wasn't until around 0800 that I started to notice daylight outside – for me one of the pleasures of travelling by train is watching the countryside go by outside your window. It was a beautiful winter morning with blue skies, and the sunrise produced a stunning pink hue off the wispy clouds in the distance – the sort of morning that makes you glad you were up early enough to see it.

We passed through York (not stopping) at 0810, and from there I spent the rest of the journey working, reading, dozing and staring out of the window.

Arrival Unfortunately the service was not able to make up the delays at the start of the journey, and indeed must have been further held up along the journey, as we arrived into London's King's Cross station just over 25 minutes late at 1006. A further announcement was made to apologise for the late arrival, but I wasn't able to make much of it out, except the words "Newcastle" and "delay".

Verdict A good onboard service and comfortable seat, and business travellers will no doubt make use of the free wifi to work en route. The delay was a disppointment though - the final journey time of four hours 25 minutes was actually not much quicker than some of East Coast's other daily services on this route.

Price My Scottish Executive Pack ticket (a first class ticket with a specified outbound journey and open return) cost £229 when purchased through thetrainline.com on January 6 for a January 11 departure.

Contact eastcoast.co.uk

Mark Caswell

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