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We review LNER’s new Azuma trains – how is the ride? (Part 1)

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This is our review of LNER’s new Azuma trains, launched this week and now running on the East Coast mainline.

HfP is not just about planes.  We know that our readers also let the train take the strain at times.

We were invited on Wednesday’s inaugural service of the new Azuma trains that are entering service with LNER, officially London North Eastern Railway (formerly Virgin Trains East Coast).  As the second most important intercity line in the UK, we thought you’d be interested.

Azuma LNER review

With my daughter at university in Leeds, this seemed like an excellent opportunity for a day trip to visit her and bring her some stuff from home she had asked for.

This is a historic moment for the East Coast mainline, since the trains that the new Azuma fleet is replacing are over 30 years old.  The train technology is the same as the new Intercity Express Trains that have been running on the Great Western Railway since 2017 and similar to the Javelin trains on the High Speed 1 routes to and from East Kent. The Azuma trains are manufactured by Japanese train-maker Hitachi and assembled in County Durham.

The launch has not been without its issues: these trains were originally meant to launch in December but had to be postponed due to signalling interference.

The train operators, Great Western and LNER, also inherited Government-written plans for the number and type of seats which they could not change, even though they are the ones who will take the flak from passengers.  If a camel is a horse designed by a Government committee, what could we expect from a Government-specified high speed train?

One benefit of LNER being ‘second’ to get the Azuma fleeet is that the initial teething problems which hit GWR are unlikely to be replicated.  The downside is that the trains have already accumulated some excess baggage, primarily complaints about the comfort and size of the First Class seats.

Despite all this, there was much excitement that the launch day had finally come.  Azuma, (the name is Japanese for ‘East’) was set for its full-service maiden journey.

The Azuma launch event

The launch event began at Kings Cross.  All guests of LNER were invited to collect their tickets from The Parcel Yard pub. The pub’s vintage décor was complimented by charmingly old-fashioned crockery and original Thomas Crapper lavatories and sinks to marvel at.

I spotted a sign to the Azuma First Class Lounge next to Little Waitrose, just along from platform 9 ¾.   We have reviewed this lounge on HFP before – Anika was the last person to review the LNER lounge here – and those travelling on premium Azuma tickets will be able to relax in relative peace and comfort.  Our group did not go inside but I assume that it has still not had a makeover from the Virgin East Coast days.

Click on any image to enlarge:.

LNER Azuma train first class lounge

The Parcel Yard ‘waiting room’ quickly filled with guests, and at 10.15 we were invited down to platform 8 to see the Azuma pull into the station.  It certainly has a more visually impressive profile than the ‘225’ fleet it is replacing.

LNER Azuma train

A lively brass band was on hand as all the guests and train enthusiasts waited for the moment when Azuma would glide down the platform for the first time.

LNER’s Managing Director David Horne gave a speech, telling us a little about the history of the trains. In total, 65 train sets will be delivered, each of which will provide additional seating capacity compared to the current trains. Better acceleration will also result in shorter journey times.

LNER Azuma launch brass band

David went on to recognise the team behind the new service including Hitachi, the Department for Transport (who paid for the trains, making it easier to swap franchise holders mid-life), Agility and the staff at LNER.  This has been a five year project, including six months to extensively test the trains and the new service. He then invited us all on this inaugural service to enjoy the new Azuma experience.

Without further ado, we all set about finding our way to our respective carriages and seats, guided by the state-of-art electronic reservation displays.

Standard Class on LNER’s Azuma fleet

Here is a PR picture of Azuma Standard Class:

Azuma standard class review LNER

…. and this is how it looks in the flesh:

LNER Azuma train seat

On boarding the train, I was struck by the size of the carriages and impressed by the spaciousness of the train overall. My (Standard Class) seat was in carriage J but I was disappointed to find it was adjacent to a join in the windows affording a very poor view of the outside world.  The seats are not designed to align with the windows and regular travellers will soon start noting their preferred ones.

Luckily there were plenty of free seats in the carriage, so I found a lovely table arrangement and chose a forward-facing seat with a fantastic view – once we left London – from a crystal-clear window.  I settled into the seat and were soon on our way.

Despite the ‘fanfare’ about the train’s acceleration, I can’t say it was particularly striking – at least not compared to a Japanese Shinkansen bullet train which, in my experience, takes your breath away as it pulls away from each station.   That said, it was very smooth and quiet and made for a very pleasant journey.

LNER Azuma train seats

Being brand new and quite thin – the Department for Transport has been taking lessons from the airlines – the seats felt very firm.  I hope they will soften up over time, and the initial complaints online from GWR passengers appear to have dropped off. They are spacious, well appointed and upholstered in an attractive and vibrant red theme.

Like most long distance trains, the seats were four across with a central aisle. Each seat is served with its own three pin power socket.

LNER Azuma train plugs

Each seat also has a coat hook – some on the walls between the windows, and for aisle seats positioned between each pair. Another impressive feature are the window blinds that can be manually adjusted up and down, covering about 5/6 of the window when fully deployed.  These are perfect for sunny mornings or evenings when you don’t want to be blinded by the low sun!

The lack of clear signage was one of the major criticisms of the identical GWR trains when first launched.  There are no such problems with the LNER trains with regular signs indicating which way to turn to find the cafe/bar as well as the nearest loos. Seat maps at the start of each carriage are also a nice touch.

There is a significant amount of space available for luggage and other belongings at both ends of the carriage, as well overhead.  The overhead luggage shelf is constructed with clear toughened glass so you can easily see your baggage.

Hopefully this will reduce the incidents of people leaving random items on board.  It might also help dissuade the practice of standing on the seats (guilty) by short people like me to check the overhead storage compartment.  A win for both passengers and those concerned with keeping the train looking nice!

LNER Azuma train overhead shelf

In addition to the cafe/bar on board, a regular food trolley services the carriages. LNER is particularly proud of the food offering on the trains and has been sourcing locally produced ingredients for their all new menus.

As is usual on trains nowadays, WiFi is freely available. It is fast enough for checking emails and basic browsing but unable to stream video.  The Azuma website does advise that you download any content that you may want to access during your journey before you travel.

Part 2 of our Azuma review, which covers their loyalty efforts and First Class seating, is also published today and can be read here.

Comments (110)

  • David says:

    One for the train spotters: what’s the difference between a “train” and a “train set”? I thought a train set was what children played with, but it seems to involve big trains too…

    • Hector says:

      Could be wrong on this but I believe a train is normally a set of carriages pulled by a locomotive. A train set is when several of these are joined together (South Eastern join 2 4 car trains to form an 8 car set, 3 to form 12 etc.).

      • Charlieface says:

        Used to be so but these days very few trains have locomotives, they are multiple units and every carriage is powered. Or rather every car, also because they are powered. A trainset is just the full makeup with the driving vans at each end.

        • RussellH says:

          Indeed, David is thinking of the ‘train set’ (note the space, usually kept in a box, and just set up on the floor or a table when required), which he may (or not) have played with when younger.
          The Azumas as well as Virgin’s Pendolinos and other multiple units are often described as ‘trainsets’ (no space). The passenger vehicles are normally permanently coupled together.
          An adult hobbyist may well have a model railway (permanently set up).

          These distinctions are really important to some people. 🙂

      • Richard says:

        Thus the line “In total, 65 train sets will be delivered” is meaningless on it’s own. Did anyone ask what their definition of ‘train set’ was in this specific context? What matters to passengers is number of cars (or passenger carriages) – how many of these are included in their definition of ‘train set”? 2? 4? 6? 8? 10? 12? Naturally, the potential answers could have huge variance.

        • Rob says:

          Some are 9, some are 10.

          • Save East Coast Rewards says:

            None are 10. The 10 car set consists of 2×5 car sets. You can’t walk between the 2 attached trains as there’s no connecting corridor. Each 5 car set has a full kitchen and a buffet car which takes up space. Meaning a ‘10 car’ set is closer to the capacity of a 9 car

        • Lady London says:

          Yes but from a marketing point of view it always sounds better, more technical , more specific etc., to put a number on it. Even if what they’re putting a number on, has on specific definition !

  • Jay says:

    Really great review!

    And very timely, just yesterday I travelled up to Leeds.

    I was given a rather nice key ring as one of the first 5000 passengers on the train!

    Nice touch, I was impressed.

    J

  • John says:

    They are not called Azuma on GWR, they are called GWR Intercity Express Trains (IET).

    In Japanese azuma means east in the same way that Bruxelles Midi means Brussels South, or if you said “Essex is oriental of London”

  • Shoestring says:

    There are only so many times you get first users prepared to complain about the seats. They remain extremely uncomfortable, according to my kids, who use them daily getting to & from school (GWR).

    Getting softer over time? My @rse! you might justifiably exclaim.

    • RussellH says:

      From what I read, ‘comfortable seats’ = ‘more expensive seats’, and ‘passenger comfort’ is never mentioned in franchise specifications, but number of seats per car may well be.
      It is the same business logic as putting 10 seats across a 777 in Y when there used to be just 9.

      • Lady London says:

        +1. The new Thameslink train seats are a perfect example. I’m normally fine on a hard wooden seat for 45 mins but ache after the run to LGW on those.

  • Luckyjim says:

    Sponsored article?

    • Rhys says:

      Nope.

    • Rob says:

      If you know anyone who actually pays the media to attend their launch events, do let us know 🙂

      I know the Head of Loyalty at LNER which is why we were invited.

      • Mr(s) Entitled says:

        Genuine question: So industry practice is that they invite you to attend their launch event and then to use the service they are promoting and in this instance, charge you for the ticket to Leeds? Honestly astounded by this on what appears to be a near empty train off-peak train.

        I need to rethink how I host my own parties. Suddenly ‘bring a bottle’ is not looking anywhere near sufficient.

        • David says:

          I don’t think HfP was charged for the train ticket? Would seem an odd definition of “invited” if they had to buy a ticket as normal… A free train ride to Leeds and back hardly makes it a sponsored article though… Presumably our correspondent didn’t actually want to go to Leeds!

          • Rob says:

            No, we weren’t charged obviously. But you’re living in a weird world if you think a free day trip in Standard Class to Leeds on a Wednesday is in some way an inducement. The turnaround time in Leeds was 30 minutes so there wasn’t even enough time to check out the charms of Leeds (or perhaps it would have been enough!).

          • Mr(s) Entitled says:

            It’s not an inducement to me, but then my weird world doesn’t include a need to produce three articles a day for the intention of financial gain.

        • Opaque says:

          + 1

          Thanks LNER! No its fine, business is very slow, I’ve nothing more important to be doing, honestly! I’d love to spend a day listening to your PR guff and I’ll be sure not to ask any probing questions!

          (all wrapped up as a mum wanting to visit her daughter at Uni)

          • Lady London says:

            There are a lot of trainspotters on here (jsut as there are a lot of equivalent aircraft spotters). So actually it’s of interest to a surprising number of us.

            Remember we have to have a backup for when all the methods of collecting avios have been elminated. and for when British Airways finally wants £,000 pounds in addition to 100,000 miles, for one return ticket to the USA that’s curretnly costing about £650 cash.

            We may all be travelling more on trains sometime soon at this rate 🙂

            Are there any decent First Class breakfasts left on any UK trains btw? I was always recommended to do the London-Sheffield run and to take breakfast in the First Class dining car.. whilst paying for a second class ticket…. apparently it was a really nice cooked breakfast. Does anything like that still exist anywhere on the UK rail network?

          • Rob says:

            We don’t even write about many of the media events we attend – or at least not directly, obviously we learn stuff which dripfeeds into future pieces. At least we got two articles from this one! That’s actually a fair trade off for the day it took.

          • Bazza says:

            You assumptions were wrong, you just have to accept it.

  • Big Ernie McCracken says:

    As someone who travels on LNER from Aberdeen south regularly I would be keen to know if there are diesel versions of this train as Aberdeen to Edinburgh is not electrified…and passengers don’t want to change in Edinburgh if travelling to Newcastle, York or London.

    • Craig says:

      They are dual diesel/electric which is why they are ideal for LNER.

      • BlueThroughCrimp says:

        The East Coast franchise is getting both pure electric and bi-mode IETs.
        The bi-modes? Ideal for most routes off the wires,, but will be interesting to see what oomph the bi-modes have for the Highland Main Line…

        There’s been rumours of a few HSTs being retained longer than initially planned for that route at the moment.

  • UhuGlue says:

    I’m sure many people also take a bus, taxi, tram or walk. Will HfP keep us up to date with these forms of transport?

  • Carlos says:

    Oh, I’m an LNER driver based at King’s Cross and if I knew you were going to be there I’d have come down to say hello and thank you in person for all the help you’ve given me! Some other time I guess 🙂

    • Carlos says:

      Scratch that. Just read the article and saw you were out of the country. Apologies!

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