We review LNER’s new Azuma trains – how is the ride? (Part 2)

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This is Part 2 of our review of LNER’s new Azuma East Coast trains.

Part 1 of our LNER Azuma review can be found here.  In this part, we look at loyalty schemes, First Class and the refreshements available.

Will LNER launch a new loyalty scheme?

LNER Managing Director David Horne spent the outbound journey moving through the carriages speaking to passengers on board.  He kindly stopped for a quick chat where I was able to ask him if there were plans for a new Azuma loyalty programme.

LNER Azuma David Horne

He told me that LNER was currently reviewing this subject but hadn’t yet made any decisions about whether there would be a dedicated loyalty programme in future.  You may be stuck with Nectar for a while yet ….

He was keen to point out that the LNER crew is aware of regular customers on board their trains. Provided passengers book via www.lner.co.uk your details and where you are sitting appear on a handheld device that each crew member has.

Using this information, crew are able to reward customers on what they call a ‘Surprise and Delight’ basis. This can be anything from a free drink to an upgrade. Whilst crew are actively encouraged to seek out and reward regular customers, David did stress that the scheme is operated based on how much time is available to staff on any given day. Presumably on a very busy service you may be overlooked!

As I mentioned, one of the most striking features is the sheer size of the carriages when you get on, particularly when empty.  David was keen to point out that each carriage is 3 meters longer than a regular train and is also slightly wider.  Combined with slimline seating, each seat actually has a full 7cm more leg room than Standard Class seats on the older trains.  It was certainly very noticeable compared to my last train journey.

Cleanliness was the order of the day with a lady passing through the cabin several times throughout the 135 minute journey, collecting any litter.  It was very impressive and will be wonderful if this continues. The turnaround in Leeds also saw a good clean of the loos which smelled fragrant and lovely throughout the journey – even when using the hand dryer!

LNER Azuma train toilet

The journey passed in a flash and after calling at Peterborough, Doncaster and Wakefield, the train rolled into Leeds on time at 13.16 to another fanfare and much flag waving!

First Class on LNER’s Azuma fleet

While in the station waiting for the return journey, I took the opportunity to have a good look at the First Class cabins.  I also found some bike stores which each hold two bikes securely. It looks as though you need to book in advance if you want to carry a bicycle.

The Azuma train has three First-Class Carriages (actually 2.5) with seating in a 1-2 arrangement. The third carriage is actually a mixture of First and Standard class, separated by a press-button door.

Here is an official PR picture, passenger-less:

Azuma LNER business class review

…. and here is how it really looks:

LNER Azuma train first class into standard class

The First Class seats are significantly plusher with a recline feature as well as more easily accessible three pin charging points and USB points between each seat pair.  Each seat also sports a comfy, adjustable head rest.

The seats offer good choices for those seeking privacy if travelling alone.   As expected, you can choose to sit in groups of four, two or alone depending on your preference and your travelling companions.

Unlike the standard carriages, the First Class coaches feature warm brown tones which definitely feel more premium.  The tables are apparently larger than those on the old fleet.

LNER Azuma train first class carriage

On the return journey, I managed to sneak back into a First Class carriage to have a look at the food on offer, which is included in the ticket price.  A tasty looking risotto dish was available and one of the on-board service managers waxed lyrical about the well received caramel and chocolate pot.  Alas, all I could do was look at a pot of the delicious pudding! You can see the First Class menu on the LNER website here.

In the cafe

Feeling pretty hungry by now, I decided to proceed back down the train in search of the on-board cafe/bar. I passed the trolley on the way, but as I fancied a hot snack I carried on. When I arrived, unlike the morning journey, the carriage was empty. Sadly, so was much of the kitchen – as if set upon by a swarm of hungry locusts who had devoured all of the toasted ham and cheese sandwiches that I had my eye on. They had also managed to reduce the G&T stock to nil!

Clearly there were some stocking issues.   I ended up having a Mozzarella and Pesto Toasty which I would not normally order but was surprisingly delicious.  The Sauvignon Blanc was also perfectly drinkable. There are also plenty of snacks including chocolate, cake and crisps as well as an array of hot and cold drinks to choose from.

LNER Azuma train cafe bar

I managed to do a bit of work and, before I knew it, we were soon pulling back into Kings Cross.

Was Azuma worth the wait?

Overall, I would say that the Azuma trains are a genuine improvement for Standard Class passengers.  There is more legroom, a more general feeling of spaciousness and lots of light.  It is less clear cut with First Class where the seats appear far more streamlined than those they replaced.

It will take some time for the new trains to enter service.  The intention is to introduce one train each week until there are 65 in total.  It will be over a year before you’ll find Azuma trains on all LNER services, although they should be widespread by Christmas.

If you want to virtually guarantee yourself an Azuma train in the next two weeks – here’s what you need to do!

This first Azuma train will leave Hull each morning for the 7.00am service.  On arrival in Kings Cross, the train is then prepared for the 11.03 service to Leeds.  It returns to London Kings Cross at 13.15 arriving back in London at 16.10. The train’s final journal of the day is to head back to Hull at 17.18.  For journeys from June, I would suggest you refer to the LNER website here.”

Thanks to Caroline for reviewing the trip and LNER for inviting us.

We review LNER's new Azuma trains - how is the ride? (Part 1)
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Comments

  1. Shoestring says:

    Don’t forget that splitting your ticket can often save *huge* amounts of money vs the regular fare. I often use https://raileasy.trainsplit.com but if you google [splitting train ticket], there are several big players.

  2. Freddy says:

    Ahh toilet with electronic doors – we all know there will be one person per journey who fails to lock it and only realises their error half way through a dump

  3. Gavin says:

    First class seating actually doesnt look as nice or comfortable as the old version
    Would be a shame as they’ve been hyping the Azuma for way too long

    • Agreed, from tge report it looks and sounds quite underwhelming. I was very disappointed that Scotrail opted for a refurb of old GWR HST for Scottish intercity routes instead of totally new trains. I haven-t tried those yet but the upgraded HST now look better than Azuma so upgrade might have been smart after all. However, being older I have concerns about reliability of the upgraded HST. It would be good to have some feedback on these too from train experts such as SaveEastCoastRewards and RussellH if around today.

      • I’ll be trying the Azuma Saturday. I’m not working in London at the moment and initially thought there was no point going to the launch as I’ve been on the GWR version of these trains many times, I regret it now as LNER did put on a good show.

        I’m unusual in the fact I find the GWR IET (they don’t use the Azuma brand) seats are comfortable for me, but I do see why many find them too hard. The seat shells on LNER are identical but they use different material and padding which is supposed to make it softer.

        I was invited back in 2016 to what Virgin Trains East Coast called the Azuma launch. That was before the trains were fitted out, but it was where the brandname was announced and you got to see inside the drivers cab (the passenger interior hadn’t been fitted out).

        I was on the ScotRail HST for its first public run last year, in first class at least, it was very nice (loads of people wanted to try this train so it was very busy in standard so I couldn’t try that out). It had the comfortable ex-GWR seats, a self service area if you wanted a newspaper, snack etc (although there was also at-seat service).

        The main issue with them doesn’t seem to be reliability of the trains, but the refurbs are taking much longer than expected, so ScotRail are also running ‘classic’ HSTs (that have the slam doors) until they have enough refurbished sets.

        The sliding doors and the refurbishment make these trains feel much more modern than you’d expect.

      • Roger C says:

        The HSTs had new engines not so very long ago – they’re not using the 30-year old Valentas. Power doors (which can cause a lot of problems on older trains) were fitted for the first time as part of the Scotrail upgrade, so while I guess there might be teething troubles they’re not likely to be a problem in the medium term. I’d take refurbed HSTs over the rock-hard Azumas any day.

      • Thanks to everybody for tbe feedback, very interesting. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to try out both trains later this year. Hard seats don’t sound promising though. Just curious, anybody think EDB-EUS with Virgin is worth the extra time compared to LNER if one isn’t in a hurry?

      • RussellH says:

        I see that I am reading this rather later than everyone else.;-)

        Not sure what I can add, but here goes.
        Certainly, if you follow the railway press at all, there is still pretty much universal agreement that no passenger vehicle in the UK has improved on the now 30 year old Mark 3 design of the HST coaches, both for general comfort and for the ride itself. Quite the contrary in fact.

        IIRC the Azumas have still not been passed for running north of Doncaster (different signalling systems from the south), so for the moment you will not be seeing them in Scotland for a bit.

        The problems with the refurbishment of the Scotrail Inter7City sets are partly down to the age of the coaches, and partly down to the lack of skilled staff to sort this out. Mark 3 coaches are steel, and, inevitably, that has corroded. And you never find out just how bad the corrosion is unril you actually look. And the highly skilled staff needed to do the job have mostly been lured away (by better salaries) to build the new trains.
        To get one man’s detailed description of these problems, you may want to pick up a copy of the May issue of Modern Railways @ £4.70 (always available at major stations, if not in town). p46, article by Ian Walmsley, who used to work for Porterbrook, one of the train leasing companies.

        • Andrew says:

          What about the Mk3 “stink” from the brakes?

          Not forgetting on some platforms like Perth (Dundee platforms) or Bristol where trying to board a Mk3 is like mounting a horse.

          I’ll take the Highland Chieftain Southbound on a Sunday (The staff always recognise regulars, welcome me on board by name, and are usually pouring me a coffee before I’ve sat down), but for heading North – I’ll grab a Pendolino or a flight from City.

          Might change once the full Azuma timetable starts, hopefully I’ll have a good connection at Waverley – it would be disappointing to have a train that runs 20 minutes faster, but have to stand on the concourse at Waverley for 30 minutes rather than 10.

          • RussellH says:

            Was very aware of the smell from the Mark 3 brake discs in the early 1980s, but I stopped noticing it a long time ago. I assume that they came up with a better material for the discs! IIRC the Mark 3 coach was the first in the UK to have disc brakes.

            Any Dundee-bound train has that problem at Perth – because of the very sharp curve, requiring the track to be steeply banked.

            But I am intrigued by your taking the Highland Chieftain southbound, but a Pendolino northbound, since Pendolinos do not run north of the Central Belt, and the Euston-Waverly Pendolinos all run via Birmingham, taking an extra hour.
            Must be nice to be recognised on boarding the Highland Chieftain – I still have a vivid memory of about 30 people waiting for it at Dunblane, and the growing realisation that it was not going to stop!

          • Andrew says:

            @RussellH

            That’s easy. You’ll find that Pendolinos also go to Glasgow. If you choose the right train, and are a brisk walker…

            Take the 10:30 from Euston to Glasgow, Arrives 14:59
            Make the brisk 4 minute walk from Central to Queen Street
            Take the 15:08 from Queen Street to Sunny-D

            Arrive in the best place to live in Scotland at 15:47

            5h17m

    • Yeah, you are right. I haven’t tried LNER yet but their 1st class seats look identical to GWR. My experience with GWR is not quite good – the seats are ‘okay’ but they no longer feel like 1st class seats on their old trains, which felt much bigger and more comfortable – I don’t really feel like I’m sat in the first class anymore. The only improvement is that the carriage feels more ‘airy’ and the lighting is better – but that’s about it

  4. Here on the Great Western I can assure you the seats do not soften , the First and second class are no different in comfort , the differentiation ,other than the seating arrangement , is a different coloured handkerchief on the headrest , so much so that people innocently sit in the First class having no idea they are in the wrong carriage . It is poorly marked as is the whole of the train .

    No hot food , there is no where to buy it from , the free trolley is a joke and the poor trolley dollies frequently get a lot of stick from passengers , its not their fault ,

    As for speed , having been lumbered with all diesel engines we may as well have stuck with the HST which was comfortable and after forty miles an hour or so actually quicker , the refurbed ones for Scotland are infinitely better , if I could find the fools in the DOT who specified the train I would make them travel on it every day , endlessly , with no access to soothing cream .

    • Some GWR trains have a full service restaurant on there http://www.gwr.com/pullman – it does seem a waste that the other GWR services have such poor catering as the government specced all these new trains with a massive kitchen (half of the first class carriage nearest the drivers cab).

      There’s nothing to stop GWR offering hot food ordered from the trolley and then brought to your seat. Their new handheld devices should be able to transmit orders from the trolley to the kitchen.

      • I was seated adjacent to this kitchen space the other day , couldnt even get hot water out of it five minutes after the originating station , we also used to have a Pullman service , costly but useful , it really does feel like we have gone backwards , sometime ago afternoon tea in Paddington lounge was withdrawn together with reduction in other offerings there is no attempt now to make it an attraction that you might want to pay more for .

      • H Edgcombe says:

        You try getting a trolley through a full and standing GWR service 1700hrs out of Paddington

  5. BJ ,

    To date the new GWR ones break often , mostly though because they are too sensitive and shut themselves down , reacting often to the antiquated signaling I believe ,

  6. Just think if we didn’t have such an incompetent government we would have still had East Coast, we’d have missed the failed privatisation with Virgin/Stagecoach that got rid of the best rewards scheme we’ve had on the rails and replaced it with Nectar. The new trains were ordered before Virgin were given the franchise so we would have had new trains and top class loyalty.

    So LNER is a nicer brand than East Coast and the livery is more pretty but their approach to loyalty is diabolical.

    Their surprise and delight rewards are organised in the same way as the BA iPad. You need a member of staff that has the time and inclination to look up passengers and then offer them something. Then you get ‘surprised’ with a small bottle of prosecco in first class (prosecco is not complimentary in first class) and think how many bottles of champagne you’d have as standard in Club Europe!

    Also remember on the train they can only track you to offer ‘surprise and delight’ if you book direct and also have a reservation and stick to your allocated seat. If you buy a more expensive flexible ticket or move because you’ve got no view then you’re out of luck. So you’re more likely to get rewarded if you buy cheap tickets than you will if you buy expensive tickets.

    I remain disappointed. LNER employ a decent sized loyalty team but they really don’t provide an extra incentive to take the train. I keep getting my hopes up when I speak to them (last time I had a meeting with them was around September last year) but nothing innovative seems to be happening.

    Of course there’s a lot of good reasons to take the train, but loyalty doesn’t seem to be one.

    I would have hoped that the fact they invited HfP meant some exciting loyalty announcement, but I guess not.

    • David says:

      What does a loyalty team do at a company that doesn’t have a loyalty scheme? Sounds like my kind of job!

      • Well there’s not just a loyalty manager there’s other people who work for the loyalty manager as well. When VTEC took over it became a very top heavy organisation with managers for every little thing. This hasn’t changed after nationalisation as the management team are still the same.

        Nobody is going to choose train over plane because they might get a small bottle of Prosecco as a reward at some random point in future. As I’ve said to LNER multiple times a frequent flyer Edinburgh to London will be better off with BA if they want frequent traveller benefits (such as lounge access if your company forbids business/first class). LNER don’t offer anything for frequent travellers. East Coast, GNER, even National Express East Coast offered loyalty schemes that rewarded frequent travellers and offered the opportunity to earn lounge access.

        • I’d prefer to go back to the cheaper tickets under VTEC than the East Coast rewards scheme. advance tickets have became so much more expensive since LNER took over and no more 20/30% discount through the virgin red app.

          I’ve started using avios to fly to Newcastle occasionally as it’s often cheaper than the train

          • PerkyPat says:

            Tickets were even cheaper under East Coast. £15 soon became £20 when Virgin/Stagecoach took over.

          • Virgin hiked prices by getting rid of the online discount, pushing up advance ticket prices and removing availability of the cheapest tickets on most services. LNER’s management seems to have no intention to reverse Virgin’s policies.

        • Just looking at how LNER manages its twitter page gives an idea of the corporate culture at the company, which hasn’t improved much since Virgin was at the helm.

          • That’s because it’s exactly the same management team all the way up to the MD. The only difference is the MD reports to Failing Grayling rather than Branson and Souter.

          • Pedantic Pete says:

            That’s not the only difference – don’t be unfair. He also has a new lapel badge that says LNER!

    • Interesting. LNER work with SeatFrog so if I book with LNER then I will book standard and then try to upgrade with SeatFrog. It saves me maybe £5-10. The surprise and delight is like a competition. If they have customer details then reward the customers who spend the most with you. Surely this can be accessed from their PDA. Little things count … once you hit a certain spend then throw in the free drink specials.

  7. It seems the head rest in the PR shot is different to the actual head rest they have deployed on the trains from the photos!

  8. Really enjoyed these articles today and the comments too them, thanks to all contributors. I think I will stick to LNER, although I’m frequently not to be found on Virgin Trains between EDB and HYM every time Nectar has 1000 points up for grabs 🙂

  9. Linda Hosegood says:

    Have been on the 19.03 London to Leeds Standard Fare, carriages lovely and clean, seats are like sitting on a plank of wood. Service non existent, no buffet car or trolley service at all. The only person we saw was a man with a rubbish bag shouting rubbish and I was inclined to agree. Hope they fared better in first class.

  10. Bob Clarke says:

    The traditional LNER First Class certainly doesn’t ‘Surprise and Delight’. On a First Class journey over 5 hours Edinburgh Waverly to Kings Cross last Wednesday. Train staff (neutral service style) said only one meal or snack from menu allowed! Offers of crisps, biscuits and cakes and a fairly frequent bar service but the dessert options has desserted us completely. Sad reply to feedback survey! We hope to do better next time. What every less than pleased customer adores 🙁

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