Train Spotting

East Midlands Trains (part of the Stagecoach group) are now been the official operator on the Sheffield-St Pancras line. They took over at 2 am on Sunday 11th, but the “big launch” was today. Cue: lots of film of people in first class carriages on Look North. Cue: Harry Gration and others bemoaning the lack of a restaurant/buffet car.

Midland Mainline were judged to be one of the most reliable train companies. And you could go and get a cup of coffee for free from the buffet car. But the thing with the Sheffield to St Pancras service at the moment is it’s slow. Really slow.

Of course journey times vary, but a typical journey time for this route leaving after 7am on a weekday is about 2 hours 20 minutes – a little faster if you are lucky, a lot slower if you aren’t. Compare that with Doncaster-Kings Cross (thetrainline.com shows times between 1:36 and 1:59 hours), or even Leeds to London – which has a journey time of between 2:12 and 2:20 hours, despite being significantly further.

The East Coast line is a better line, but the real difference that I noticed once I started using this route is the reduced number of stops: the Doncaster train makes one or two intermediate stops, the Sheffield train stops at nearly every major station on every journey. It is quicker (although sadly also more expensive) to travel to London via Doncaster than to go direct from Sheffield.

Personally, when I book a train ticket I want a fast, reliable service – and preferably one that goes direct to avoid the hassle of changing trains. I also want a seat, I am not a fan of standing up or sitting in the space provided for luggage. The presence (or absence) of a buffet car is far less important to me – particularly since the on two out of the last three occasions when I travelled with Midland Mainline, the buffet car was closed anyway, so I couldn’t have relied on it being available!

If we get the promised improvements, then I think it will be worthwhile. I say “if” because whilst a shiny new train appeared for the launch, we are still waiting for:

  • Improved journey times
  • The promised “through” tickets that will link up with Eurostar, which don’t appear to be available via the EMT site yet
  • Cheap tickets that are actually available (East Midlands Trains site promises “tickets from £7”, but I couldn’t find any that were actually on sale…)

I am feeling very cautiously optimistic, there is the possibilty of a reasonable service being operated. Time to wait and see.

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