Edinburgh by First Class Rail

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

This is not my normal method of travel. Second class suits me fine usually but there were two reasons why I wanted to do this trip. The first is that East Coast re-launched their first class service in May promising all sorts of things and, secondly, I found a first class fare for £25 each way from Kings Cross. Is the service worth it? And how easy is it to get £25 tickets?
East Coast say that in the four weeks up to 23rd July, they had 173,000 first class journeys, up by 29% compared to the same period a year ago. Since the new improved service came in May, bookings were up by 24%. So passengers do seem to approve. (remember this coincides with the promotional fares so the high extra number may be a bit artificial.) Do I approve?
I hadn’t been sitting on the train for no more than a few minutes after we had left and I was offered a mug of tea or coffee. Then came another person to ask me what I wanted for breakfast. Opting for the full English it arrived about 20 minutes later so that by the time the train reached Peterborough I was tucking in. Little things tend to irritate more than big ones. Those little serviettes or bits of paper that you get in some places that are no bigger than a kneecap covering are one of mine. Here, the napkins were thicker and about fifteen inches square.
By the time we reached Darlington – about two and a half hours after leaving Kings Cross, I had been asked whether I wanted tea, coffee, water or juice, three times. And I could have helped myself to croissants or toast at my whim. The train crew seemed to have changed at Newcastle and a new duo came around with hot toast, pastries and more refreshments not long after we went through Morpeth
So what’s different?
The last time I went first class was about six years ago when the service was run by GNER so I am not really comparing apples with apples or in this case, breakfasts with breakfasts. Then the portions seemed bigger but today’s was large enough for my needs and there were plenty of other items as well that I could have had. And there was a vegetarian option. I reckon that would have cost about £4 in a greasy spoon and about £8-10 in a restaurant or motorway café So far then my bill is about £15-£21 for breakfast, three mugs of a tea and another round of toast. But we get a copy of The Independent as well and you wouldn’t get that in a greasy spoon!
On the tables is a 28 page booklet listing all the options that you can get in 1st class in the way of meals and snacks at various times of the day. It is more impressive than the menus that used to be on the tables years ago
There is also less chatter than in the standard coaches. People seemed to be pre-occupied with either working on laptops, reading papers or dozing. What surprised me is that there was no incessant chatter on mobiles which seems to be common in most standard coaches. How many times have you sat near someone who blathered on for the whole journey? Only one mobile phone conversation did I hear on the way up to Newcastle and since then, when an elderly group of six got on, their’s is the only conversation that I have heard and that was quite quiet.
There is free wifi in first class (in second – sorry standard – you get only 15 minutes free and then pay for more if you want it) but would your average holidaymaker use it?
If you had to pay the full rate for a return ticket to Edinburgh from Kings Cross, you can get them in advance for £51.30. When I checked at Edinburgh for a walk-up super apex, it was £114.60. £95 was the cheapest first class return fare I could get by booking in advance.
I can’t see myself paying that or even recommending you to consider it if you were holidaying in one of the places that East Coast Trains go to. But if I could plan ahead and get the £25 or even a slightly higher fare then I’d do it every time. And compared to what I got for my money when I recently went from Reading to Swansea first class on First Great Western, the offering from East Coast leaves them way behind. The National Express East Anglia service from London to Norwich was worse, my carriage having a ripped wall panel (probably repaired by now) but looked grubby. Cathrene’s Virgin Trains service last night from Edinburgh to Crewe was not helped by the fact that there were just eight people in a carriage seating 32 yet they ran out of hot food. There was no choice after just three people were served. Food is standard for first class passengers on Virgin and given that this was 18.40 – dinner time in many households – this is lamentable treatment and planning.

I’m on the return journey now. The same thing happened as on the up train. Within a few minutes of starting the journey, the crew were around with tea, then a trolley with sandwiches and cakes on. No newspaper this time but that’s probably because I am on an afternoon service. Ten minutes later or so and they came around with a choice of cold drinks. I don’t think you can fault them on the amount of food and drink they are providing. The carriage is a little bit noisier on the down trip but then there are more passengers. How many are really first class passengers and how many are on cut price fares like me? Certainly there are two ladies who are on a package deal and a couple of students. There is no meal this time, just plates and plates of sandwiches including an onion bhaji one!
When the coach is crowded as this, there is no great advantage in travelling first class. There is noise and a lack of room. Unlike business class on a plane, you are too close to your neighbour to be able to shut yourself away. That would mean a redesign of the coaches. For the difference in fares you’d be better booking into the quiet coach in standard class and buying your own food. But if you can get a good deal when they’re around ( we’ll try and alert you) that its worth taking. At least East Coast, rather than others we tried, are working hard to keep first class passengers happy with the amount of food, its frequency with which they provide it and their service.

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