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Way-aye! KGX-NCL-KGX, East Coast 1ST class | out and about in Newcastle and the north

Way-aye! KGX-NCL-KGX, East Coast 1ST class | out and about in Newcastle and the north

Old Oct 2, 13, 8:45 am
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Way-aye! KGX-NCL-KGX, East Coast 1ST class | out and about in Newcastle and the north

Origin

Although I consider myself a Londoner and have not lived at home since going to school at thirteen my heritage is in geordie-land up in the wild north. Yes, I was born in sight of the Tyne so although I speak like some kind of southern fairy I am in fact a true Geordie.

My Mum and Dad have lived in Newcastle all my life so every now and again I head up north to see them. Although I have been known to take the BA flight on rare occasions, King’s Cross station (IATA code QQK) is the gateway to the north for me.

I have been a regular on the route since heading to school via Peterborough at 14 and heading to London as a student at 18. Most of the time I have gone in 1ST class and in fact my career as a pricing strategy professional first began on the railways. It was through these journeys that I first tried to find the cheapest way of travelling in style. By 18 I was an expert in rail fares and air fares were the next logical step!

The operator on the East Coast Main Line (ECML) is East Coast, a subsidiary of the government-owned Directly Operated Railways. Once upon a time the route was operated by a solid rail company called GNER, who tried (and as far as I am concerned they succeeded) to bring about a new golden age in rail travel.

Run by a chap called Chris Garnett they emphasised clean trains in a stunning blue livery, modern interiors, good locally produced food and the latest technology in onboard service and ticketing.

They were one of the first to adopt a loyalty scheme and airline-style pricing with a variety of Advance fares for sale. Their “Mallard” refurbishment programme (still in service today) offered onboard Wi-Fi and seats designed by the same chaps who developed BA’s World Traveller Plus cabin.

One of the highlights of a trip on GNER was eating kippers in the dining car. It took a bit of practice to be able to fillet the fish whilst the train was moving but by the time I was 16 years old I was an expert.

About this time and on a holiday trip from Newcastle to Norwich I was delighted to note that the stewardesses serving me my breakfast that day bore a seemingly exact similarity to two of the models featured together in a copy of “Men Only” that had recently been passed around the dorm at school!

But I digress. Alas GNER are no more. Due to a series of corporate finance blunders they were unable to meet their franchise fee commitments and an outfit called National Express took over. They bid far too much and soon went bust so the line is now in government hands. But funnily enough they are one of the best run and most profitable railways in the country.

The reason is sound revenue management. As a pricing strategy chap myself I thoroughly approve.

***

Itinerary

KGX-NCL

Date: Thursday 26th September 2013
Departure time: 14:30

Equipment: Intercity 225 Mallard
Ticketing date: 17th July 2013, 71 days and just over ten weeks ahead

Fare: GBP 0!
Cabin booked: 1ST class

Coach: “K”, the quiet coach
Seat: 29, a window seat in a set of two right in the middle of the carriage, facing backwards to direction of travel

Arrival time: 17:41, bang on schedule
Total journey time: 3:11

Total time on train: 3:22
Seat factor: almost full – my seat opponent stayed until York

Train starting point: London King’s Cross
Train termination point: Newcastle Central Station

This trip was an award ticket and cost 450 of the East Coast Rewards scheme’s points. To achieve this I had spent GBP 300 on 1ST class tickets, which represents 6.74 single tickets at GBP 44.50 each.


NCL-KGX

Date: Wednesday 2nd October 2013
Departure time: 10:25

Equipment: Intercity 225 Mallard
Ticketing date: 17th July 2013, 77 days and 11 weeks exactly ahead

Fare: GBP 44.50
Cabin booked: 1ST class

Coach: “K”, the quiet coach
Seat: 31, a window seat in a set of two right in the middle of the carriage, facing backwards to direction of travel

Arrival time: 13:42, bang on schedule
Total journey time: 3:17

Total time on train: 3:32
Seat factor: Nearly empty – I had no seat opponent

Train starting point: Newcastle Central Station
Train termination point: London King’s Cross

A hint about rewards on East Coast. Tickets from London are often more expensive than the journey back. Accordingly it makes sense to use all your rewards points for journeys from London and pay cash for the trips back to the metropolis.

***

Destination

I was looking forward to my trip to Newcastle. It would be nice to stay at home for a while and visit some of my family’s favourite places. I also had a few tasks to do, including a trip to the dentist in rural Corbridge and a sight test at my local opticians.

Anyway, back to the trip…

Coming next: King’s Cross station!
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Old Oct 2, 13, 11:43 am
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Getting from Pimlico to King’s Cross station

I left Dolphin Square about an hour ahead of the train’s scheduled departure time and headed to King’s Cross on the London Underground. The tube is operated in an all 1ST class configuration(!) and is a great value way of getting around in London. With my Oyster card topped up with GBP 5.00 (paid for on my Amex cash-back to yield 5p return – bonus!) the trip cost GBP 2.10.

It was not too busy on the train and I had a quick chat with a nice lady sitting next to me who for some reason was carrying a large box. She was also getting off at King’s Cross but not heading to Newcastle.

London King’s Cross

It took about half an hour to reach the station and get out into the main concourse. King’s Cross has undergone something of a renaissance in recent years. There has been an extensive investment programme that has delivered a stunning new concourse, a wide variety of shops and a thorough clean up of what was once a grimy space yellowed with decades of diesel fumes.

I was greeted with this sign at the end of the tube station.




The front of the station has been cleaned up and the union flag flutters proudly. Once upon a time these windows and the roof were so grimy that they appeared yellow!






Here are some shots of the light and airy concourse.





My train was departing after a First Capital Connect operated service to Peterborough and before another East Coast operated service to Leeds. The two lines diverge at Doncaster. East Coast also operates services to Aberdeen via Dundee and Inverness via Perth.

One day I aspire to take the train all the way to Inverness. This service, the “Highland Chieftain”, takes eight hours which is significantly longer than a flight from London Heathrow to Bahrain!






East Coast is the major longhaul operator at King’s Cross. An Intercity 225 with Mallard interiors like this carried me to Newcaslte. We are lucky on the ECML that our operator takes care of the trains and keeps them clean. First impressions count and a clean locomotive and carriage exterior is just as important to me as a comfy and fresh interior.




East Coast also operate Intercity 125s. The main engineering difference between 225 and the 125 is that the former is powered by electricity delivered through overhead lines and the latter is diesel-powered. There are also some differences in the interiors, most prominently a small variation in the number of 1ST class seats, a different LOPA in 1ST and a more traditional dining car setup.

Open-access operator Grand Central are also carrying passengers northbound from King’s Cross. Like East Coast they head up to York and beyond, but they terminate at Sunderland rather than Newcastle.




Finally there are plenty of commuter trains too. These are operated by First Capital Connect and although perfectly pleasant for a daytime journey I understand that they get remarkably crowded during the rush hour.



Coming next: East Coast 1ST Class!
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Old Oct 2, 13, 1:27 pm
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Great stuff! I was at Kings Cross over the summer and thought the renovations look fantastic.
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Old Oct 3, 13, 4:20 am
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London King’s Cross to Newcastle Central Station, East Coast 1ST class

Boarding was called approximately 15 minutes ahead of departure at platform 0, a relatively new space at the side of the main station area. Once upon a time this area was a taxi rank. Before that it may have been some kind of service area but I am not quite sure about this. We passed a beautiful clock on the way to the platform.




I was on the train and in my seat by 14:20 with around ten minutes to go until departure, seated in coach “K”, the Quiet Coach. The seats are extremely comfortable and I captured some images further down the route.








Configuration is 2-1 against 2-2- in Standard. But in the middle of the coach there is a dance floor available as the side which is 2 switches to 1 and vice-versa. I like these seats since they offer a tremendous sense of space!

Some seats are upholstered in beige and others blue. Although I personally prefer to be seated in the blue seats the breaking up of colours in the carriage does give the interior a pleasant look and feel.










The seats can be reclined to a limited degree, but the difference is sufficient to make a pleasant difference depending upon whether you want to work or eat, or sit back and relax.




All seats in 1ST have power, with the possible exception of some near the front of coach “K” (which in GNER days was the restaurant section).




There is a rather good East Coast app that tells you all you need to know about your train. Here you can see the stops, platform details and information about whether or not the train is running to schedule.



My travel ticket for this sector was printed at home. For validation purposes you need to show a credit card with final four digits matching that on the ticket. When the inspector checked after departure she did not look at the credit card at all though! I am not posting an image because the printed coupon shows my full name!

Coming next: Onboard service and sights from the journey!
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Old Oct 3, 13, 4:23 am
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Originally Posted by patgarrett View Post
Great stuff! I was at Kings Cross over the summer and thought the renovations look fantastic.
Glad you are enjoying it - more posts are coming!
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Old Oct 3, 13, 5:24 am
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I miss GNER. Fun TR though
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Old Oct 3, 13, 9:44 am
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All the other passengers boarded and I took a look at the menu. It was afternoon tea service and the St Clement’s and carrot cakes looked tempting! Food, alcohol and soft drinks are complimentary in 1ST whilst in Standard there is a paid for buffet and trolley. All food is either artisanal local produce or named brands and East Coast offer Coke products.




Shortly after leaving London King’s Cross the service began. There are theee components. First of all the crew come through with tea and coffee. Then there is a trolley with drinks and finally a food trolley. The whole process takes about 20 minutes as the crew need to get through three carriages with tea and coffee before starting the food and drink component.

Here is a picture of the drinks trolley, which conveniently stopped right next to my seat!




I had a Coke on the first pass and a Britvic ginger ale (“the spicy one” according to the can!) on the second. Although I was planning to have only the St Clement’s cake the carrot cake looked great too. And so I had both!

Today’s in-train entertainment was music on my iPod, including the excellent Scissor Sisters, who I had not listened to for some time.




The vestibules in 1ST contain a handy map.




Inevitably there is CCTV, no doubt for our "safety and security”.




Politicians in the UK are full of wind and accordingly they like to see lots of wind turbines blotting the countryside. These are just north of London.




On the train I like to sit back and watch the scenery go by.




About half way through the journey we got to Doncaster, where I determine that the south ends (note: not where the north begins, that is Durham). I tell my Mum that I do the “Doncaster run” here, getting out of the carriage at one end and running to the other end to get in the next door. Actually did it once when we were travelling together and she was not impressed!

But this time I just sat back and relaxed to the tunes of the Scissor Sisters.




Half an hour or so after leaving Doncaster the line passes through York…




…and after York if you look carefully you can see a white horse carved into the chalk hillside.




Shortly before Newcastle the train passes through Durham, presenting passengers with one of the finest views in England – Durham Cathedral (undoubtedly the greatest building in the world) and Castle (now University College Durham)




The River Tyne flows through central Newcastle and there are many bridges. From front to back in this image we have the Queen Elizabeth II bridge (Tyne & Wear Metro), Swing Bridge (road and which can rotate in parallel plane to the river allowing watercraft to pass), George V bridge (rail upper level and road lower level), iconic Tyne Bridge (road) and Millennium Footbridge (pedestrian and which can rotate in perpendicular plane to the river allowing watercraft to pass).




Verdict

Another great trip, on time, comfortable and with decent service.

Coming next: Trips to Harrogate, Allen Banks and Jesmond Dene!

Last edited by Sixth Freedom; Jun 30, 16 at 4:44 pm
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Old Oct 3, 13, 9:48 am
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Originally Posted by exilencfc View Post
I miss GNER. Fun TR though
I miss a few things about GNER too.

The dining car was better than the current catering. But drinks are now free, which is a genuine enhancement. The nice blue livery that they had was better too.

But on the whole I consider East Coast a good railway.
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Old Oct 3, 13, 10:01 am
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I generally don't like taking the train but in the UK, I love the countryside and the scenario. Newcastle is probably my favorite British city (excluding London) and I have a great time every time I go there.
Great Trip Reports by the way, FT should have more train's trip reports!
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Old Oct 3, 13, 2:41 pm
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Nice report!
My girlfriend and I are going from Aberdeen to Edinburgh in 3 weeks with EastCoast in 1st class, too.

Flying from CGN to ABZ via FRA and going to EDI by train. A nice combination of two train journeys (CGN to FRA is by train) and a short flight, which we are doing the third time now. And only 50% of the price of the direct flight from CGN to EDI with LH/4U ...

I always try to book EastCoast trains, because I find them comfortable and mostly on time. And free food and drinks ...
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Old Oct 4, 13, 3:45 am
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Originally Posted by themapelligroup View Post
I generally don't like taking the train but in the UK, I love the countryside and the scenario. Newcastle is probably my favorite British city (excluding London) and I have a great time every time I go there.
Great Trip Reports by the way, FT should have more train's trip reports!
For travel within the UK I do not think it makes sense to fly on any route where there is a train option at five hours or less travel time. Some might say that three or four hours is their cut-off point but five hours is about right for me.

Originally Posted by Askartus View Post
Nice report!
My girlfriend and I are going from Aberdeen to Edinburgh in 3 weeks with EastCoast in 1st class, too.
...

I always try to book EastCoast trains, because I find them comfortable and mostly on time. And free food and drinks ...
I hope that you have a great trip!

Even in Standard East Coast are good since they have a good range of snacks and a high quality buffet. One of their revenue management objectives is to minimise overcrowding, so provided you book within the seat selection window you should get a seat.

(Note: above based on friends comments, I have not been in Standard since 2003)
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Old Oct 4, 13, 3:46 am
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Trip to Harrogate

My parents were heading to an antiques fair in Harrogate, a spa town with significant exhibition and conference facilities. I tagged along for the road trip and a day out.

Before heading to the exhibition, where my Dad bought two pots, we lunched at the Drum and Monkey. This restaurant specialises in seafood, a bit strange for an inland town you might think, but it seems to do a jolly good job. They were having a lobster special while I was there which my parents enjoyed. I tucked into a dover sole.












Trip to Allen Banks

Allen Banks and Staward Gorge is a National Trust property featuring beautiful wooded walks in a steep gorge. It has long been a favourite of mine and I have been coming here for as long as I can remember.

In the early summer the wild garlic fills the valley with it’s distinctive aroma and in the autumn the paths are paved with red leaves that have fallen from the trees. Towards the evening the park can become quite ethereal.

Unfortunately there has recently been some significant flood damage to the suspension bridge across the river. The force was so great that iron cables were ripped out of concrete piles. No doubt it will be repaired at some point but with funding constraints I doubt that this will be achieved any time soon.

There were some interesting fungi growing in the woods on this trip.






The red berries were growing prodigiously. My Mum reckons that this signifies a harsh winter.




Jesmond Dene

Whilst Allen Banks is quite a way out of Newcastle, a 35 minute drive in fact, another wooded valley is right in the centre of town. Jesmond Dene was given to the people of the City by 19th Century industrialist Lord Armstrong.

One feature of the Dene is Pet’s Corner where various animals are kept. These fine piglets are fattening up, but who knows whether or not they are for the Trustees’ annual dinner!



Coming next: A trip to Craster, home of the Craster kipper!
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Old Oct 4, 13, 4:58 am
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I've heard the same about berries. And we have a lot of blackberries down here
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Old Oct 4, 13, 12:29 pm
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Originally Posted by exilencfc View Post
I've heard the same about berries. And we have a lot of blackberries down here
There are of course two kinds of blackberries!
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Old Oct 4, 13, 12:30 pm
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Craster – home of the Craster kipper

On my last day in Newcastle we all headed up for a walk down the coast at Craster, an old herring port famous as the home of kipper suppliers L Robson & Sons.






For those who don’t know a kipper is a split, smoked herring. They are served, or should be served, bone-in and it is quite an art to be able to fillet them so that there are not too many bones left in the flesh.

Ports like Craster where herring was a key commodity are spread down the east coast. Before overfishing began to bite the herring migrated down the coast and the boats would come out to take a catch..

This building is the smokehouse where the kippers are prepared. Whilst not operating during our trip I have seen the smoke emanating before and the delicious smell permeates through the whole town.




Just over the road from Robson’s is the Jolly Fisherman pub, much improved in recent years and now serving good sandwiches with delicious beef-dripping fried chips. My Mum enjoyed her signature crab sandwich a great deal as my Dad and I tucked into thick-cut ham on brown bread!








To the best of my knowledge Craster is still an operating port. Here is the harbour and some fishing boats. The water was certainly not smooth on the day we were there and I am sure that being the North Sea it can get quite rough. The RNLI has a base here.












The water was so rough and the wind so great that on our walk up to English Heritage property Dunstanburgh Castle the foam was blown onto the path.




While Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt improved this fortress. But otherwise despite an imposing and impressive appearance it’s history is not particularly noteworthy. This castle has been used as advertising by Emirates when promoting their NCL route.






Around the other side of the castle there are sheer cliffs.




The land nearby is used to rear cattle, whose by-products were evident on the walk to the site.




Coming next: East Coast 1ST class, Newcastle to London King’s Cross
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