A new high speed rail link between London and Edinburgh promises to shave between 30 minutes and an hour from the journey between the two capital cities. The faster journey, as well as hourly departures, are set to make the intercity train commute a truly attractive alternative to a short-haul, fossil fuel guzzling flight.
“At least as quick as air”
Flying London-Edinburgh takes around one hour and twenty minutes. Average rail travel times between London Kings Cross and Edinburgh Waverley stations currently sit at around 5 and a half hours, though some trains make the approximately 450-kilometre journey in around four and a half hours. The new service, if approved by the UK government’s Department for Transport, should take just four hours and five minutes while the southbound journey will take four hours and eight minutes. The timetabling of freight is a deciding factor.
The economies on the clock will be achieved by different and upgraded routing and making only two stops along the way, at Newcastle and York. Intermediate stations will be served by other trains, such as a new hourly Newcastle- London service, freeing up availability on the Edinburgh route.
Government-owned operator, London North Eastern Railway’s (LNER) managing director, David Horne, has highlighted that commuters and tourists are motivated by reducing carbon emissions as well as by reasonable journey times. He notes that taking the train achieves both of these goals. The time-saving makes the train “quicker, or at least as quick, door-to-door, as if you had been travelling by air.” He has estimated that rail could take as much as a 60% market share.
Originally touted for 2019 but pushed back by infrastructure problems and Covid-related delays, the LNER service is set to use Hitachi-manufactured British Rail Class 800 trains, branded “Azuma”. These bi-mode trains are known for fast acceleration and have electric motors powered by overhead wires as well as diesel generators enabling them to run on unelectrified track.
The name Azuma comes from the Japanese for “East” and was inherited by LNER from defunct operator Virgin East Coast. They are being rolled out by various operators around the British Isles. LNER will have to do battle royale with existing competitors such as the Caledonian Sleeper and budget operator Lumo, that offers a supposed four-and-a-half-hour low-budget commute in one-class seating starting from just £19.90 (€23.25) each way.
Whichever service you choose, train expert The Man in Seat 61 recommends sitting “on the right hand side of the train going north, left hand side southbound, if necessary ignoring your seat reservation and simply sitting in any unreserved seat.” Why? “All the best views,” he explains, “the coastline, the lineside signs and Royal Border Bridge – are on this side.”