Relaunched East Coast rail route a first class success

A major surge in First Class journeys – the biggest for five years – has been recorded on East Coast trains, following the successful launch of its new timetable and First Class complimentary food and drinks service.

The news comes as fresh evidence emerges showing that more long-distance travellers are switching from ‘planes to East Coast trains.

The train operator’s own data shows that in the four weeks to 23 July, 173,000 passenger journeys were made in First Class – a rise of 29 per cent, or 39,000 journeys, compared with the corresponding four weeks in 2010. The rise is the biggest seen on the East Coast route in the last five years, and one of the biggest since the end of British Rail in 1996.

Meanwhile, the number of First Class journeys made with East Coast has also leapt by 24 per cent since the new timetable and First Class complimentary service launched on 22 May. This represents an additional 74,000 First Class journeys, compared with the same period last year.

In contrast, East Coast First Class journeys grew by just three per cent in the entire year from April 2010 to March 2011.

East Coast launched its new timetable on Sunday 22 May, adding 117 extra services every week and more than three million additional seats to the timetable. The timetable also reintroduces direct return services to and from Harrogate for the first time in 20 years, and a new daily service between Lincoln and London.

From the same date, East Coast also introduced substantial improvements to its First Class customer service, including a new complimentary food and drinks service, featuring hot meals on weekday morning and evening trains, and a new Quiet Coach.

East Coast Managing Director Karen Boswell said: “Launching the new timetable and First Class customer service presented a major logistical challenge. The timetable represents the biggest change to East Coast in 20 years, and has settled in well, successfully delivering more seats, more services, improved frequency and faster services – including a prestigious new ‘Flying Scotsman’ non-stop express service from Edinburgh to London in just four hours.

“The data we now have confirms that many people are voting with their feet and trying out the new First Class customer service – while our market research tells us that the reaction to what we are now offering is generally very good. At a time when our trains are gaining ground in competition with the airlines, we will seek to build on the positive start made since 22 May.

“Our staff have made a massive contribution to ensuring a positive start to the new timetable and service, while we all fully recognise there is more to do to build on this early progress. I want to thank our people for all they have done, and continue to do, to build a bigger and better East Coast.”

Latest data shows that in the five years to May 2011, East Coast’s own share of the market between London and Edinburgh almost doubled, from 13 per cent in May 2006 to 25 per cent in June of this year. East Coast’s market share between the English and Scottish capitals rose by one per cent in the month following May’s launch of the new timetable and on-board service.

East Coast’s market share in June of this year on the route between London and Edinburgh also rose by three per cent compared with June 2010 – and by six per cent compared with June 2009.

The results between Newcastle and London are also positive for East Coast, with its market share rising from 46 per cent to 64 per cent over the five years to May 2011.

Meanwhile, detailed research to gauge customer reaction to East Coast’s improved First Class complimentary service has been commissioned by the train operator, and carried out independently by market research consultancy Outlook. Research was carried out on board East Coast’s trains between 27 June and 7 July.

The results give the first clear picture of customer reaction to the improvements to First Class service. They show that four out of five customers surveyed in First Class were pleased with the style and quality of service on board the train, while three quarters of those asked liked the complimentary food and drinks on offer.

Customers also welcomed the inclusion of healthier food options within the complimentary menu, and East Coast’s partnership with the National Trust on its locally-sourced cake range also won praise.

East Coast Managing Director Karen Boswell added: “These results are encouraging, with high levels of customer satisfaction with our new First Class complimentary offer.

“Taken together with the rises in our market share compared with the airlines and with First Class passenger numbers continuing to grow ahead of target, our business is growing faster than at any point since we began operating East Coast services in 2009. It’s clear that customers are enjoying our new First Class service – for them, the proof of the pudding is in the eating!

“Naturally, we know there is more work to do to build on the improvements we have made so far. We continue to work hard on delivering higher quality services for our passengers.”