Lumo has been launched to take on rail rivals and budget carriers in the UK. That’s how they compare
King’s Cross station in London, 9.30am, and not only is the atmosphere electric, but so is the transport. There’s no cloud of smoke or smell of fumes as the sleek new all-electric Lumo train slides into Platform 8 for its inaugural trip to Edinburgh.
It may not be as funky as the Hogwarts Express, which is due to appear on platform 9 ¾ any moment, but it’s writing its own little chapter in railroad history. The new train is extremely pleasing to the eye. The shiny electric-blue carriages are, by some distance, the brightest things in the station.
Owned by Aberdeen-based FirstGroup, Lumo (the brand name is a cunning synthesis of ‘luminosity’ and ‘motion’) is a new open-access operator acquiring state-owned LNER on the East Coast Main Line.
Lumo competes with state-owned LNER and airlines including BA and easyJet
It is a no-frills train service, with no first-class carriages, giving it a democratic feel.
And not only is it one of the cleanest, it’s also one of the cheapest. A one-way ticket from London to Edinburgh costs as little as £14.99 (with 60 percent of tickets costing £30 or less).
More feel-good slogans are flying around at the official launch event next to the platform than at a Tory Party conference. ‘The Future’ shouts a banner at the entrance to the hall. On the train itself, ‘Travel Well’ and ‘Beyond Expectations’ are written in large letters. There is optimism in the air, a sense of adventure.
Lumo will offer two services a day starting Monday, with more planned in the new year. The project is five years in the making and has attracted over £100 million in investment. ‘Our assignment was to reinvent the track’, says Helen Wylde, director of Lumo, in a welcome speech.
It is difficult to argue with her that rail travel in the UK urgently needs to be reconsidered. We all get sentimental about old steam trains, but we’re much less enamored with their modern heirs.
Eco-alternative: The all-electric Lumo train launched this week, making its inaugural journey from King’s Cross station
Only 8 percent of the population, not counting daily commuters, uses the train regularly, which is certainly a national scandal. And while competing with LNER on the London to Edinburgh route is a key objective for Lumo, the real battle, Wylde explains, is with the airlines, including BA and easyJet.
The plan is to wean people off those naughty planes and move to a cheaper, greener alternative. Will it work? Market forces will, as always, settle the matter.
But for a variety of reasons, it’s certainly a commendable project. Apart from everything else, the East Coast Main Line, especially the Northumberland stretch, offers one of the most scenic train journeys in all of Europe.
Scottish singer Tom Walker, who performed during the inaugural tour, speaks on behalf of the thousands who regularly travel between England and Scotland but are currently getting a rough deal.
It costs around £166.60 to fly from London to Edinburgh with British Airways
‘I live in North London, but my family and many of my friends live in Glasgow. When my family comes to visit me, as my grandmother recently did, they like to come by train, but they tend to grumble about the prices and so I can imagine some of them becoming regular customers of Lumo,” he says .
How does this ambitious newcomer on the rail block compare to the competition? After traveling to Edinburgh with Lumo, I traveled back the same day with a standard LNER service so I could compare. Here’s my scorecard…
ticket price: With the initial rollout of Lumo services, single ticket tickets can be pre-purchased for £19.90 and less with a train ticket. On the LNER service from Edinburgh to London I paid £79.
chairs: Lumo has 400; LNER 700. I calculated that there was about three-quarters of an inch more legroom on Lumo. The angle of the seats also made them slightly more comfortable than the more upright LNER seats.
Taking into account the hour and a half you will spend at the airport before the flight, it takes approximately two hours and 45 minutes to fly to Edinburgh with easyJet
Toilets: Not only were the Lumo loos spotless, which could only be expected on a maiden voyage, they were also twice the size of the cramped LNERs. A bonus.
Wi-Fi connection: Connectivity on LNER was fractionally better on the day, but this may be due to teething problems on Lumo.
Refreshments: Prices were broadly comparable, although Lumo undercut its rival on most commodities (orange juice £1.60 on Lumo, £2 on LNER), while also underscoring its commitment to environmental sustainability with a range of plant-based foods.
Travel time: The journey to Edinburgh on Lumo took just over four and a half hours, the return journey on LNER just under four and a half.
Max paid £79 for his LNER ticket to London, while the journey took just under four and a half hours (file photo)
Stops: Lumo’s standard service from London to Edinburgh only stops in Stevenage, Newcastle and Morpeth. LNER serves more stations. The train I took stopped at Berwick-upon-Tweed, Newcastle, Darlington and York.
entertainment: Lumo features its own free inflight entertainment system, the kind that Virgin customers will be familiar with.
Movies and TV shows range from Joker to Peaky Blinders. To emphasize the company’s green agenda, there are also documentaries on the environment, such as Carbon Conundrum and Australia On Fire. There is no comparable entertainment system on LNER.
General verdict: A clear win for Lumo. Regular travelers between London and Edinburgh have every reason to celebrate.
But how well have Lumo’s owners made their sums and assessed their market? And will the airlines come up with their own response? Time will tell.