LNER: Business as usual

Source: RTM Aug/Sept 2018

On 24 June, the operation of the East Coast Main Line (ECML) service transferred from Virgin Trains East Coast to the newly-created London North Eastern Railway (LNER). David Horne, its managing director, talks about the first few months and what’s coming up for the newest train operator.

It has been a busy time over the last few months, as we’ve worked hard to make the transition from Virgin Trains East Coast to LNER as successful and smooth as possible for our customers, employees and everyone else who depends on the train services we operate.

We’ve had some really great feedback from both customers and employees to the new branding. This work will be continuing for some months as we look to update the rest of our fleet and materials, but I’m really happy with what we managed to accomplish in a short time.

Apart from the change in name, as far as our customers are concerned, it has been business as usual. From day one, customers could access their accounts and buy tickets just as they could the day before.

We’re committed to ensuring that our customers continue to receive the highest standards of service from dedicated, caring staff. It is our people who underpin the customer experience on the east coast. I’m proud of the service they have delivered on the ECML. Their knowledge, experience and relationship with our customers is vital to our future.

The future

Now that the transition is firmly behind us, we have been focusing once again on the upcoming introduction of the new Azuma trains on the east coast. An important milestone was recently reached as manufacturing of the trains started at Hitachi’s Newton Aycliffe factory in July.

Our customers can expect a fleet of high-tech, modern trains that will deliver more seats and space, as well as faster journeys. Azuma will play a key role in revolutionising travel on the ECML, delivering a first-class service as well as extra services for Bradford, Lincoln, Harrogate and Edinburgh.

As part of the Great Exhibition of the North, we were thrilled to give 22,000 visitors an up-close view of an Azuma train as we took a carriage to the Discovery Museum in Newcastle city centre. The excitement it caused gave us a preview of the anticipation that people have for the trains to be introduced. With innovation playing such a big role at the exhibition, it was great to bring such cutting-edge technology to the streets of Newcastle.

The trains are part of the wider ECML improvement plan that was originally developed under Virgin Trains, which also includes timetable and station improvements. We’ll be looking at taking all of these forward under LNER.

David Horne edit

Innovative seat sensor technology

Customers are at the heart of everything we do. For us, that means ensuring that our service works as well as possible and that customers can be confident in the service we provide. It also means testing new technology and ways of working, with a focus on improving the customer journey.

As part of this, throughout August we’ve been testing a new seat reservation system across our entire fleet, called Sensa.

The system combines reservation and live occupancy data, collected from height sensors installed above every seat. This data is then communicated to customers via a traffic light system – by displaying a green light if the seat is available, amber light if it’s part-reserved during the journey, or red if the seat is fully reserved for the whole journey.

We’ve been working with McLaren Applied Technology on the project and it’s the first time anywhere in the world that this technology has been used like this. Tests are ongoing but we hope to fully introduce the seat sensors later in the autumn to give customers a much easier and simpler way of finding a seat.

Building in resilience

Alongside this innovation, we must never forget that delivering the promised service is what is important to our customers. The industry has been through a challenging few months, and LNER has been affected too. We’re taking action to build more resilience into our core operation, and we have recruited some extra resource to help punctuality and to improve fleet reliability further. Even though the introduction of Azuma is just months away, we have over 20 initiatives underway to improve the reliability of our current HST and IC225 fleets.

I hope that’s given you a small glimpse of what we’ve been working on over the last few months at LNER. Whilst the brand has changed, be reassured that we’ll be continuing to play an active role in local communities, investing in new technology to improve customer experience, and bringing new state-of-the-art trains to the east coast over the next few years.

© Simon, Crest Photography


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