Lumo: What's it like to travel on the new cut-price Edinburgh-London rail service?

The wraps came off Scotland’s first competitor train service between Edinburgh and London on Thursday as Lumo’s showcase inaugural run crossed the Border ahead of its public launch on Monday.

The Scotsman’s Transport Correspondent Alastair Dalton travelled with photographer John Devlin on the Newcastle to Edinburgh leg of Lumo’s preview trip after taking an LNER train from Edinburgh to Newcastle to compare the services.

Lumo will seek to woo airline passengers between the capitals with its cut-price fares, but its main rival is likely to be London North Eastern Railway (LNER), which also operates on the east coast main line route that connects the cities.

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However, the new firm – owned by Aberdeen-based FirstGroup – will initially run only two daily return services compared to LNER’s departures every half hour, some of which are around 15 minutes faster.

Lumo's inaugural service after arriving at Edinburgh Waverley on Thursday. Picture: John Devlin

Lumo, the first “open access” operator to reach Scotland, will hope to make money by running shorter, but fuller trains than LNER, and emphasising the enhanced customer service it said will be provided by two staff, to be known as “ambassadors”, on board.

It hopes to attract one million passengers a year, filling two-thirds of the 1.5m available seats.

Lumo’s blue colour scheme inside and out contrasts sharply with LNER’s red, but the operators’ trains are actually similar, both being manufactured by Hitachi in County Durham.

The newcomer will set itself apart with novelties like a reading light on seat backs above fold-down tables, while it will also offer free films and TV programmes streamed via the LumoGo app, which is similar to former operator Virgin Trains East Coast’s BEAM service, which LNER scrapped when it took over in 2018.

The name Lumo was created by combining “luminosity” - defined by the operator as “fresh thinking and innovation” - and “motion”. Picture: John Devlin

Lumo managing director Helen Wylde said the firm would seek to emulate the customer service levels of airlines to attract more of their passengers.

She said: “We’ve modelled our service on the airlines so it looks more like an airline service.”

Ms Wylde said that would include Lumo’s “ambassadors” being more on hand “to manage people’s needs” and “provide someone to talk to”, while there would also be more announcements made during journeys to keep passengers informed.

She insisted air travel, not other train operators, was Lumo’s main competition.

Lumo's carriages have few seats round tables and some with no view, but reading lights above the fold-down seatback tables. Picture: John Devlin

Ms Wylde said: "A mark of our success would be to grow the rail market.”

How much will Lumo tickets cost?

Lumo will operate a single class of service, with no separate first class, unlike other cross-Border operators like LNER.

Until December 1, Lumo will offer one-way fares for a maximum of £19.90 if booked at least a day in advance, which is significantly less than LNER’s cheapest.

LNER's carriage interiors have similarities to Lumo's - but in red. John Devlin

After that, the company said 60 per cent of its pre-booked one-way fares would be under £30.

Lumo’s Edinburgh-London fares checked by The Scotsman on Wednesday for December 2 and 3 were on sale for between £29.90 and £46.90 – some £6 to £20 cheaper than LNER’s fares for trains departing around the same time of day.

However, Lumo will charge up to £69 for tickets bought on the day of travel.

What’s it like on board?

On first impressions, there was little to choose between Lumo’s and LNER’s seats, which were both firm, but not uncomfortable.

Lumo’s are slightly wider, but a little less deep.

Lumo managing director Helen Wylde has pledged to match the airlines for customer service. Picture: John Devlin

Legroom between knees and seat back was also similar, although there seemed to be less vertical room under Lumo’s seat backs to stretch out as comfortably.

Both operators have handy vertical window blinds, but there’s only one charger socket per two seats on Lumo compared to two on LNER, which could be a problem if adjacent passengers want to recharge a device at the same time.

The fold-down tables on seat backs are of similar size on both operators, each of which extends to accommodate laptops, but Lumo’s also have a reading light with two brightness settings.

There are fewer seats around tables in the Lumo carriages – two against eight in LNER’s – and more of the Lumo seats in the middle of the carriages are not adjacent to a window so have no view.

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However, the grab handles on the edge of the seats to steady yourself as you walk down a moving carriage are far better placed on Lumo – on the top corner – than LNER’s awkwardly positioned ones lower down the edges.

Both operators offer free wifi.

LNER’s cross-Border trains are normally nine carriages while Lumo’s will be five carriages.

How about catering?

LNER and Lumo each have catering trolleys for at-seat service, with Lumo’s menu due to be published on Friday.

LNER passengers can also buy direct from the buffet, which Lumo trains don’t have, but their passengers can pre-order food before travel from High Street brands such as Marks & Spencer and Upper Crust, with non-branded items available to buy on board.

When will Lumo’s services run?

Launching on Monday, October 25, trains will leave Edinburgh on Monday-Fridays at 9:11am (arriving in London at 1:48pm) and 4:12pm (8.47pm), and leave London King’s Cross at 10:45am (3:17pm) and 2:36pm (7:15pm) – around four hours 35 minutes.

There is one service each way on Saturdays and two on Sundays.

Lumo hopes to increase to three weekday return trips from December and to five early in 2022 – the maximum number permitted.

Where do the trains stop en route?

Morpeth, Newcastle and Stevenage only.

These are partly to attract air passengers from airports at Newcastle and Luton, near Stevenage.

Will Lumo services run during engineering work?

No. Unlike LNER’s trains, which can switch to diesel power to take diversionary routes, Lumo’s are electric-only, so cannot operate when sections of the east coast main line are closed, such as over the December 4-5 weekend.

What does Lumo mean?

Good question. The operator said the brand was a combination of “luminosity”, which it defined as “fresh thinking and innovation”, and “motion”.

Lumo has set the bar high by aiming to “re-imagine what it means to travel by rail” and “reset standards for travel”.

One of its slogans, emblazoned on the side of its trains, pledges: “Travel Well, Beyond Expectations”.

It has also promised its lower fares will not “compromise on comfort”.

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Lumo has set a high bar with its customer service pledges. Picture: John Devlin