REVIEW | London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street on Avanti West Coast’s pride train

Inspired by the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest, we travelled by train to England in March. Combining ESC host city Liverpool with the industrial heritage of Manchester. Manchester to Liverpool was also the first steam railway line ever. A perfect pretext to travel to The North.

After lounging in London Euston Railway Station, we boarded our Avanti West Coast train to Liverpool Lime Street Railway Station. It’s very common in the United Kingdom to name a railway station after the street it’s located on. 

Progress Rainbow Flag

We were in luck, the British Rail Class 390 Pendolino in front of us was the one in the Progress Rainbow Flag livery. Launched for the 2020 Pride Season, this livery still runs. Avanti chose the so-called ‘Progress Flag’ version of the rainbow flag, adding light blue, pink and white for trans people and brown and black for people of colour to the tradition rainbow flag colours or red, orange, yellow, green, royal bleu and purple. Doing this, the railway company wants to show its support to LGBTQIA+ staff and customers. 

These colours are used inside the train as well.

Avanti West Coast

Avanti West Coast is owned by FirstGroup (70%) and Trenitalia (30%) that operates the West Coast Partnership franchise.

During November 2016, the Department for Transport (DfT) announced the InterCity West Coast franchise would be replaced by the West Coast Partnership (WCP). 

In August 2019, the DfT awarded the WCP franchise to the First Trenitalia consortium. On 8 December 2019, Avanti West Coast took over operations from the prior operating company Virgin Trains, which had run the franchise since 1997. 

Originally, the franchise was initially scheduled to run until March 2030, and had also been set to operate the initial High Speed 2 services from 2026.However, during December 2020, it was announced that First Trenitalia and the DfT had agreed to terminate the WCP franchise at the earlier date of 31 March 2026 as part of the abolition of the franchise system.

British Rail Class 390 Pendolino

The British Rail Class 390 Pendolino is a type of electric high-speed passenger train operated by Avanti West Coast, using Fiat Ferroviaria‘s tilting train Pendolino technology and built by Alstom. Fifty-three units were originally built between 2001 and 2004 for operation on the West Coast Main Line (WCML). They were ordered as eight-car units, later extended to nine cars, of which some were then lengthened further to 11 cars. These new 11-car trains were renumbered as the subclass 390/1. The trains of the original batch were the last to be assembled at Alstom’s Washwood Heath plant, before its closure in 2005. The remaining trains in the fleet were built in Italy.

The Class 390 Pendolino is one of the fastest domestic electric multiple units operating in Great Britain, with a design speed of 140 mph or 225 km/h; however, limitations to track signalling systems restrict the trains to a maximum speed of 125 mph or 200 km/h in service.

From 2021, a refurbishment programme to upgrade the fleet was begun, involving conversion of one first-class carriage to standard class to increase capacity, power plugs and new customer information screens among other upgrades.

We had such a refurbished first class.

Charging options.

First class

Yes, we rode first class. It gave us access to the lounge at Euston, comfort for the ride and an included meal. British trains are narrower than its continental counterparts as the loading gauge – the space between the train and the rest of the world such as a tunnel wall – is less voluminous. So travelling first class dies offer more space. 

First class is arranged in a predictable 2+1 configuration, some seats facing each other, others not. There are power outlets and the table contains a wireless charging pad. 

The menu has a decent offering. There is breakfast and ‘rest of the day’. As everywhere in the UK, it is indicated how many kilocalories a dish contains. 

We opted for braised British beef which was nice but not a big portion. We wanted a dessert, but the attendant didn’t come by anymore. We should have ordered in one go. We did get a few drinks though. But it seemed the crew wasn’t that enthusiastic. Ah well.

British first class train rides are expensive but offer (so much) more than first class products on the continent. So it’s definitely worth it, but not every time. 

Pricing wise be wary prices are dynamic. So it’s smart to book in advance. 

Lunch is served.

PS: Arrivederci Avanti

Avanti West Coast is under pressure. It has received a reprieve via a contract extension until October 2023, but is still under scrutiny by the UK Department for Transport (DfT).

This decision comes almost six months after the operator was initially put on a short-term contract by the government and ordered to develop a recovery plan aimed at addressing poor performance on vital West Coast Main Line routes, including between Manchester, Birmingham and London.

What was the issue? Avanti West Coast is (was?) amongst those operators impacted by the 2022–2023 railway strikes. Its workers are amongst those who have voted to take industrial action due a dispute over pay and working conditions.

Between 14 August and 18 September 2022, Avanti West Coast reduced its timetable, citing unofficial strike action from its employees. However, this allegation was disputed by railway trade union Aslef, which accused the company of lying and blamed their lack of recruitment, especially of train drivers, for the problems. 

Trains were running at one service per hour on the majority of routes, as opposed to the three which would typically occur on the London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly route. Following these changes, Avanti West Coast was subject to public criticism; news stories emerged of numerous train cancellations, overcrowded services, delays, and expensive fares. 

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, expressed his frustration at the operator and explained his intention to ask the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Conservatives), to strip Avanti West Coast of their franchise.

During September 2022, the CEO of Avanti West Coast resigned amid the timetable controversy.

According to figures released by the Office of Rail and Road on 12 November 2022, Avanti West Coast had the worst record of train cancellations in the year prior to this date. The average rate in Great Britain was 3.8%, while Avanti West Coast had a cancellation rate of 8%.

Liverpool & Manchester 2023

  1. REVIEW | Avanti West Coast Lounge London Euston station.

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