Review: Sleek new Azuma trains take the strain on the East Coast Main Line as iconic Inter-City 125 bids farewell

As the iconic Inter-City 125 bids farewell, new Azuma trains are being rolled out across the LNER network.

Saturday, 11th January 2020, 8:00 am
An Azuma train crossing the Royal Border Bridge at Berwick. Picture: Crest Photography

The 65 new trains promise more space, greater comfort and reliability for passengers and are more environmentally friendly.

So, is it worth seeking out the Azuma when booking your next journey on the East Coast Main Line?

I decided to take a trip to test out LNER’s claims about its sparkly new fleet and I took along my son – a wheelchair user – so I could assess whether the redesigned layout really did make a difference.

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The wheelchair space on the Azuma train.

As is always the case for those requiring assistance, we booked ahead and arranged for a member of station staff to meet us and help us board the train.

The staff at Newcastle were cheerful and welcoming but, unfortunately, the train was delayed. Not a great start, but, it turns out, no matter how reliable the technologically advanced Azuma, it will still be susceptible to late running (non-Azuma) services in front.

Our greeter escorted us to the far end of the platform because, oddly, the wheelchair spaces on the Azuma are situated in an end coach, which generally means a long trek both on departure and arrival.

We were also warned that the ramps (which a crew member fixes to the door for access) were a bit ‘fiddly,’ and so it proved.

Seat reservation panel on the Azuma train.

However, we were soon aboard and shown to our seats, which were helpfully signposted by the overhead traffic light-style indicators. These make it easy to see which seats are available (lit green) from the doorway. Ours were correctly illuminated red to show they were reserved.

Despite our initial hiccups, we still had high hopes for the Azuma and we were not disappointed.

Immediately we could see the advantages of the streamlined design; extra legroom, bigger tables and an all over more spacious feel. The wheelchair space was generous and adaptable, with collapsible table, and - what’s more - there were two of them, as opposed to just one on the older trains.

There were no luggage racks next to the wheelchair spaces but they were available at the end of all the other coaches and there was more space for bags on overhead shelves and underneath the seats. The seats themselves were roomy but less bulky and I didn’t feel my head was being thrust forward, as I had on the old style seating.

An Azuma train passing Durham Cathedral. Picture: Crest Photography

There were power points between every two seats and free WiFi throughout the train (first class provides faster WiFi and USB charging), and sleek continental-style blinds gave the interior a more modern look.

The toilet facilities were not hugely different with curved sliding doors operated by buttons and, again, there was ample space for disabled users or baby changing. A voice reminded me to press the lock button!

After a smooth and pleasant journey, we were greeted in Berwick by another friendly face to help us disembark – and do battle with the temperamental ramp!