FirstGroup is to launch a budget direct London-Edinburgh rail service next month, which it hopes will lure air passengers to the train as a cheaper and greener alternative.
The new service, branded Lumo, will have just one single class of travel and the company hopes it will carry more than 1 million passengers a year on the East Coast line – slightly more than currently fly between the English and Scottish capitals.
First has pledged that fares will be substantially cheaper than the level of LNER, which operates most trains on the route, with singles starting at £14.90, roughly half the best lead-in rail fare currently available. It said 60% of seats on Lumo will cost £30 or less, with a maximum fare of £69 one way.
Lumo will be run as an “open access” service on the route, in a similar arrangement to that of Grand Central and Hull Trains, limiting it to 10 trains a day. The few open access operators in the UK do not have the contractual obligations of LNER or other former rail franchises to run a full timetable, nor to charge fares as dictated by the government.
The services will also call at Newcastle, Morpeth and Stevenage, giving potential alternatives to air passengers using Newcastle or Luton airports.
Lumo will stress its green credentials, especially compared to flying, with carbon calculations published for passengers, and a more plant-based catering menu. Although the line from London to Edinburgh is fully electrified, Lumo argues its trains may be fractionally more carbon efficient per seat than rival operators’ – partly because LNER operates bi-mode electro-diesel trains to allow direct services on unelectrified railways in Scotland.
Helen Wylde, the managing director of Lumo, said: “Travelling in the UK should not cost a fortune and it certainly shouldn’t be the planet that pays. Whatever your preferred mode of transport, we are likely to be more affordable and kinder to the planet.
“We believe everyone has the right to travel in style. We are empowering people to make green travel choices that are genuinely affordable without compromising on comfort.”
FirstGroup has invested £15m on digital and IT infrastructure for Lumo as well as £100m on five new Hitachi intercity electric trains. It will, like LNER, have at-seat catering and wifi.
The open access plans, first unveiled in 2016, were bitterly opposed by rival group Stagecoach, which had bid heavily to win the rights to operate the wider East Coast franchise. Its Virgin Trains East Coast operation went bust in 2018 and was succeeded by state-owned LNER.