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Following last year’s successful launch the Staycation Express has returned for 2021 with a six days a week service on the Settle – Carlisle line from July 19 to September 9. This year the rolling stock is a dedicated 2+5 HST set which features all first class accommodation using MkIII vehicles previously refurbished by GWR.
Improvements have been made to the interiors. GWR had retained airline-style layouts for its single seats, but all seating is now in bays, with the 1+1 arrangement created by cutting down tables from 2+2 bays on vehicles destined to be scrapped. The bays are separated by screens as part of coronavirus measures, and all seats feature power points for phones and laptops.
As in 2020, the service is effectively a series of charter trains with dedicated ticketing, avoiding any issues over competition with existing services provided by Northern.
An additional change has been made possible through the inclusion of a TRFB which offers an improved buffet-counter and allows operator Rail Charter Services to offer an improved onboard ‘bistro-style’ dining service for a small number of passengers. This includes a full lunch service in Sundays and afternoon tea every day.
However, the service became another victim of the ‘pingdemic’ within the first two days of operations when supplies of food for the dining option became uncertain due to delivery problems. Because of this, sales of tickets featuring the dining option were temporarily suspended on July 21 until a stable supply could be ensured. The conventional buffet has remained operational.
Following an assessment of the ridership patterns in 2020, when three return trips a day were operated between Appleby and Skipton via Settle, the lack of demand for the first and last trains of the day has seen a change to the timetable for 2021, with two return trips operated and an extension of one journey to/from Carlisle.
Tourist attractionAccording RCS founder and director Adrian Quine, ‘this is really a tourist attraction and when they’re on holiday people don’t want to be getting trains at 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning or 7 or 8 at night; they want a leisurely day out. Last year we were trying to be too ambitious with too many trains.’
Once again there has been no objection to the service from Northern, which says that in 2020 it believed additional passengers were brought to its trains after travelling on the special service.
RCS is hopeful that as the Covid-19 situation improves it may be possible for passengers from local destinations to use Northern trains to join the service on a combined ticket.
The return of the trains in 2021 has been welcomed by tourism bodies along the route; traders in Appleby have been particularly pleased as many say that the 2020 service was key to their survival during the pandemic.
The HST is part of the fleet operated by Crewe-based Locomotive Services Ltd; on weekdays it will be serviced overnight at Carlisle, while heavier maintenance and inspections will be carried out at Neville Hill depot in Leeds on a number of Fridays through the summer.
In 2020 Sundays were used as the maintenance days, but with loadings quieter on Fridays, and increasing demand for the service across the whole weekend, the change was a logical move according to RCS.
Suggesting that the model could be used on other routes in the future, particularly if the stay at home holiday market continues to grow, Quine said ‘railways have become very functional, very one-size-fits-all, and getting you from A to B. We’re recreating some of the glamour of the past, but with a modern twist; the customer service skills, the quality of the catering and the style of the uniforms, the fact that the seating will be more padded, the hue of the lighting will be more subtle —we’re trying to bring back a bit of that old magic and mystique.’
This article first appeared on www.railwaygazette.com
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