We are Middlesbrough joined the first passengers, politicians and media on the Monday morning departure
Next time the London-bound train pulls into Middlesbrough, Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ won’t be blaring out of the platform speakers.
There won’t be the silver fizz of sparklers or the glare of video being recorded on mobile phone screens cutting through the pre-dawn darkness, as it was on Monday morning.
But the benefits of the direct train to the capital will be just as explosive, according to those taking the inaugural journey.
The 07.08 to King’s Cross was marked in grand fashion by rail company LNER – delighting those who’d attended a short presentation about the long-awaited new service, but leaving a few ordinary commuters slightly bemused.
But upon boarding the train, one thing was clear. The swish Azuma carriages are light-years away from what we are used to.
Not too long ago, we’d have been boarding a Pacer train – a bus on rails, 30 years beyond its useful shelf-life – for the short but slow and uncomfortable slog to Darlington to catch a mainline train, a journey which crystallises decades of underfunding in northern transport infrastructure.
As we pull away, a gaggle of media types and politicians tuck into bacon buns and coffee as Teesside comedian Pat Monaghan makes an impromptu announcement, telling us we’ll be making an unscheduled stop in Narnia.
That particular destination doesn’t make an appearance on a list of stations passengers are asked to choose from as they log into the on-board WiFi.
Neither, as it happens, does Middlesbrough – but that can be excused, as this is the first direct London service in more than 30 years.
It’s not long before we stop at Thornaby and some of the assorted scrum pile off, then the doors close, the hot drinks trolley comes round, and we’re off again.
Much of the 239-mile journey runs on electric – and observers on board clocked speeds of 125mph as we hurtled towards our second and last stop in York.
From there on, we’re bound for the capital and arrive just before 10.20am.
We’re greeted by a brass band – again to the bemusement of onlookers – before passengers disappear off into the cavernous station.
At the moment, there’s one train in each direction every day. The return service departs London at 3.25pm.
And speaking in the media on Monday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that service will be particularly well used.
“People in London will be really pleased to get to Middlesbrough,” he said.
Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston said: “We’re all about creating opportunity, jobs and aspiration for young people, and 21st Century transport links like this are key to making that happen.
“This is just the start – it’s an important step, but there’s so much more to come.”
And Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald hopes there’ll be many more services soon.
“It’s the culmination of a long campaign,” said Mr McDonald.
“It’s going to make an enormous difference to Middlesbrough, it will attract investment to our town.
“We’ll see a major increase to our economy but of course we’ll see the real benefit from the increased service in two years time, to seven trains out and six trains back from London.”
LNER says further services are planned once works around Middlesbrough Station are complete, and significant changes to the East Coast Mainline are made.
David Horne, managing director at LNER, said: “We’re proud to be introducing our revolutionary Azuma services.
“Their arrival will transform travel for customers and generate further economic opportunities for the area, with our direct services making business, leisure and international travel simpler, smarter and greener.”
Advance single tickets for the service start at £20.60 one way and can be booked online at LNER.co.uk
We are words: Mike Brown
We are photographs: LNER