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What’s the best train for luggage?

Don't let luggage weigh you down. Here's our comparison of which trains are best for travelling less than light.
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Lots of us need to travel with luggage. Whether that’s a weekend bag, a brick-like suitcase or the kitchen sink. But not all trains are created equal when it comes to storing all of that! So, in the name of being scientific, I took a circular trip around the North of England and the Midlands with an airline-cabin-sized suitcase. I’d discover the best train for luggage and one train where the overhead racks were clearly just for decoration.

Journey 1 – Newcastle to Carlisle

Now, I’d tried to cover as many of the “key” train types as possible that have the widest coverage. For example, this first train, a Class 158 “Express Sprinter”, runs on many short and medium-distance Northern services. However, you’ll also find them on East Midlands Railway, Transport for Wales, ScotRail and South Western Railway.

I ended up getting on at the wrong end of the train to the big luggage stacks, of which Northern has one per carriage. So, it was time to give the overhead racks a go. I managed to get it up there, but it was looking a little precarious:

However, I decided to have faith that it wouldn’t jump out and give a fellow passenger a concussion. And, to be fair, it stayed put the entire way. It wasn’t the best train for luggage, but it did the job. Just don’t try and put anything bigger above your head.

And so, my day had started as it meant to go on: looking like a right weirdo taking photos of a suitcase in a luggage rack.

Journey 2 – Carlisle to Crewe

For my first long-distance trip, I was taking a famous “Pendolino” train, operated by Avanti West Coast. They’ve always been known for feeling a bit cramped (and having tiny windows) so I didn’t have a great deal of hope for this one.

You can imagine my surprise when I jumped on and my case fitted perfectly above the seat. It didn’t even stick out and look like it was about to injure someone, which was a bonus.

On board, there are also quite a few luggage stacks if you’re bringing a big case or something else that won’t quite fit above your head. Some are even in the centre of the carriage, so you can keep an eye on your things without needing to trek down to the ends.

It should be noted though, that it does depend on where you’re sitting in some carriages. For example, most of Coach C has equipment on the roof, so the overhead racks are tiny. Only seats 1 to 22 have the full-size rack.

Journey 3 – Crewe to Nottingham

It was back to the wee regional trains for the next one, and I was taking a Class 170 “Turbostar” operated by East Midlands Railway. You’ll also find these trains on CrossCountry, ScotRail and Northern, though they all have slightly different layouts. Most importantly though, the overhead racks are broadly the same size.

My case just about fit in the overhead rack, much like the first train. There was a luggage stack towards the centre of the carriage as well, but I decided to trust that gravity would stay on my side. This was a tricky one to illustrate as everyone seemed very aware of the strange man photographing his luggage:

The lack of decent (or at least obvious) luggage storage became rather apparent when we rolled into Stoke. Four different people with positively huge suitcases got up and looked a bit dumbfounded as to where to go. Where did they go? Nowhere. They all stood by the doors with their precious cargo. Not ideal on a two-car train, but there’s no way all four would have fitted in the rack. The main issue was that it wasn’t totally obvious as you boarded.

Thankfully there were a fair amount of people jumping on and off at different points so the little train didn’t completely descend into chaos. My main issue was that these trains also make mammoth journeys across England (such as Stansted Airport to Birmingham and Nottingham to Cardiff) – hopefully, nobody turns up with anything heavier or bigger than a Tesco carrier bag! (other supermarkets are available)

Journey 4 – Nottingham to Derby

Spoilers: It was exactly the same train as the last one.

The only difference was that I turned up struggling to breathe after it chose to leave from the furthest platform possible from the entrance. Cue me legging it with a suitcase in tow while being screamed at by the dispatcher to go faster. It wasn’t entirely my fault I was so late, as the self-service till at the supermarket in the station had had a bit of a meltdown on me.

The train wasn’t quite so busy this time, so I found a table seat and the case went under it.

When I got into Derby, I had a second attempt at getting something to eat and was served by the friendly lasses in the Pumpkin Cafe. They even warmed up my pasty (we Geordies love a pasty – even if it wasn’t quite Greggs) which was welcome on a bit of a blustery day.

Journey 5 – Derby to Sheffield

For this next train, I’d be jumping on board a “Meridian” operated by East Midlands Railway. You’ll also find similar trains on CrossCountry or Avanti West Coast, where they’re known as a “Voyager” or “Super Voyager”. While the seating layouts are a bit different (and Meridians can be a bit longer), the trains themselves are mostly the same.

I found myself a free table, lifted my case up into the rack and…it was nowhere near fitting. Safe to say, this wasn’t the best train for luggage – it was pretty much the worst. The trade-off was that some cases would fit between the seat-backs (I had a go, mine squeezed in) but the train was empty enough to just stick it under the table next to me.

There were some luggage stacks at the carriage ends, so you aren’t left totally high and dry if your luggage is big, but I can imagine it being a challenge on busier trains. As you can see, someone’s managed to squeeze a tote bag in, but there’s already enough space under the seats for that!

Journey 6 – Sheffield to Doncaster

It was now time to head for home after a brief stop in Sheffield. Rush hour was looming too, so this would be a good test of luggage space with plenty of exhausted commuters around me. Namely making sure I didn’t block any seats or accidentally hit them in the head, as I’m sure lots of disgruntled tutting would ensue.

Northern had gifted me a Class 150 ‘Sprinter’ for the short journey to Doncaster. You’ll find these trains on much of the Northern network as well as across pretty much all of Wales. They operate everything from local hops to long-distance trains taking you from Manchester to Cardiff. In a nutshell, they have a pretty tough gig trying to meet all sorts of demands.

I’ll be honest, my expectations were rather low. So I was quite surprised when I lobbed my case it’s the overhead rack without any problems! Sure, this particular train had next-to-no legroom, but at least my suitcase was comfortable.

Journey 7 – Doncaster to Newcastle

I was now on the home stretch. One more train where I’d have to look a bit strange taking photos. I already knew what to expect from the LNER Azuma trains, as I can remember them being a bit of a revolution when they started running on the Edinburgh to London route.

While the seats were a bit harder than on the trains they replaced, I was at least able to comfortably chuck my case into the rack above my head. A welcome thing for a student going home with dirty washing to beat the costs of student accommodation washing machines.

You’ll also find some bigger luggage stacks dotted around the train, but where they are varies massively depending on who runs the train. After all, these Hitachi trains are operated by Great Western Railway, LNER, Lumo and TransPennine Express.

Great Western Railway trains have two per carriage, no matter their length. This is the standard number, and LNER Azuma trains which have five carriages are the same. TransPennine Express “Nova 1” trains have two as well. LNER Azuma trains which have nine carriages are quite generous, with some coaches having up to four luggage stacks. This is because some seats were removed to make way for extra space.

So surely, you’d think that these Hitachi trains were the best trains for luggage? Well, yes, unless you’re getting on a Lumo train. The number of stacks in the carriage ranges from one to none! If you’re in part of Coach E, you won’t even get an overhead rack. This is because they’ve tried to squeeze in as many seats as possible. They even have a restriction on the amount of luggage you can bring that’s a lot stricter than other companies.

The verdict – what’s the best train for luggage?

Out of the trains I’d travelled on today, the Pendolino felt like the best one. This was mostly because you could rely on every Pendolino having the same number of luggage stacks, and the overhead racks fit a cabin-size case comfortably. Some coaches have a smaller overhead rack in places, but this is compensated for with more stacks.

The LNER Azuma is a close second. The nine-car version is arguably the best train for luggage seeing as it’s had seats taken out for more luggage stacks. So, you’re in luck if you’re travelling between Edinburgh and London, in 99% of cases. By contrast, Lumo’s version of the Hitachi trains is probably one of the worst.

The worst I travelled on today had to be the Meridian operated by East Midlands Railway. The overhead racks are barely good for any luggage of any size! You’ll have to hope you can squeeze your case between the seats or find a luggage stack. There is some good news, as they’re being replaced by Hitachi trains similar to those on LNER in the coming years.

It had been a long day on the trains, but I was quite impressed by most operators. In my view, you’re well-covered for taking a cabin-size case on the vast majority of services! When you’re ready to take your next trip, you can book without fees (even if your plans change!) at Railsmartr.

Author Richard

Hi, I'm Richard and I've been working for Railsmartr since 2022. I make sure that everything we communicate with customers is top-notch and write exciting and informative content for the website. When I'm not at work, you'll still find me on the rails - though often in the far corners of Europe!