The Future of British Train Travel & some Bear and Royal fun!
Last week, 16th October 2017, the overdue New Intercity Trains (IET) or Class 800 were launched on the Great Western Railway (GWR). These trains are built by the Japanese company Hitachi and are set to replace the aging HST trains (High Speed Train) or you may know it as Class 43 or even Intercity 125; the point is that these diesel trains are over 40 years old and it is about time that they are replaced by quieter, faster, more efficient trains (the HSTs were introduced in 1976).
The Hitachi-built Class 800 marked its first scheduled trip at 6am on October 16, leaving Bristol Temple Meads for London Paddington, but with a few hiccups – rather than a fresh start they started their service with the usual train frustration we hear about on the news every day - delays – the old story.
In total, Hitachi is delivery 36 five-carriage and 21 nine-carriage Class 800 trains as well as 22 five-carriage and 14 nine-carriage Class 802 trains to replace the 58 HSTs for GWR and add more capacity – especially in the morning rush hour to Paddington. The full fleet is due to enter service by December 2018. The new trains have a top speed of 125mph (200kmph) which is the max operational speed on the Great Western Mainline and have up to 24 per cent greater seating capacity than HSTs. These trains should also been seen whizzing through the East Coast Mainline, operating for Virgin East Coast – dubbed as ‘Azuma’, meaning ‘East’ in Japanese. The Hitachi website claims that these are the key benefits for these new trains: ‘environmentally efficient, faster trains, reduced wear on the rail infrastructure, increased passenger comfort and capacity (in the morning peak, capacity into King’s Cross will be increased by 28% and into Paddington by 40%)’
Back to GWR Class 800s: The GWR Class 800s are bi-mode, operating on both diesel and electric power, a necessity after the delayed electrification on the Great Western Mainline (from London Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads). However, when the major work on the tracks have been completed, due in December 2018, passengers are promised faster journeys and more services – amounting to 4,000 more seats into Paddington in the morning rush hour, GWR and Hitachi claim.
While the launch event did not go as smoothly as GWR and Hitachi and hoped, some passengers were not disappointed, as when the new train terminated at London Paddington, on its first timetable service, a royal surprise was waiting for those not rushing to their tube connections. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, alongside actor Hugh Bonneville and others from the cast of the new movie Paddington 2, were at a children event at Paddington station. They joined 130 children from the several charities they support on board the Belmond British Pullman train at Paddington Station, inviting some young survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire to enjoy a day out in the countryside. How exciting!
Is this the future of train travel in 21st Century Britain? Well I hope not. This new train, Class 800-802, are terrible in my opinion for several reasons and I am sure many share the same thoughts as me. The train is named and advertised an Intercity train – this means it is meant for long distances which it was predominately built for London to Bristol services to replace the ageing HSTs. However for an Intercity train it has terrible seating, especially for standard class. The coaches are full with airplane like seats; terrible seats in terms of leg width and space. Where has the comfort of train travel gone? Then there is no buffet car; the old HSTs have a buffet car and so much more space, these trains are cramped and simply lacking in space to stretch one’s legs. There is a trolley though, not very practical for today’s travel but it gets some of the job done. There is something about going to the buffet car to get your cup of coffee (or Tea – for those who know Geoff Marshall – ‘Tick’) and socialising with other travellers while enjoying the views of the countryside. Another point to note is that, these trains are 5 cars! 5 cars for 21st century travel is a big FAT no! Considering that these trains are supposed to improve capacity in the rush hour and travel long distances, I find 5 cars a bit underwhelming. It is more efficient to put longer trains with greater capacity than adding an extra dozen of trains to cope with the same number of people, plus the network won’t be to cope with the extra train traffic. It is so much better to have a 10 or 12 car train rather than coupling two 5/6 car trains. With more and more people using the train everyday – 5 cars seem small, especially when it comes to future-proofing. Another thing which I am not pleased about is the delay in the electrification of the Great Western Mainline –it’s long overdue. To put it out there, Britain was the birthplace for the railway, yet it doesn’t have a worthy railway network in comparison to other counties which have progressed so much faster and train travel in the busier cities over Europe and certain Asian cities are so much better for passengers and the network.
Here are a few nice videos of the launch event and on the Class 800 and people’s views on this new train you may be interested in, including shots from Padding Bear at the station – also a bonus clip from ‘All the Stations’ who visited the Hitachi depot:
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