Watch: The latest footage of brand new trains soon to be running in East Anglia
- Credit: Archant
In less than a year, the first consignment of new trains - part of £1.4bn investment – are due to start running on the region’s network.
I meet an upbeat Jonathan Denby at Ipswich Station - an appropriate place to talk all things trains.
The reason Jonathan, who is Greater Anglia’s head of corporate affairs, is in a good mood is that he has just returned from a holiday in Scotland. To add to the excitement, more travel is in the offing, as later in the week he is due to go to the Czech Republic to see some of the new trains destined for East Anglia’s rail network tested on-track for the first time.
It’s another landmark moment in a project that promises to transform rail travel in the region - a £1.4bn investment that will see every carriage on the entire Greater Anglia network - from Essex to Peterborough, across Suffolk and Norfolk - replaced with gleaming new state-of-the-art versions. Never before has a rail operator replaced all their trains over such a short time period.
Entire new train fleet
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“Every single train we have will get replaced with a brand new train, every single service will benefit,” said Jonathan, who explained the arrival of the new trains will be phased in over an 18-month period - from the summer of 2019 through to the end of 2020.
The trains Jonathan is travelling to see put through their paces are being built by Swiss manufacturer Stadler, whose trains will the first to go live in the region.
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In total, 1043 new carriages - 378 from Stadler and 665 from Bombardier, based in Derby, UK - have been ordered. This equates to 169 trains: the Intercity trains, Stansted Express trains and regional trains - amounting to 58 trains - are being built by Stadler, while Bombardier’s consignment will make up 111 trains for the core commuting services into London.
No stone has been left unturned in ensuring these new trains will meet modern passenger expectations. They were commissioned after an extensive public consultation last year, which received over 1000 responses. Customer representatives, including cyclist groups, were taken to see mock-ups of the carriages before a final design was decided upon.
“It’s the first time there has been that level of proactive public consultation,” said Jonathan.
Representatives from disability groups have also been heavily involved in pre-tests and have visited the manufacturers to offer feedback on how user friendly the trains and toilets are for passengers with impairments.
Jonathan continued: “We were able to take these early suggestions on and take them into the design. That’s helped shape the final specifications of the trains, so we have something that’s really fit for purpose and the best possible for passengers in East Anglia and the wider community.”
After the Stadler trains have undergone the dynamic testing at a rail test track in the Czech Republic, they are due to be transported to these shores in the autumn. Once the trains are in the UK, people will see the trains around East Anglia for many months before they enter passenger service, as they go through a commissioning “running-in” phase. Employees, including drivers, conductors, catering, maintenance and station staff, will also need training on the relevant aspects of the new trains to enable them to fulfil their roles.
Nicer travelling environment
All sounds impressive so far but what’s in it for customers, why should they be excited?
Jonathan continued: “It’ll be a much nicer travelling environment - currently, we have a real mix of trains, with the majority of the fleet being between 25 and 40 years old, and whilst they’ve been regenerated and maintained during this time, they are of a particular generation and the facilities reflect that.
“What we’ll have soon is that every single new train will have air conditioning, brighter lighting, wi-fi, plug points and places for bicycles, as well as more seats - on every route there’ll be at least 20% more seats, on some routes this will go up to 40% more.”
Jonathan said it is also anticipated that the new trains will bring a slight improvement in journey times.
“There are some small infrastructure improvements that need to happen but we are looking to improve the Ipswich to Peterborough service to an hourly service. There’s also a commitment in the franchise agreement to have a small number of direct services from Lowestoft to London and to introduce two trains a day each way from Norwich to London in 90 minutes and one train a day each way from Ipswich to London in 60 minutes.”
With everything on track with this massive project, Jonathan reflects on a busy and productive two years since Abellio, Greater Anglia’s parent company, was awarded the franchise to run the region’s rail network in 2016 - a contract that is due to run until 2025.
As part of its bid, Abellio included an ambition to replace all the carriages on the network but to get the green light was still a surprise to many.
Jonathan said:“We worked collaboratively on the Great Eastern Mainline Task Force and with stakeholders to present a united voice to Government but even though we were optimistic that our efforts would lead to a replacement of our Intercity trains and probably some of the commuter trains, I don’t think any of us ever thought we would end up pulling off the entire fleet replacement.”
He said this outcome was a result of “a really positive bid from Abellio; a collaborative approach from stakeholders making a consistent case to Government; the fact that there was lots of competition in the market helped to drive prices and the financing proved to be very good value. It was a perfect coming together of circumstances.”
He added: “The priority is always the customers but it also brings a wider benefit to the regional economy – we can use it as a wonderful opportunity to promote the region.”