Will Greater Anglia learn the lessons from the roll-out of their new trains?
- Credit: Archant
On general election day I really don’t feel it is my place to give any views on how the campaign has gone, there will be plenty of that over the next few days. All I will say is to urge people to get out and vote.
The other issue that has been dominating headlines in this part of the world over the last week or so is the major problem that has hit Greater Anglia trains - especially its rural trains.
The company and Network Rail is still trying to find out what exactly is causing the problems with the signalling and the ability of track sensors to pick up what is happening on the lines.
As I write this, nothing has been definitively proved to be the cause of the problems - but there is considerable circumstantial evidence that they are linked to the introduction of the new Stadler bimode trains on rural services across the region.
While Greater Anglia insists the new trains are only one element that they and Network Rail are looking at, the fact that freight trains are operating normally to Felixstowe, that main-line services seem to be unaffected, and - especially - that East Midlands Railway trains from Norwich to Peterborough, the midlands and north west are operating normally suggests that other rail professionals think the new trains are an important factor.
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I can't say I'm totally surprised. I've been an interested observer of the national rail scene for decades (as well as writing about the industry in this region).
I cannot remember any rail company introducing a major fleet of new trains without some teething troubles showing up which causes widespread (but usually fairly short-term) disruption for passengers.
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Sometimes the problems do linger - London Overground has been trying to introduce new Bombardier Aventra trains for more than a year and there have been all kinds of problems forcing delay after delay.
These type of trains have also been bought by Greater Anglia for its suburban services and while 100 have been built, none have yet been seen in this part of the world and there is no exact date yet planned for their introduction.
I've seen them under construction at Derby. They don't look at all bad for suburban trains and I think passengers will find them comfortable. But there's a long way to go before we see them working properly on our tracks.
But that is so far in the future, I'm sure no one at Greater Anglia is going to bed at night worrying about the Aventras . . . yet!
What could be causing sleepless nights is the impending introduction of the new Intercity trains on the main line from Ipswich and Norwich to London.
These are mechanically very similar to the bimodes which are probably a major cause of the issues we are seeing on the network at present.
The Intercity trains were due to have been introduced "during the autumn" but have been conspicuous by their absence. Today Greater Anglia are still saying they would like to see them enter service before the end of the year.
Given the problems at present and the approaching Christmas season, I suspect we're more likely to see the Polar Express than a Stadler 12-car Intercity on the main line before the end of the year.
It's also clear that the existing Intercity trains are not going to be sent away too early - the new ones are all due to be in service by the end of March. The word I've heard is that the old ones are likely to be kept in the depot (or in storage on the Mid Norfolk Railway) for a few weeks in case any major problems emerge.
As I said earlier, Greater Anglia is not unique in having problems with the introduction of a new train fleet - and the indications I'm getting is that they are reasonably confident they should find solutions before too long.
That would be good. Sometimes companies have taken months to get trains running properly - the new trains on the East Coast Main Line and Great Western have taken much longer than first planned and passengers on both the Southern and Northern franchises have suffered for years as companies struggle to introduce new carriages.
That doesn't help now. And with passengers facing delays in cold, wet, miserable weather it is understandable that Greater Anglia should come under fire.
I suspect that once the issues are resolved, passengers will come to love the new trains and the new journey opportunities they bring. But if anyone at Greater Anglia really thought a fleet of more than 100 brand new trains could come in with no teething troubles, they were being a tad optimistic!