Monday 23rd September 2019
It’s not often we get to travel on a brand new loco hauled inter-city train in the UK, but that’s what’s quietly being rolled out across the Pennines right now as First Group’s Trans Pennine Express franchise soft launches its fleet of thirteen smart new Spanish built Nova 3 trains.
Originally planned for introduction at the end of 2018, then delayed to the ‘New Year’, then ‘Spring 2019’, then July 2019 … due to ‘technical issues’ with the Mark 5A designated coaches, the trains are at last entering service for passengers to take a ride.
Built by CAF (they of teething troubled Caledonian Sleeper coaches fame – as well as the impressive new Class 195/331 trains with Northern) the five coaches making up each train comprise one exclusively for first class users as well as passengers using wheelchairs with the other four all standard class with lots of tables.
They really do feel like an inter-city train.
One benefit of the Class 68 locomotive at the front is the much quieter ride inside the coaches than was experienced on the Class 185 diesel units they’re replacing. The locomotive is also noticeably more powerful with impressive acceleration.
Another much welcomed improvement is the significant increase in capacity provided on these very busy cross Pennine routes. A three coach 185 replaced by a five coach loco hauled train has got to be the best news.
The Nova 3 trains are being introduced on TPE’s Scarborough to Liverpool and Middlesbrough to Manchester Airport runs and normal arrangements will see the Class 68 locomotive at the front end on westbound journeys with the Driver Trailing Cab in the rear of Coach A; with the latter leading the way when heading east.
On my sample ride from Leeds to Manchester this morning it was noticeable how most passengers opted to travel in the front two standard class coaches (D and C) behind first class (E) which were quite busy with the rear two coaches (B and A) almost empty. Old habits; but I’m sure it’s a different story at peak times and as more new trains are introduced passengers will quickly learn to spread out along the platform and be ready to board through the single doors situated at the ends of each coach rather than double doors located one-third/two-thirds of each coach as applied on the Class 185s.
There are a very welcome fourteen tables seating four people in coaches D and C, eleven in coach B and six in coach A. And in even better news, most tables in D and C align with windows.
Sadly it’s not possible to achieve this consistently in coaches B and A.
There’s a largish luggage rack at the ends of each coach and a small toilet at the ends of coaches B, C and D.
The universal access toilet is in Coach E, and in a new development, Trans Pennine Express have located a space for a wheelchair and companion either side of the central aisle in Coach E, the first class coach.
Passengers using a wheelchair (and any companion) will receive complimentary coffee and a biscuit even if paying only standard class fares in Coach E but will have to upgrade to first class “to receive the full catering offer” I’ve only ever received a coffee and biscuit when travelling first class with TPE so I’m not sure what the “full catering offer” actually is. I doubt it’ll ever be worth upgrading for.
The first class coach E is well laid out with thirty comfortable seats (much comfier than on the Azuma/IEP trains) in 2+1 style and again offering many more seats than on the Class 185s. You also get a lighted lip at the window end of the table; just for show as it doesn’t really light anything up.Seats in standard class looked nice but were not particularly comfortable – I reckon numb bum syndrome will take hold if making a long journey. I’ve sat in much better seats in well spec’d buses.
There’s a bike storage area for four bikes at the western end of coach B and when these spaces are not reserved (which they need to be – no just turning up with a bike) they can be used for buggies (there are also tip-up seats) and luggage storage.
There are large information screens at the ends of each coach and a rolling PIS text type roof mounted screen over the gangway doors and in the middle of the carriage.
The screens were showing the usual next station information and other stuff; but teething problems meant the current displayed time was off-puttingly an hour slow and no details were given of onward connections at stations when that screen appeared in the cycle. Obviously teething troubles with the systems.
There are automatic audio announcements over the PA before and after each station which are clearly audible.
Traffic light digital seat reservations are included but they weren’t working this morning and I understand there are plans to introduce the notoriously unpopular ability to reserve a seat on the journey later this year (‘maybe reserved on route’ will apply to designated seats) although some seats will also be designated as always being available (unless they’re already occupied!). I really can’t unsderstand the logic of this so called ‘innovation’. All it does is create angst.
During the current phased introductory period of the new trains TPE are doing their best to match up seat reservations made on a Class 185 with the same designated coach and seat on a Nova 3. Inevitably this won’t always work re forwards/backwards window/aisle specifications though.
Thirty-two of the 261 standard class seats are designated ‘priority’ – situated at the ends of the four coaches. These have more leg room but sadly some don’t offer much of a view!
There’s a usb and three pin socket (with the single pin on top) in the middle under each pair of seats and Wi-fi is available although wasn’t working on my journey in some of the standard class coaches. Where it was working it was labelled as CAF rather than TPE, but again something that I’m sure will be sorted as the trains settle in.Leaving the train is through the end of coach doors where there are two big, bright buttons to press.
There’s a catering trolley service although it didn’t come round this morning between Leeds and Manchester, but this may be due to some earlier problems with the train diagram this morning – the train got seriously delayed in Leeds on its way to Scarborough due to a passenger being taken ill and was curtailed at York so the journey I caught had only begun in York instead of Scarborough.
I very much enjoyed my journey this morning. It made a welcome change to travel on a TPE train between Leeds and Manchester that wasn’t packed out, and it was particularly enjoyable to travel in what felt like a real inter-city train.
Once the fleet is fully introduced I look forward to seeking out a suitably bargain priced first class advanced ticket to travel from one end of the route to the other and give all aspects of the service a try. In the meantime there’s just one new train out on one working each day although it’s expected a second will hit the tracks this week.
They’re well worth taking a ride on. Overall, another impressive new train.
2019 is the year of the new train. My previous new train reviews from earlier this year can be found here: 1 Class 707; 2 D Trains; 3 Sleepers; 4 Azumas; 5 Class 710; 6 Class 195 and 331; 7 Class 755.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement enjoy Britain’s splendid scenic delights travelling by bus and train, and commenting along the way.