Thursday 28th November 2019
The rail industry’s fond of slipping in new developments before they’re officially due to start; they call it a ‘preview service’. It’s just happened again on the stopping service between Reading and Paddington currently operated by GWR and where most of the service is to be handed over to TfL Rail from the 15th December timetable change in just over a fortnight.
A seven-coach Class 345 TfL Rail branded train began running this week on a handful of journeys to get TfL Rail staff used to the new arrangements as well as passengers being able to sample the new trains west of their current terminus of Hayes & Harlington.
It’s a tad ironic to see these trains running in advance of their scheduled introduction date to Reading bearing in mind the continuing significant delay to the overall Crossrail project. There’s no chance of these trains continuing beyond Paddington towards Abbey Wood or Shenfield through the new Crossrail tunnels under central London for at least another year.
The new trains are likely to be received with mixed reactions by Berkshire commuters. Gone are the tables, forward/rear facing seats, plug sockets, toilets (including accessible) that have been the norm on GWR’s smart Class 387 trains for a while now (see above) and instead there’s plenty of inward facing longitudinal seats as favoured by TfL, a few bays of 2+2 seats, no toilets and no plug sockets (see below). On the positive side this creates much more room for standing and therefore increases the overall capacity albeit with less comfort for those wanting a seat. A bit like the Class 700 trains on Thameslink which everyone loves to hate, but knows there’s no alternative on busy commuter routes stretching ever further out from London.
Commuters from Amersham, Chesham and Uxbridge have long been used to such arrangements on the Metropolitan line, and I doubt there’s any passengers on the GOBLIN (the Overground line from Gospel Oak to Barking) who’d want to trade their longtitudinal seats on the new Class 710 trains back for traditional 2+2 seating on the old Class 172 trains now they’re used to the much greater capacity.
Commuters from Reading, Twyford, Maidenhead, Taplow, Burnham, Slough, Langley, Iver and West Drayton may be more discerning about seat comfort and positioning than hardy Londoners but, on the other hand, at some of these stations GWR will continue to be running frequent trains between Reading and Paddington so they’ll have a choice if they’re desperate for the loo or suffering battery top-up anxiety. I reckon the standard of seat hardness is as poor on both TfL Rail and GWR.
A glance at the timetables now available online, shows that from Maidenhead into Paddington, for example, in the morning peak between 07:00 and 09:00 there are eight TfL Rail departures at 07:05, 07:19, 07:35, 07:48, 08:05, 08:18, 08:35 and 08:48 taking 42 minutes to Paddington and ten GWR ‘semi-fast’ or ‘non-stop -N’ departures at 07:02, 07:07N; 07:15; 07:32N; 07:35N; 07:44; 08:02N; 08:14; 08:31N and 08:44 taking as little as 17 minutes for a non stopper to either 20, 25 or 35 minutes for semi-fasts. So plenty of train choice for Maidenheaders.
Commuters from Iver, Langley and Taplow will be mainly served by TfL Rail (with just a sprinkling of GWR trains) but other stations, like Maidenhead as described above, will continue to see GWR trains. Bizzarely, Burnham will have GWR trains from Paddington in the evening peak but not into Paddington in the morning peak, when it will be TfL Rail only.
Those passengers who will almost certainly disciminate in favour of a ride on TfL Rail’s trains are adults travelling with children. That’s because TfL allow up to four children under 11 to travel free when accompanied by an adult and this will apply to Reading, but not on GWR trains.
London residents with a Freedom Pass will also no doubt be committed TfL Rail travellers as they’ll be enjoying free travel to Reading but only on the purple coloured trains – and if travelling before 09:30 the pass won’t work station gates so passes will have to be shown to station staff to exit.
This will be the first time any TfL run service will not be accepting Oyster. The section of route west of West Drayton falls outside the Oyster scheme, even though Oyster does extend to places such as Gatwick Airport and Hertford East where TfL don’t run any services. That anomaly arises from the techy limitation of the ageing Oyster scheme. I understand contactless will be available, but posters at stations make no mention of this.
If you want to grab a preview of a Class 345 train running to or from Reading before 15th December they’re on the 07:32 and 09:48 Reading to Paddington journeys and the 17:42 Maidenhead to Paddington with return journeys from Paddington at 08:43 and 18:42 to Reading and 16:56 to Maidenhead. Or you can just sit at home and enjoy a Geoff Marshall video about it.