New trains for West Midlands

Tuesday 15th November 2022

Aside from two new trains for Southend Pier it’s been three years since I’ve written a blog about new trains entering service. That’s because it’s been three years since any new trains entered service.

Abellio owned West Midlands Trains’ West Midlands Railway (WMR) division has recently broken that famine with the first of 26 CAF built Class 196 trains launched at the end of last month. Altogether 80 carriages have been built in factories in Spain and south Wales with 14 formed into four coach trains and 12 as two coach trains.

Obviously their introduction is much delayed as is the way with new trains, mainly, it’s said, due to the pandemic. Originally expected into service in January 2020, I took a trip up to the West Midlands last Thursday to see if they’ve been worth the wait

The new trains are, or should I say the new train is currently running on WMR’s hourly service between Birmingham New Street and Shrewsbury. Despite the launch razzamatazz only one of the two trains out on that route on Thursday during the off peak was a Class 196, the other being what’s been the hitherto mainstay allocation, Class 170.

I always puzzle why operators do the launch thing and raise expectations only to continue to allocate older trains. Luckily it wasn’t too difficult to catch the other train out that morning once I’d copped a 170 on my first journey.

The trains are unusual in being new Diesel Multiple Units and next year the new fleet is also destined for WMR’s line between Birmingham, Worcester and Hereford. The two-coach units will be used on the Leamington Spa to Nuneaton route as well as on the new Camp Hill line passenger service between Birmingham New Street and Kings Norton but that’s not due to start until 2024. Six of the two coach trains are now also earmarked for the new East-West Rail line when that opens in 2024-25 but will see service with WMR before that – and I’d certainly hope so too, as that’s a long time to let expensive new assets lie idle.

The claim is the trains will offer around 15% more seats with a 25% increase in overall capacity.

But Class 196s apparently come with 311 seats (I didn’t count) whereas an equivalent two times two coach Class 170 has 244 which my calculator says is an impressive 27% increase.

The official blurb also says the new trains have more tables but I don’t think that can be right compared to a Class 170 as pictured below.

Indeed the reason the new 196s have more seats is because there are less tables – generally one placed either side of the gangway in the middle of each coach and one either side at both ends except where the accessible toilet is located.

Not that this is a big deal as it makes sense on busy routes used by these trains to maximise seating especially a very welcome development for a new train, decent comfortable seats with decent leg room.

You can tell DfT mandarins haven’t been involved in the specification when luxuries such as comfortable seats can be found on a new train. They’re from the same supplier (Fisa Lean) that’s been used by Greater Anglia on their Stadler built Class 755 trains. One disappointment is the seat back trays are rather small but there’s a three pin and usb socket under each pair of seats, and Wi-Fi is available.

The accessible toilet is well appointed …

… although women won’t like the fact I couldn’t make the seat stay up.

The hand dryer is not as fierce as on Pendolino trains – they’re the best – but is still decent.

The lock mechanism is a sturdy lever but I had to do a double take on the door close button which I’m sure intuitively makes sense to be coloured red but my initial thought was not to touch it as it must be the alarm button.

The same arrangement applies to the open (green) and close( red) buttons which are to the right of each pair of doors.

Outside the accessible toilet is a large flexible area for two wheelchairs and/or buggies …

…. as depicted on the doors…

… but it’s a bit of a squeeze to walk around the outside of the toilet cubicle inside the train especially if passengers are using the tip up seats.

That toilet can be found in the coach at one end of the train while there’s also a space in the coach at the other end for what’s said to be three bicycles but it looked to me as though it would be a faff to retrieve the one closest to the side if two others were alongside.

I can’t comment on the other toilet which is located in the next coach to the one with bike spaces as it was locked out of service.

There are helpful screens at the ends of each coach and alongside the doors …

… which give updates on journey progress and departures from interchange stations …

…. as well as helpful guidance about getting off the train.

The PA system is very loud and has the usual female voice known and loved at many Train Operating Companies and the door opening bleeping sound is to what I assume is some new standard as it’s the same as on Elizabeth line trains – that warm warble type sound.

Stadler built trains for Greater Anglia have level boarding at each set of doors, but as you can see from the photographs, this clever innovation hasn’t been included on these trains as the steps aren’t level with the platforms, which is a shame.

Aside from that disappointment, the seat back tray and the toilet seat, all in all a nice train and most importantly a comfortable one to travel on.

The bright orange and purple livery is certainly bold and makes a change from the dull all over greys and greens of other fleets but I’m still not sure about its overall design.

A batch of similar Class 197 trains (51 two coach and 26 three coach) are just entering service with Transport for Wales, and of course Northern has been running Class 195 trains for some time.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

31 thoughts on “New trains for West Midlands

Add yours

  1. Thank you for another well-written blog. I look forward to similar trains being introduced in N. Wales.

    The information screen in the train is interesting – the first train will have departed before arrival, and the others do not come within the designated minimum connection time for New St, which I thought was 12 minutes.

    I know it is possible to beat that time, but should the company be encouraging it?

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  2. Writing this on a refurbished London Midland 350, and I am impressed with the comfort and legroom – certainly a big improvement on the old spec. Def worth a spin on one if you get the chance – also ridiculously cheaper than Avanti – only booked 10 days ago leaving Euston for Crewe at 0746 and getting it for £19.20 compared to the over £100 Avanti wanted for same time.

    The ubiquitous PA voice is Julie Berry, btw, who has become a voice of reassurance and comfort. I first heard her voice on the Connex 365s in the mid 90s so she’s been doing it sometime now!

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  3. Good that comfortable seats have been specified.

    Be interesting to see how the ‘multi-user’ spaces for bikes, wheelchairs and buggies works out. Will it be enough

    What about provision for suitcases given WMR serve Birmingham airport?

    Shame about the lack of level loading for wheelchairs, buggies, wheeled suitcases, etc. Given Stadler can do it in East Anglia and soon to be Merseyrail, then level boarding should be mandatory for all new trains – else maybe the TOC has not taken all reasonable steps for disability access.

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    1. Looking at the photos it looks as if there are issues with different platform height and gaps between platform and train which may make level boarding not possible

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    2. I live in ws67er cheslyn hay Walsall West Midlands the Rugeley to Birmingham train line runs the back of my house with the nearest station landywood with the lack of buses in our village why can’t I be able to use my concessionary pass on the railways?

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      1. If you pay your Council Tax to West Midlands Combined Authority free rail travel is avaliable after 09:30 weekdays & all day Saturday’s & Sundays rail travel within TfWM operating area. This is funded separately thru a level on the Council Tax. & not part of The National Concessionary Bus Pass iunding. This is specifically within the legislation for off peak BUS use only and not rail. However reductions for the over 60s can be made by purchasing a Senior Citizens Railcard.

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  4. I find it a little strange that they specified diesel power only. Greater Anglia specified Hybrids for all its non-electrified lines. These also had the possibility of conversion to hydrogen power

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    1. Re: train exterior design. The colour orange as you see is there to represent the mode of west midlands transport:

      Orange for trains,
      Blue for trams,
      Red for buses,
      Green for bicycles.
      I’d like to think grey for roads if TfWM ever takes over control of the main highways.

      If you look at the TfWM logo, you will see a hexagon, with cross tracks resembling W stacked in top of the M. The resultant central diamond adopts the colour of the mode of transport.

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  5. I don’t know these lines well, but they appear to be mainly relatively short commuter lines. Whilst tables might be a nice to have would not more seats be then better option?

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  6. Birmingham to Shrewsbury and to Hereford is around 50 miles, and there is significant end-to-end traffic – hardly short distance commuting!

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    1. The new trains will speed the line-up and there is funding in place to upgrade the line to 90mph so the time would come down to about 45 minutes

      In London it would be regarded as an outer Surburban service

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  7. Seats look mightily low to me, a ridiculous and oft repeated mistake made on trains, the original Thameslink (319?) stock by far the worst. The lower the seat, the more legroom required and for many older people, the more difficult to get out from…………and what a disgrace not ALL new stock is built in the UK, however unfashionable the thought.

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    1. I agree with your comment on manufacturing. Anyone care to comment on the pathway that has led to this situation? It is not that long ago that the UK was an exporter of CKD big ticket items. Now we import them.

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  8. These new trains look like VOGONS, the drivers cab must be very cramped. How about new trains for East Midlands and Lincolnshire ?
    Graham

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    1. The East Midlands and Lincolnshire are getting the West Midlands’ cast-off 170s, along with Scotland’s and Wales’ cast-off 170s. Oh, and Southern’s cast-off 171s which will be converted into 170s.

      That should give the residents of the East Midlands and Lincolnshire a clue what the politicians and the civil servants at the DfT think of their importance!

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  9. To add to Rodgers comments on the Orange & Purple livery. This is part of Transport for West Midlands corporate branding. The franchise is part of West Midlands Railway Executive and TfWM have bought thier multi model branding across the West Midlands Combined Authority. Orange & Purple for trains, Blue for West Midlands Metro , Red for West Midlands Bus & Green for Bikes all with the strong integrated TfWM generic image.

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      1. I am delighted to share the news Paul that Diamond Bus are the Silver Award winners of Bus Operator of The Year and both categories of Driver of The Year & Engineer of The Year have alsobeen won by Rotala employees. Diamond Bus have also received the Silver Award for City Operator Of The Year.

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      2. Diamond Bus NORTH WEST actually won the City operator (rather than Silver) and that meant they were placed behind Blackpool Transport as overall top operator.

        Diamond Bus NORTH WEST did have Bronze award in the Engineer of the Year, whilst PRESTON BUS’ Darren Dalton did get the Silver award for driver of the year.

        Diamond Bus NORTH WEST were finalists in a number of categories as well.

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  10. Any observations on the lack of arm rests? It appears the gangway/aisle is slightly wider than on the Class 170 but with the Class 197 side-by-side seats closer together as a result.

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    1. “West Midlands Bus” services are in TfWM Red non partnership services are in the operators own livery currently Grey for NXWM & Blue for Diamond Bus.

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    1. Passengers on the “Red” TfWM partnership services certainly do understand the difference all operators tickets are accepted on each others services and the timetables are fully coordinated so far from “lunacy ” the different branding and livery for West Midlands Bus is there to aid passengers on these services and understand the difference on these services.

      Consequences passengers can easily understand that services operated by “Grey” NXWM & “Blue,” Diamond buses only accept the TfWM & the operators own tickets.

      However from April 2023 the whole of the West Midlands Travelcard & Diamond Value tickets & passes will be withdrawn & only TfWM Multi Operators Tickets will be avaliable to passengers on services within the West Midlands Combined Authority

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  11. So at the moment even though most national express buses are various shades of red, only ‘red’ buses on partnership routes accept all tickets. So how do passengers differentiate between shades of red and ‘red’buses. It is lunacy. Pity the drivers, possibly that’s why both operators are so short of drivers and cancelled services are rife.

    Still Nirvana from next April then.

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    1. I am not aware of Diamond Bus currently being short of drivers and cancelling the services I use daily. or its partnership routes. If you have any evidence of this I will gladly investigate this with Rotala & TfWM The company is taking over a number of routes from NXWM on 1/1/23 for NATIONAL EXPRESS to concentrate on its core routes. National Express West Midlands are moving to a Platinum based livery which will differnciate its vehicles from TfWM West Midlands Bus Partnership routes. Presently however its very easy to tell an NXWM vehicle from West Midlands Bus as NXWM vehicles are dark Crimson & Gold with NXWM branding whereas WEST MIDLANDS BUS uses a poppy red livery akin to NBC with clear TfWM branding.

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    2. In addition I would greatly value one of Rogers excellent articles at some point evaluating the TfWM West Midlands Bus Partnership routes . I think that would fascinating to hear his analysis of the different approach National Express West Midlands & Diamond Bus take to operating on the same routes around West Bromwich & Walsall on behalf of Transport for West Midlands.

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  12. It might be a bit late to comment…however:

    I wonder what the drivers think of these? Looks like the cab is set back even further than the Electrostars used by Southern as the front is angled rather than straight and flat. So the view to the right will be even more obscured by the corridor connecting ‘bellows’. I’m sure they’d prefer full width cabs. Are they planning many en-route attachments and detachments like south of the Thames or it’s just for flexibility so they can make up different lengths of train?

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