Tuesday 29th November 2022
Having enjoyed a recent ride on the new CAF built Class 196 trains with West Midlands Railway I headed off to North Wales last week to see if the new sister Class 197 units being introduced by Transport for Wales would be any different.
Actually I was on my way over to Llandudno for that purpose on Tuesday but it was only during the journey I spotted no new trains were out that day so Plan B involved enjoying some bus riding around Crewe instead, of which more in Thursday’s blog.
It seems in these early days of the fleet’s “soft launch”, allocation of the new trains into service on the Conwy Valley line is a bit hit and miss, probably to do with driver familiarisation or initial teething problems or both.
The fleet of 77 trains are all being built in Wales at CAF’s factory in Newport and will operate from the former Alstom depot in Chester where they’ll be maintained.
There are 51 two-coach and 26 three-coach trains with the intention of using 14 of the latter on the busy north/south Manchester/Holyhead to Cardiff and south Wales route complete with a First Class section and a refreshment galley. I believe the idea is to alternate them with loco hauled Mark 4 stock on the timetable covering that route.
21 of the two-coach trains are destined for the Birmingham and Shrewsbury to Pwllheli/Aberystwyth Cambrian Coast line and will come with ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System) equipment fitted.
But the first to enter service are on the Conwy Valley line between Llandudno Junction and Blaenau Ffestiniog and it was on this delightful line I found myself on Friday for another go at catching one.
Except there must have been a teething problem as the 11:37 journey from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Llandudno left half an hour late having arrived into Blaenau Ffestiniog on time and was then shown as cancelled from Llandudno Junction to Llandudno, but on arrival did continue in service which was just as well as it was a busy journey, as was the return at 13:22.
That short ride with a lot of people and luggage on board gave some indication of how the trains will cope (or not) on these busy routes especially during summer when tourists, luggage, cycles, hikers and locals are out in large numbers.
While waiting for the two-coach train at Llandudno Junction I saw two other Class 197 trains pass through on driver training duties including a three-coach train and one with two 2-coaches coupled together.
The first thing I noticed on boarding the train at Llandudno Junction was a large cupboard to one side of the doors – the other side being the small end section of the carriage by the driver’s cab.
I understand this is something to do with the galley for refreshments but it does look rather imposingly bland and a large intrusion and use of space in a two-coach train on a busy route which I don’t recall has a refreshment trolley anyway. I guess that’s the problem of ordering a standard fleet for lines with different characteristics.
Opposite this cupboard complex is an area comprising three tip up seats possibly for the refreshment trolley, or cycles maybe, although there were no signs to indicate that, together with the only free standing luggage rack I spotted on the train …
…. aside from the overhead racks above the seats with their transparant bottoms.
A mum was taking advantaged of this area to park her buggy and baby. Perhaps that’s what it’s for?
At each end of the train, next to the driver’s cab there’s a table either side of the gangway and two pairs of aircraft layout seats.
The other side of the galley contraption/tip up seats area has another table either side of the gangway and more aircraft layout seats.
Then the other side of the next set of doors you come to the accessible (and only) toilet and space for a wheelchair which was crowded out with two buggies, assorted luggage and passengers on the busy section of the journey.
I can’t comment on the interior of the accessible toilet as it was locked ‘out of service’ which wasn’t very impressive for a brand new train.
The layout of the second coach is a standard mix of aircraft layout seating with each of the three sections having a table either side of the gangway (at both ends and right in the middle).
The seats are comfortable (hurrah) and leg room is good.
There’s a three pin and two usb socket under each pair of seats …
…. including where the tables are. With the latter very difficult to use as you can’t lean down to see it and have to use by feel alone.
There are vdu type screens at each end of each coach either side of the partitions by the doors with journey update information and a display which tells you which side of the train the doors will open at the next station – handy at Llandudno Junction when it can be either.
Boarding step arrangements are pretty good but not as good as the Stadler level boarding arrangement and interestingly TfW have also got Stadler trains on order.
There’s quite a step up/down from/to the platform.
The door controls are the same as on the 196s with a large green and red button.
Overall a nice train to ride on but I have my doubts about the capacity and what a shame so much space is wasted with that huge cupboard thing.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS