Seventh heaven on the 777s

Thursday 26th January 2023

The first of Merseyrail’s new fleet of 53 trains finally entered service on Monday morning.

Ordered back in 2016 to replace the ageing Class 507/508, the new Class 777 trains were originally due into service in 2019/20, but as is the way with these things manufacturing delays, delivery delays, handover delays and delays due to sorting out an agreement with the trade unions over the role of guards have all played a part.

Thankfully that’s all sorted now with each train having a Train Manager qualified in safety procedures and on hand to give help and reassurance to passengers, which, on an intensive frequent urban rail network is quite a thing to have these days with many comparable networks driver only operated, eg in London.

The £460 million cost of the new trains has included a £20 million depot for the new trains at Kirkdale and many platform modifications to take these longer trains when two units are coupled together.

The Swiss manufacturer Stadler has built the (third rail) electric trains and like those delivered to Greater Anglia by that manufacturer include the revolutionary stand out feature of level boarding with a retractable step coming out from under the doors to the platform edge at each station.

The new trains will gradually replace the 507/508s in the coming months but so far only 777049 has hit the tracks in revenue earning service being the first and only train out during daylight hours on Monday on the Liverpool Central to Kirkby line and again being the only train in service when I took a ride on Tuesday. Although another train (777008) was out facilitating driver training.

It only takes 18-19 minutes for the end to end journey from Liverpool Central to Kirkby and with a short layover of four minutes at either end the 15 minute frequency service is maintained with three trains shuttling up and down serving the five intermediate stations. It’s hoped to have all three of these trains operated by new 777s in the next few weeks.

I took a ride up and down the line on Tuesday to take a look at the new train features and observe passenger reactions. It has to be said the latter were all favourable with many positive comments about the improvements over the more than 40 year old trains being replaced.

The first thing you notice is how quiet the train is both externally as it arrives at the station and inside during the journey. We’ve all become used to the idiosyncratic noises emanating from the 507/508s that it seems odd when a 777 silently glides into and out of stations and when stationary sits with a complete absence of clunks and clicks from the electrical gubbins.

Yellow seems to be the favoured colour for public transport in north west based Combined Authorities (also Manchester) and the 777s maintain that tradition with a black and yellow livery with grey lower panelling. It’s not an overly inspiring livery. Brashness over design, but the trains certainly stand out with their all black fronts and rears. It wasn’t that long ago yellow was mandatory at the front/rear.

Each train has four walk through coaches joined by articulated style connections. The floor isn’t even, with a lower level for boarding at the doors and an incline up towards the articulated joins which I noticed passengers weren’t expecting despite the floor markings.

Seating is in bays of four as well as airline style ….

….. and some odd single seats. I wouldn’t describe the seats as comfortable. They look smart with their mock leather headrests and i’d describe them as ‘adequate’ for a journey of around 15 minutes. A longer hour’s journey on the Hunts Cross to Southport line may not be quite so attractive.

There are no armrests or seat back trays but some bays have a small ledge by the window (see photo above) which look like they might be for cups but I wouldn’t trust putting one there for fear it’ll fall off.

Some bays have tip up seats for buggies or large suitcases.

As you can see the seats are cantilevered right up close to the train sides to give as much space as possible for a spacious gangway and vestibule area by each door. This does make for a slightly awkward sitting position for those using the window seat.

There are two wheelchair areas in the two middle coaches, each very clearly marked on the floor….

… as well as signs on the outside by the appropriate doors.

Two cycle areas in coaches one and four are similarly clearly marked.

These can each hold three cycles if you follow the instructions.

There’s one three-pin and two usb sockets under pairs of seats….

….and digital displays showing where the train is along the route it’s taking …

…. alongside a display for promotional messages.

These are above some of the windows as well as above the doors.

Although I noticed they weren’t all working on the train I travelled on.

There’s a luggage rack with a transparent bottom above some seating areas, but not the ones with the aforementioned displays.

A rather nice feature is the coloured LED lighting around the doors which are green as the door opens…

… and red as it closes.

The cab at each end of the train has a door offset from the centre.

Unusually for an urban mass transit train configuration with a fairly short journey length, there are coat hooks….

…. and like the Class 196s I reviewed in the West Midlands there’s a long series of letters and numbers on the side of each train for those that like that sort of thing.

Monitors showing the next stop are at the ends of each of the four articulated sections and by the doors….

… where there are also decent size litter bins.

And finally eagle eyed readers may have spotted in an earlier photo, there’s a step ladder for emergency evacuation, which hopefully will never be needed.

You can tell a lot of thought has gone into the design of these new trains and it’s not surprising the initial passenger reaction is positive. They have the same number of seats as the Class 507/508s but a lot more room for boarding and alighting and, of course standing. They have shades of the Thameslink Class 700s about them in that respect, and although the seats aren’t quite as ironing board like, they’re not far off being almost as hard.

I’ll miss the clunking and clicking of the old trains although it looks like they’ll be around for some time yet with the roll out of 777s happening gradually line by line once driver training facilitates it and station platform modifications are complete. The line to Ormskirk is next once Kirkby is completed.

An interesting feature to be incorporated on seven of the new trains is the addition of battery power for when the Kirkby line is extended to the new station at Headbolt Lane (likely to be later this year) as the electrified third rail won’t be extended. It’ll also be interesting to see if trains can reach the new station (and back) within the 45 minute round trip time to Liverpool Central – I reckon it’ll be extremely tight.

Uniquely the trains are owned by Merseytravel and the Combined Authority rather than a Rolling Stock Company and therefore enjoy more favourably financing terms which is one of the advantages of the devolved railway on Merseyside.

I wonder if they’ll last over 40 years as their predecessors have done.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: TThS

18 thoughts on “Seventh heaven on the 777s

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  1. I can understand the desire for a wide gangway and lots of standing space, but just moving the seat edge an inch away from the edge of the train and another inch between seats would make journeys much more pleasant. Urban railways are less likely to have groups travelling together, so being jammed in against a stranger is not an attractive proposition. This may lead to more standing for short hops, but on longer runs on the Southport and Chester lines there should be more space for people to sit comfortably.

    I suppose the decision makers only pop on trains for photo opportunities lest they receive direct feedback.

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  2. Those step ladders are definitely going to get pinched. How hard can it be to lock them in an emergency equipment cupboard out of harm’s way?

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  3. At least the seating capacity has been maintained, unlike the forthcoming trains for the Tyne & Wear Metro which allocate more space to standees and reduce seating capacity by almost ten percent.

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  4. Yellow is probably popular as it’s easy to see.Of one’s that run on rail in northern England I think that only Merseyrail and the Manchester Metro Link are yellow.Tyne and Wear Metro was but it’s sort of blackish gray now.

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  5. I came across these new trains by pure chance being in the city looking at buses after dark. The Metro Mayor had said the trains were entering service this week but I didn’t expect it on Monday.
    One thing not mentioned in the article is the need for customers to push the button to open train doors when the train stops. Staff managers/supervisors/technicians travelled on the train to assist travellers unaware of this change. They willingly spoke to passengers about the new trains. Apparently they want to have completed Ormskirk ready for the Grand National in April. This will be followed by the other shorter shuttle to New Brighton. Station staff were deployed on platforms with “Ask me about the new train hi-vis” giving out leaflets. They came out before the train arrived to ensure boarding passengers knew what to do and on more than one occasion confidently answered where the train was when I arrived at an intermediate station by bus. When those responsible for bus franchising proposals were asked by me if there are any plans to revert to the multi modal 1970s where those from Kirkby and the Wirral had bus routes that fed stations to put people onto trains to Liverpool they stated the useful direct bus links including those across the Mersey that were the child of bus deregulation would remain.

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  6. Who would design a step ladder location in such a daft area ? It’s clearly going to be a trip hazard/cause of foot injury. My guess is that it’s a late decision, with nowhere else to store such a thing. Otherwise, they might have planned to position those seats with an outstand (spacer) on the carriage wall, so that the aisle was narrowed by the seat, rather than an unexpected ladder at ankle level.

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  7. The new trains are on the Kirkby line first because, shortest line, & it’s a short trip back to Kirkdale TMD for any 777 develops a fault, & apparently the roll out for the new 777s in service is

    Kirkby
    Ormskirk
    Wirral
    Southport

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    1. Hmm … Underground trains (on which one can spend an hour if travelling to Heathrow, Uxbridge or Upminster etc) have never had toilets. Nor, as it happens, do most Tube stations as they are below sewer level.

      Intercity is a different matter of course.

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      1. Nor do Tyne and Wear Metro, Island Line or Sheffield Tram all of which engage in mainline running minus toilets.I’d guess that Newcastle Airport to South Hylton must be a good 50 minutes and St James’s to South Shields via the coast over an hour not that anyone other than rail enthusiasts and perhaps disabled people to avoid changing would go that way.

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  8. Interesting that the current trains have spacers which give passengers a bit more lateral room, while these do not. A curious decision, as the lack of elbow space is a frequently quoted criticism of the Thameslink 700s

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