Tuesday 7th February 2023
The transformation of Transport for Wales’ train fleet continues with new Stadler built diesel powered Class 231 trains now running on the Rhmney to Penarth line in the Cardiff Valleys. It follows November’s launch of the first CAF built Class 197s in North Wales.
The 11 trains which make up this new fleet are Stadler’s FLIRT type (Fast Light Intercity (and) Regional Train) and look to be the same specification as those successfully introduced by Greater Anglia (Class 755). In fact I’m unsure why these trains aren’t designated as 755 rather than 231.
The two stand out features being the level boarding arrangement with a retractable step at each pair of doors ….
…. and the diesel engine and all the associated gubbins stored in a central section of the four coach train….
… with a narrow passageway in the middle for passengers to pass through
This isn’t particularly noisy even sitting with your back to it and further down the train it really is impressively quiet as well as giving a very smooth ride.
The seats are a mixture of tables for four and airline style pairs.
As with Greater Anglia’s Class 755 trains some of the tables and seats are raised up on a platform with the gangway being on a gentle slope.
The seats are comfortable with good leg room and seat back tables with a very shallow ridge for a coffee cup …
… but I wouldn’t trust it, it’s so shallow.
The moquette used is very similar to Greater Anglia, in fact it looks to me to be the same.
A plug and usb socket are under each pair of seats which is OK for airline style seats …
…. but makes access tricky where there’s a table requiring some fumbling around to feel where it is.
The overhead display screens in each coach display the next few stations together with an updated expected time of arrival …
… and arrows point to which side the doors will open as the train pulls into stations.
All this information alternates between English and Welsh.
Three of the four coaches (including the two end ones) have an area for cycles with tip up seats …
… while the fourth coach has an area for wheelchair users…
…. with the accessible toilet located just the other side of the doors.
This toilet is the only one on the train. Stadler don’t go in for many toilets on their trains, but I guess the need for seating capacity is a determining factor.
There are no tip up seats by this toilet as happens on some trains making it hard to pass through the train ….
…. but on the other hand there are two tip up seats by the doors (see photo at the beginning of the blog) which is even worse in terms of getting in the way.
The large signs on the outside give the destination, the carriage letter (A, B, C or D) and the next station. Being digital it’s difficult to get a photograph.
The trains are a huge improvement on the converted Class 769 trains currently running on the Penarth to Rhymney line.
These are the former Class 319 Thameslink trains, now fitted with an engine, but you can’t hide the fact they’re over 30 years old and have proved unreliable and troublesome for TfW hence the decision to push the Class 231 trains initially into service on this line so the 769s can be retired. It’s planned that all eight units to have been withdrawn by May.
Ultimately the Class 231s are destined for longer runs to Maesteg, Ebbw Vale and Cheltenham while the Rhymney line will have new Stadler built Class 756 FLIRT tri-modes (17 four-car and 7 three-car) which will enable overhead electric power as well as battery operation and one diesel engine covering all bases for operation on the Valley lines as they’re progressively electrified north of Cardiff.
As well as Class 197s, 231s and 756s TfW also have 36 Class 398 Citylink tram-trains on order from Stadler for use on the Treherbert, Aberdare and Merthyr Tydfil lines.
In two years time TfW reckon 95% of journeys in Wales will be on new trains. Not bad going.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS
The 231s have a different class number because they don’t have electric pick-up and so can only run as diesel, which means they have to be a 2xx, as 7xx is for electric or bi-mode (although the TOPS numbering has frankly become such a mess over the last few years that it does seem increasingly like anything goes)
I’m less sure why the 756s aren’t numbered as 755s, although it looks like they have a lower top speed so there may be some differences in the drivetrain configuration.
Great to see Wales getting these new trains, and hopefully this will push other TOCs into getting Stadlers or push other manufacturers to up their game.
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Many thanks for the explanation.
I wonder how many of these trains have actually entered service so far? A quick browse through RealTime Trains suggests that only unit 004 was in operation yesterday, with most services being covered by 150s or 769s. Mind you, I didn’t look at every service!
Greater Anglia do not have any diesel only units, their Class 755 are Bi-Mode thus in the 7xx range. TFW units being only diesel power fall into th 2xx area of numbering so would have been wrong to have included them in the 755 numbering area.
Many thanks for the explanation.
Most of the GA routes on which the 755s work aren’t electrified. However another look at RTT suggests that units working between Harwich/Ipswich and Cambridge change power mode during the stop at Stowmarket, while those running between Norwich and Cambridge switch at Ely.
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Thank you for this article.
From your comments, it seems that even the latest trains have major design flaws for passenger access and comfort. One can only wonder if the manufacturers, designers and train operating companies have ever used a train or have any real consideration for their passengers? Judging by all the operational problems in recent years, the answer must surely be a resounding NO.
Hmm, to be fair I think the only slightly dodgy design flaw is the tip-ups in the vestibules, and that’s not a deal breaker. The step-ups into some of the seats are needed because these seats are raised to clear the bogie on an otherwise lower than normal floor base (which is needed to get the level boarding). The lower floor, big windows, squarish profile and minimalist design make the trains feel very spacious and have a definite European feel. The other thing of note is that when in electric mode they accelerate at the same rate as a Victoria line tube train, which Anglia drivers enjoy demonstrating…
The Class 231 is a diesel multiple unit, and does not have any facility for collecting electricity from an outside source. The Greater Anglia Class 755s are bi-mode units, for they can run on diesel power and also on overhead electric systems where available. They are both excellent trains !
Thanks for the explanation
These trains look lovely.
Two design issues though – that step up took me by surprise two or three times on the same journey (on Greater Anglia) and I tripped on it.
Only one toilet per train is problematic if that toilet is out of order for any reason, or (putting it bluntly) if someone is doing a no. 2 and takes a while (yes I’m one of those).
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It is looking as it is being proposed that return fares will be abolished. It has also been confirmed at present that GBR will go ahead. It is not clear who will be responsible for the Rolling stock
These FLIRTs would be ideal for Cardiff to Portsmouth line, and Bristol to Weymouth.
Not TfW routes though, but GW!
Yes, I just meant FLIRTs (in general) may be more suitable for these GWR routes than the current 158s and 150s. Bristol to Weymouth is a long time to be sat above a roaring diesel engine in a 150.
I was delighted to discover that the new sidings for holding spare 755 sets just south of Trowse in Norwich are designated “Norwich Victoria” in the Working Timetable. I remember journeys to Norwich in the early 1980s when one could still see the line to Victoria (finally closed to all traffic in 1986) curving away from the mainline. Although the new sidings are not on the same site, it’s nice to know that someone in Network Rail has a fine sense of history!
Nice to know that it is not just the UK that gets things wrong. Spain managed to order trains that were too big to fit through the tunnels
Chapter and verse please!
In 1915 The Highland Railway ordered locomotives which, when they arrived, were promptly banned by the Civil Engineer as too heavy, even though their designer (correctly) maintained that heir wheel balancing obviated the problem.
I’m guessing that they are not Class 755 as these are – I think – diesel only whilst the Class 755 are bi-modes.
Always enjoy the tremendous acceleration of the Class 755s on electric power!
Many thanks for these enjoyable blogs
Would that we had such level access on SWR trains. My wife can no longer travel without an escort or “assistance”. How was SWR allowed to order such inaccessible trains as late as 2002?
Historic Liverpool Street Station under threat
The historic Liverpool Station is under threat of redevelopment in order to cram even more office space into London.
Ensign Bus have been taken over by First Bus, Not clear as to whether it includes the bus sales part of the business
Confirmed that bus sales are a part of the deal. It does not include the heritage fleet though.
Not so fast… still subject to regulatory clearance so it’ll take a few months at least.
Not a surprise, though a shock. Neither company had much prospect of growth, Ensign had rather reached their limit as a family concern, and FEx seem to have shut off any other option. They seemed to be co-operating more recently, though perhaps rather out of necessity.
Interesting perhaps, the claim that First secure the future of the whole business, when if I recall correctly the first thing they/Badgerline did was shut and sell the former Eastern National Engineering subsidiary and its property assets. Wait and see, I suppose. Times change. It all might help with Basildon’s town centre redevelopment, if it gets off the ground. Or maybe Go-Ahead are waiting in the wings. Though they could be in for a long wait!
You recall incorrectly. Eastern National Engineering was sold (along with Alder Valley Engineering, Southdown Engineering and a number of other former central works) to Frontsource in 1987. It had absolutely nothing to do with Badgerline.
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After less than a week, this is an inevitable reaction to the new Inverness Airport station, as forecast by Roger a few weeks ago.
Very nice but, what about the railways of the forgotten county of Greater Lincolnshire ? Graham Lilley
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Thank you Roger. With the intention of these units to be used on the Cheltenham to Maestag and Ebbw Vale to Cardiff / Newport services, I can’t understand why TfW Rail didn’t have these units with a Pantograph and associated kit, to maximise the use of the electrified sections of line from Severn Tunnel Junction to Cardiff, and hopefully further west in due time. Does anybody know?
As they’re diesel electrics and looks as if they use the same bodyshell and most of the same systems as the 755s and 756s, I would think that retrofitting with pans is probably doable.
Actually, thinking about it, the trains are Swiss, it’s a sensible idea, so I would be very surprised if it wasn’t doable. Presumably it was easier to financially justify not having the pans for the short term.