New trains into service in 2019 Part 8: TPE’s Nova 3

Monday 23rd September 2019

IMG_9918.jpgIt’s not often we get to travel on a brand new loco hauled inter-city train in the UK, but that’s what’s quietly being rolled out across the Pennines right now as First Group’s Trans Pennine Express franchise soft launches its fleet of thirteen smart new Spanish built Nova 3 trains.

Originally planned for introduction at the end of 2018, then delayed to the ‘New Year’, then ‘Spring 2019’, then July 2019 … due to ‘technical issues’ with the Mark 5A designated coaches, the trains are at last entering service for passengers to take a ride.

Built by CAF (they of teething troubled Caledonian Sleeper coaches fame – as well as the impressive new Class 195/331 trains with Northern) the five coaches making up each train comprise one exclusively for first class users as well as passengers using wheelchairs with the other four all standard class with lots of tables.

They really do feel like an inter-city train.

One benefit of the Class 68 locomotive at the front is the much quieter ride inside the coaches than was experienced on the Class 185 diesel units they’re replacing. The locomotive is also noticeably more powerful with impressive acceleration.

Another much welcomed improvement is the significant increase in capacity provided on these very busy cross Pennine routes. A three coach 185 replaced by a five coach loco hauled train has got to be the best news.

The Nova 3 trains are being introduced on TPE’s Scarborough to Liverpool and Middlesbrough to Manchester Airport runs and normal arrangements will see the Class 68 locomotive at the front end on westbound journeys with the Driver Trailing Cab in the rear of Coach A; with the latter leading the way when heading east.

IMG_9884.jpgOn my sample ride from Leeds to Manchester this morning it was noticeable how most passengers opted to travel in the front two standard class coaches (D and C) behind first class (E) which were quite busy with the rear two coaches (B and A) almost empty. Old habits; but I’m sure it’s a different story at peak times and as more new trains are introduced passengers will quickly learn to spread out along the platform and be ready to board through the single doors situated at the ends of each coach rather than double doors located one-third/two-thirds of each coach as applied on the Class 185s.

IMG_9892.jpgThere are a very welcome fourteen tables seating four people in coaches D and C, eleven in coach B and six in coach A. And in even better news, most tables in D and C align with windows.

IMG_9887.jpgSadly it’s not possible to achieve this consistently in coaches B and A.

IMG_9894.jpgThere’s a largish luggage rack at the ends of each coach and a small toilet at the ends of coaches B, C and D.

IMG_9890.jpgThe universal access toilet is in Coach E, and in a new development, Trans Pennine Express have located a space for a wheelchair and companion either side of the central aisle in Coach E, the first class coach.

IMG_9898.jpgPassengers using a wheelchair (and any companion) will receive complimentary coffee and a biscuit even if paying only standard class fares in Coach E but will have to upgrade to first class “to receive the full catering offer” I’ve only ever received a coffee and biscuit when travelling first class with TPE so I’m not sure what the “full catering offer” actually is. I doubt it’ll ever be worth upgrading for.

IMG_9896.jpgThe first class coach E is well laid out with thirty comfortable seats (much comfier than on the Azuma/IEP trains) in 2+1 style and again offering many more seats than on the Class 185s. You also get a lighted lip at the window end of the table; just for show as it doesn’t really light anything up.IMG_9897.jpgSeats in standard class looked nice but were not particularly comfortable – I reckon numb bum syndrome will take hold if making a long journey. I’ve sat in much better seats in well spec’d buses.

IMG_9888.jpgThere’s a bike storage area for four bikes at the western end of coach B and when these spaces are not reserved (which they need to be – no just turning up with a bike) they can be used for buggies (there are also tip-up seats) and luggage storage.

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IMG_9912.jpgThere are large information screens at the ends of each coach and a rolling PIS text type roof mounted screen over the gangway doors and in the middle of the carriage.

IMG_9906.jpgThe screens were showing the usual next station information and other stuff; but teething problems meant the current displayed time was off-puttingly an hour slow and no details were given of onward connections at stations when that screen appeared in the cycle. Obviously teething troubles with the systems.

IMG_9908.jpgThere are automatic audio announcements over the PA before and after each station which are clearly audible.

Traffic light digital seat reservations are included but they weren’t working this morning and I understand there are plans to introduce the notoriously unpopular ability to reserve a seat on the journey later this year (‘maybe reserved on route’ will apply to designated seats) although some seats will also be designated as always being available (unless they’re already occupied!). I really can’t unsderstand the logic of this so called ‘innovation’. All it does is create angst.

IMG_9904.jpgDuring the current phased introductory period of the new trains TPE are doing their best to match up seat reservations made on a Class 185 with the same designated coach and seat on a Nova 3. Inevitably this won’t always work re forwards/backwards window/aisle specifications though.

Thirty-two of the 261 standard class seats are designated ‘priority’ – situated at the ends of the four coaches. These have more leg room but sadly some don’t offer much of a view!

IMG_9916.jpgThere’s a usb and three pin socket (with the single pin on top) in the middle under each pair of seats and Wi-fi is available although wasn’t working on my journey in some of the standard class coaches. Where it was working it was labelled as CAF rather than TPE, but again something that I’m sure will be sorted as the trains settle in.IMG_9904.jpgLeaving the train is through the end of coach doors where there are two big, bright buttons to press.

IMG_9917.jpgThere’s a catering trolley service although it didn’t come round this morning between Leeds and Manchester, but this may be due to some earlier problems with the train diagram this morning – the train got seriously delayed in Leeds on its way to Scarborough due to a passenger  being taken ill and was curtailed at York so the journey I caught had only begun in York instead of Scarborough.

I very much enjoyed my journey this morning. It made a welcome change to travel on a TPE train between Leeds and Manchester that wasn’t packed out, and it was particularly enjoyable to travel in what felt like a real inter-city train.

IMG_9909.jpgOnce the fleet is fully introduced I look forward to seeking out a suitably bargain priced first class advanced ticket to travel from one end of the route to the other and give all aspects of the service a try. In the meantime there’s just one new train out on one working each day although it’s expected a second will hit the tracks this week.

They’re well worth taking a ride on. Overall, another impressive new train.

Roger French

2019 is the year of the new train. My previous new train reviews from earlier this year can be found here: 1 Class 707; 2 D Trains; 3 Sleepers; 4 Azumas; 5 Class 7106 Class 195 and 331; 7 Class 755.

 

 

 

New trains in 2019 6: Northern’s Class 195 and 331

Wednesday 10th July 2019

IMG_3671.jpgIt was a pleasure to travel on Northern Rail’s new CAF Civity trains yesterday afternoon and this morning. They come in two flavours – a diesel version known as Class 195 and an electric version known as Class 331 – but otherwise they’re exactly the same train with only a pantograph and engine to tell them apart. IMG_3666.jpg

They’re impressive trains.

They’re built by CAF, the Spanish train builder that’s behind the troublesome new sleeper coaches although these Northern Rail trains obviously don’t come with en-suite showers and other complications for overnight travel so hopefully won’t have as many teething problems to iron out! Having said that, CAF were contracted to have these new trains into service with Northern Rail by October 2018 with delivery of the full order complete by December 2018. Still, ten months late for the introduction is pretty good the days and I understand deliveries should be complete by early next year.

The first test for me as a passenger for any new train these days has to be seat comfort. Thameslink Class 700s, GWR IETs, LNER Azumas and GWR and GatEx Class 387s have all righty garnered poor feedback in the seat comfort department and I was hoping these new trains would set a more positive experience.IMG_3629.jpgI’m pleased to report they do. They’re still not on a par with the luxury you now enjoy on many well equipped buses (eg the new TrawsCymru bus I experienced on Monday) but these Class 195/331 seats do seem to have a smidgeon more padding than recent examples with better quality seat covering and this together with a very attractive design seems to make a noticeable difference.IMG_3657.jpg

It’s also good to see a liberal supply of tables in each carriage – there are six in the middle coach area between the doors with a pair of priority seats at either end while in each coach end there are two tables and eight pairs of airline style seats.

I found the interior layout very welcoming being light and airy and those bright blue seats especially pleasing.IMG_3662.jpgI took a ride on a three coach Class 195 from Manchester Piccadilly down to the Airport and back to Oxford Road yesterday afternoon and a trip from Leeds to Doncaster in a four coach Class 331 this morning.

Both journeys are local stopping journeys (the former originating in Windermere and returning to Barrow) and both were busy.

Aside from the seats and tables one noticeable feature as you board are the wide doorway vestibule areas leading into the saloon.IMG_3632.jpgThere’s a tip up seat here ….IMG_3656.jpg….. but the area is also useful to store over-sized suitcases passengers now wheel around especially on the Airport run….IMG_3634.jpg…. as well as prams.IMG_3661.jpgIt’s a good idea and works well on Thameslink where there’s a very wide area around each set of doors.

On Thameslink Class 700s the seats are squashed together with narrow width room to allow maximum gangway space for standing, luggage etc. It’s good to see these Northern Rail trains have seat arm rests in between with a decent dividing space, although this necessarily means the gangway is standard size rather than extra-wide.

The consequence of the extra wide door vestibules is that seats and tables don’t line up with windows but you can’t have everything. Some line up perfectly so those passengers with a penchant for lining up can try and grab these seats.IMG_3641.jpgDisappointingly there’s just one 3-pin plug socket underneath each pair of seats which seems a bit penny pinching especially as it’s now becoming common to also see usb sockets – sometimes two per socket (on GWR refurbished trains, for example).IMG_3640.jpgObviously Wi-fi is fitted and free to use with a simple sign in procedure and seemed to respond well too – good to see the train sector catching up with buses at long last.

There’s provision for ‘traffic light’ style seat reservations which will be something new for Northern Rail when pursued although I can’t see it being necessary or helpful on a commuter route between Doncaster and Leeds for example but perhaps makes sense to Windermere and some other destinations served by Northern Rail.IMG_3642.jpgThere’s only one toilet per train (on all the 2, 3 and 4 coach versions) which is surprising especially on a four coach train – and it’s right at one end of the train too. It’s to the latest accessibility standards. Alongside this are four tip up seats as well as two standard seats by the area for a wheelchair outside the toilet door.IMG_3642.jpgTwo cycles can be carried in the non wheelchair driving/accessible toilet end of the train.

On both the 195 and 331 the train conductor opens and closes the doors at each station which with his/her duties collecting fares means a busy agenda. IMG_3635.jpgAt Adwick station this morning a passenger using a wheelchair boarded necessitating the conductor having to leave his door control at the other end of the train, scuttle down to the other end to get the ramp out, then back to the other end to close the doors from the control point he’d started with and once we were off he was back collecting fares from everyone who’d boarded before we reached Doncaster where there are no gates. He was a busy man. Protracted discussions between Northern Rail and the RMT re duties for on board staff are still not resolved, but there must be a better way.

These new trains also have Automatic Selective Door Opening capability when needed.IMG_3645.jpgThere are large open/close buttons for passenger door control with a red light shining continuously when the doors are shut switching to the green being lit when the doors can be opened.IMG_3655.jpgThere are decent sized screens showing the destination and next stop as well as the usual tedious notices/information which scroll round. The screens weren’t working on the Class 331 this morning.IMG_3644.jpg

Northern Rail are introducing an impressive total of 101 of these smart new trains in the coming months. They’ll transform rail travel across the north. There’ll be 25 two-car with 33 three-car Class 195s and 31 three-car with 12 four-car Class 331s. About half of this new fleet have so far been delivered to Northern Rail by CAF.IMG_3637.jpg

Overall I was impressed with the smoothness of ride and the ambience on board and these trains get a big thumbs up from me. I look forward to proudly travelling on them all over Northern Rail’s extensive area from Lincoln to Chester and Nottingham to Windermere in the future.

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Roger French

My previous new train reviews from earlier this year can be found here: 1 Class 707; 2 D Trains; 3 Sleepers; 4 Azumas; 5 Class 710.

New trains in 2019 Part 3: Sleepers

Thursday 2nd May 2019

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The long awaited Caledonian Sleeper CAF built Mark 5 coaches began running on the Lowland route last Sunday night. I booked myself a ticket and travelled from Euston to Glasgow last night/this morning to see whether the salivating I’d been reading on social media from high profile commentators blessed with their Sunday night complimentary launch journey tickets is justified.

I write ‘long awaited Caledonian Sleeper Mark 5 coaches’ as these are of course another new train set running hopelessly late.

In fact I booked myself a ticket back on 23rd September last year for the inagural journey to Glasgow originally scheduled and advertised for 29th October 2018. In the event Serco, who run the Caledonian Sleeper franchise, decided that was too ambitious an introduction date (as has subsequently proved) so refunded everyone who’d booked and put the official introduction back to Sunday 2nd June 2019. I rebooked my berth for that date and was looking forward to trying out the new facilities in a few weeks time.

Then a couple of weeks ago came news from a Tweet by a reporter on The Scotsman newspaper that the new Sleeper coaches would begin running on the Lowland route to Glasgow and Edinburgh from Sunday 28th April. Well, good for The Scotsman, as Serco’s Caledonian Sleeper’s own communications were distinctly unhelpful with emails and ‘Customer Ambassadors’ (as they’re called) at the Company’s Call Centre still denying any introduction was happening when contacted all last week claiming it was still 2nd June – despite knowing this was completely untrue as all the arrangements were in hand to invite media and sympathetic commentators on board the first journey as well as the inevitable bagpipe player to parade up and down Euston’s Platform 15 as passengers (sorry, guests) boarded.

Meanwhile the Caledonian Sleeper website (and indeed even now, after the introduction of the new trains) still offered only old style berths rather than the super duper (higher priced) en-suite single and double bed innovations they’re so proud of.

I decided not to wait until my 2nd June booking and buy a ticket for last night’s departure from Euston to Glasgow at 2353. Ideally I wanted to travel to Edinburgh but following the Scotsman’s announcement all tickets on that leg mysteriously sold out (well, all the tickets for old style berths had – you couldn’t book the new berths), so I booked to Glasgow instead.

Despite the lengthy period of pre service testing – and all the more so with introductory delays for new trains now the norm, it seems from media reports on Tuesday that not quite everything went to plan on the first journeys.

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My journey began auspiciously; arriving Euston around 2220 to find check-in progressing but “due to technical issues boarding hasn’t commenced”.

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I appreciate it’s all new for everyone including staff but I was a bit disconcerted to not be reassured my berth was one of the en-suite ‘Club’ rooms. It seems these are mixed up among non en-suite ‘Classic’ rooms rather than having one coach devoted entirely to one type of berth. I later found out that’s because it would mean too large a requirement for water tanks for one coach so the limited number of showers are spread throughout the train with a few in each coach, although all four double bed Club berths are together with the two fully accessible berths alongside two accessible toilets in the coach adjacent to the lounge coach.

That all makes sense and I now understand why reception host Ryan, still getting the hang of it all, was only 80% sure I was down for a Club berth.

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It turns out Ryan’s optimism was well placed as Berth N5 did indeed turn out to be a coveted Club berth with en-suite toilet and shower. I reckon it was pure luck I got allocated this as it had been impossible to specify when I booked, so my lucky call.

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Aside from the en-suite area, which is cupboard like in size, half the depth of the berth, with the neighbouring berth having its en-suite cupboard in the other ‘half’, the berth appears to be to a similar size as previously, but has had a much welcome makeover and now sport all important usb and plug sockets, better lighting and controls and a much nicer sink and tap unit.

IMG_6458.jpgThe en-suite itself is a wet room arrangement with a lid over the toilet seat which crucially also keeps the toilet roll dry when the shower is switched on. Instructions are provided about putting the shower mat outside in the berth so your wet feet don’t get the berth floor wet, and it also explains you can shower either sitting or standing.

IMG_6401.jpgWhat it doesn’t tell you is it’s best to use the toilet before taking a shower otherwise the floor will be very wet as not all the water will disappear through the drain in the floor.

IMG_6409.jpgThere’s a bag hanging on the door with the shower mat, a decent size towel and a spare toilet roll. Just a point of detail I found was the toilet roll was so large it was tricky to tear off more than one individual sheet at a time when pulling on it!

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Caledonian Sleeper also provide the usual soaps etc as before and the bed was a great improvement with a comfortable mattress and lovely warm duvet. Naturally the bed width is slimline – I didn’t get to look in at the new double bed berths, and wonder how they fare for a couple. I reckon it will be quite intimate.

There’s also a natty snd cleverly designed small table which pulls out from under the sink.

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The corridors are to their usual width; there’s not much can be fine here of course, but I noticed when the breakfast menus are hanging on the handles it’s easy to knock them all off as you stagger along as the train sways!

IMG_6406.jpgThere’s a great improvement on the design and layout of the lounge car/dining area.

IMG_6380.jpgIt seats around thirty in various combinations including space for a wheelchair user if needed as shown above on the bottom right with two tip up seats.

Again there are usb and plug sockets but not quite so essential with berths now well equipped. In the old days you had to get in early to use one of the few plug sockets available; now battery top up is such a relaxing pleasure on board.

IMG_6381.jpgThe kitchen’s had a complete revamp with ovens and even a toaster alongside the microwaves which were the staple of the old arrangement.

IMG_6382.jpgFinally on facilities, there’s the much improved seating area with reclining seats and overhead lockable lockers.

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Here’s a summary of my overnight travel experience last night and this morning:

IMG_6375.jpgWe boarded at 2240, technical problems resolved. There weren’t any ‘welcome hosts’ on the platform beyond the check-in lecterns but clear digital signs by carriage doors direct you to the right place, I wandered past fourteen of the sixteen carriages to reach my coach which was fifteenth )second from the front) and soon found my berth.

IMG_6376.jpgBerth doors are all unlocked and the hotel style credit card sized key is inside the room with instructions how to activate it so that you can leave your berth and lock it. Sadly mine didn’t work and refused to activate; it wouldn’t even work for a Caledonian Sleeper team member who I met a bit later. Never mind; inevitable teething problems.

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I wondered whether it might be better for activated keys to be handed out at check in as happens in a hotel but appreciate that would mean some equipment at the lecterns which is probably not possible.

IMG_6391.jpgI had a sandwich and drink in the lounge area at about 2300 before it got busy. It was delivered professionally on a plate hiding the fact it was one of those pre-packed sandwiches you find in all supermarkets.

We left Euston spot on time at precisely 2353 and I went to bed, conscious we’d made a stop soon after that at Watford Junction but the next time I stirred to wake up rather than the odd turning over in bed it was about 0530 and we’d passed through Carlisle.

IMG_6408.jpgI decided to give the shower a try at about 0620 but sadly only a minuscule trickle of water came out before it gave up completely. I pressed the ‘Call’ button which makes an embarrassingly loud ringing connection and explained the situation. The steward said she’d come and take a look.

IMG_6410.jpgMeanwhile we reached Carstairs at 0630 and the rear eight coaches bound for Edinburgh were detached and headed east while we continued north to Glasgow soon after 0645 as confirmed by the impressive screens showing route progress at the end of every coach.

IMG_6454.jpgI decided to give up on the shower and headed along to the lounge for breakfast. Spotting a steward I asked if she was the person I spoke to about the shower but it turned out I had been speaking over the intercom to the steward in the Edinburgh portion of the train so fat chance she was going to be able to come by and take a look now!

Breakfast had been ordered the night before but was to the old style menu; luckily I enquired whether toast was now available and was pleased to be served a fresh hot toasted slice and butter within minutes. Apparently new menus are being printed.

IMG_E6456.jpgHeading back to my berth I spotted a member of staff obviously making notes of snagging items so reported my shower and door lock malfunctions and he reassuringly made notes in his book.

I decided to have a quick wash before arriving into Glasgow but there was now no more than a trickle from the tap and the toilet flush had ceased to working. I diagnosed a water shortage.

IMG_6461.jpgWe rolled into Glasgow four minutes ahead of our 0722 scheduled arrival time.

IMG_6463.jpgIt had been an impressive journey and a great improvement on old style Sleeper travelling; and even better I’d paid the old price, which with my Senior Railcard discount was a reasonable £118.80 for the single journey.

Which brings me to pricing. Caledonian Sleeper’s website is offering the new berths from the official 2nd June introduction date, until then its old prices for old berths except you might drop lucky like I did and get an upgrade.

Full price fares from 2nd June to Glasgow begin at £45 for a seat, £140 for a Classic berth (£170 for two sharing with bunk beds), £230 for a Club single en-suite (£280 for two) and £335 for one person in a Club double en-suite rising to £400 for two.

Railcard discounts bring prices for one down to £29.70 (seat), £92.40 (Classic), £151.80 (Club) with no discounts on the Club double.

Comparative full rate prices for Fort William for one are £50 (seat), £210 (Classic), £245 (Club), £395 (Club double). Top whack is two sharing the Club double coming in at £470 and no Railcard discounts. It’ll be interesting to see how many are sold at that price.

Even at these prices there’s a huge subsidy paid by both Scottish and Westminster Governments to keep the Caledonian Sleeper on the tracks. It evokes much passion and is regarded as politically important; never mind that rural bus routes are being decimated and leaving people completely isolated from any public transport for the lack of public funding; here, as long as it needs funds with at least seven figures, if not eight, it’s a vital service to keep going. The fact Serco have just spent £100 million on a fleet of impressive trains for the service just adds to the bizarre nature of our public transport priorities in this country.

Finally a few very minor suggestions….

IMG_6398.jpgReinstate the hangers on the wall mounted coat hooks; they were incredibly useful to hang trousers and other clothes on.

Install liquid soap dispensers by sinks and in the showers as per most budget hotels these days.

Slightly smaller toilet rolls in the en-suite toilets would make for easier use.

Review the supply of water to showers, sinks and toilets.

Remove the contra-vision – it will be so annoying to have views of the beautiful Scottish Highland scenery spoilt.

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Reduce the volume on the call steward intercom.

Connect the intercom to the relevant steward for either Glasgow or Edinburgh portions – even more important for the three way split on the Highland train.

Reintroduce the door-open hooks to enable berth doors to be held open rather than only an auto-close mode.

Consider the implications of issuing door keys at the reception lecterns.

Looking forward to my next trip on the official launch date of 2nd June.

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Roger French