New trains in 2019 Part 7: Greater Anglia’s Class 755

Tuesday 30th July 2019

IMG_4917.jpgSeven months into the year and I’m reviewing the seventh new class of train to be introduced in 2019 – that’s not bad going; a brand new different fleet into service on average once a month (I know the Class 230, formerly known as ‘D Train’ is not a brand new train, but it’s certainly a brand new class of train and definitely as good as new).

I took off to East Anglia today to see if the effusive praise dominating Twitter all day yesterday as the first Class 755 took to the tracks in public service on the Wherry Lines between Norwich and Great Yarmouth/Lowestoft was justified.

IMG_4918.jpgUntil yesterday Greater Anglia had been operating a Class 37 loco hauled train on one set of Wherry Line workings and this is the first diagram to be upgraded to these swish new Class 755 trains.

Previously train enthusiasts would make a pilgrimage to Norwich to sample the throaty roar of a Class 37 locomotive’s engine; now their cameras are all over these smart new bi-mode trains with their amazingly quiet traction.

Today was a double bonus with part of the diagram’s afternoon schedule including a return trip to Lowestoft still Class 37 operated, so many of the camera wielders were straight off the Class 755 arrival from Great Yarmouth into Norwich’s platform 5 at 13:52 and over to platform 4 for the Class 37 14:05 departure to Lowestoft – which had just two coaches in between the two locomotives!

IMG_4968.jpgThese lovely new Class 755 trains are built by the Swiss train manufacturer, Stadler, and are called FLIRT – which stands for ‘Fast Light Intercity (and) Regional Train’. Greater Anglia have ordered 38 to replace Class 153, 156 and 170 trains. Twenty-four sets have four coaches and the other fourteen are three coaches long. But they all also have a ‘power pack’ coach, which is just under a third the length of one of the passenger carrying coaches, where the ‘gubbins’ is housed.

IMG_4966.jpgThe contractual entry into service for these trains, and the similar intercity Class 745 electric trains now being delivered, was Spring 2019 and it was hoped to run a set coincidental with the new timetable on 19th May on the ‘Norwich in 90’ launch. Just over two months late isn’t bad going these days for trains-into-service-missed-dates so that’s already one star awarded for timeliness. Roger Ford reported in this month’s Modern Railways magazine that thirteen of the Class 755 sets had been delivered and authorisation received from the Office of Rail and Road on 11th June with four of the longer twelve coach all electric Class 745s delivered and authorised.

IMG_4962.jpgAs I mentioned last time the most important thing for me is seats. Expectations for new train seat comfort are now so incredibly low that any modicum of agreeable bum-on-cushion experience immediately gets another star; that’s if train operating companies are allowed to use the word ‘cushion’ in these heightened fire retardant safety critical times. When ordering these trains a while back Greater Anglia boasted about the extra care they’d taken to specify seats which passengers would find comfortable. It comes to something when this is seen as a bonus to shout about; in the event I’d say they’re passable for the job in hand – much better than a Class 700 (Thameslink) for sure, but then that bar is set so incredibly low, it’s not saying much to pass it.

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I like the ample width of the seats and this makes the gangway perceptively narrow and difficult to pass other passengers walking through. The seat cloth and it’s design appear smart and, as I found on Northern’s new trains, helps to make the seats more bearable.

IMG_4923.jpgThese trains, like Northern’s new Class 195 and 331, are very impressive. The acceleration from stations is quiet and powerful and the trains give a smooth ride both pulling away, at speed and braking. They look smart. They’re smart to travel in.

Today was only the second day in passenger service (the current fad, aside from LNER’s penchant for maximum profile [I see even Mallard was brought out today at what must have been huge expense] is for ‘soft launches’) and there were still plenty of Greater Anglia staff on board assessing how it was all going as well as what were probably engineers from Stadler. Lots of lanyards and high viz wearing. However I was impressed with the active staff including a friendly conductor and a train presentation team member who came through the train in between every station to clear away any litter. Not sure if this is the new norm or just a second day novelty.

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Drivers both open and close the doors which is a world away from the arrangement previously used on the slam door Class 37 hauled stock this diagram previously saw. It would seem the RMT are happy with this arrangement as all seems to be well on the industrial relations front at the moment as these new trains enter service.

Here are ten features, many new, which I spotted on my journeys today and which seemed particularly noteworthy:

1. The ‘Gubbins’ compartment is not particularly noisy even when walking through it when the train is moving along, although I wouldn’t want to spend a whole journey in this narrow corridor!

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2. Unusually there’s only one external double door per carriage which has an upside of facilitating more seating but the downside is longer dwell times for alighting and boarding.

IMG_4946.jpgThis was particularly noticeable when we got to Great Yarmouth with lots of holidaymakers/day-trippers getting on and off. Luckily there’s enough stand time at the terminus but it would be a different matter at a busy intermediate station.

IMG_4944.jpgGreater Anglia say the new trains will help to speed up journeys and timetables; not if dwell times increase they won’t.

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3. There’s a good supply of tables for four as well as airline style seating and unusually the tables and seats at the ends of each carriage are raised up on a small plinth giving an even better window view out on to passing scenery.

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Most seats line up with windows but as always these days it’s a compromise due to a decent luggage rack being included just inside the doorways meaning some seats offer a restricted view.

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4. There are two toilets per train, one fully accessible and one standard size and both are sited next to each other; which is handy if you need to go and one is engaged and the other is vacant as it saves walking further along the train.

IMG_4930.jpgThe toilet in the accessible cubicle is well positioned with adequate space on its left hand side (when sitting down) compared to what I’ve seen on other refurbished trains where there’s a trend of placing the toilet right in the corner.

IMG_4951.jpgThe door locking mechanism reverts back to buttons (rather than the easy to understand lever approach) but worked well – with audible confirmation the door was locked.

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5. There are double coat hooks for each pair of seats including oddly above the middle of a window.

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6. There’s a socket incorporating a three pin and usb underneath each pair of seats – the plug socket is upside down (depending which way you look at it, I suppose!) and is consequently a bit fiddly to use. On the upside two passengers can use it together if they sort out which socket suits them best.

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7. There’s a handy step (which I think is retractable) bridging the gap between doors and platform making for easy access.

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8. There’s a very clear passenger information system showing a line diagram as well as seat occupancy.

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9. There are cycle storage facilities at both ends of the train away from the accessible area which is in the middle.

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10. Poor old Brundall Gardens station isn’t long enough to accommodate the new four coach trains and it would seem selective door opening is not yet available so for now the regular diagram on which the new Class 755 train operates omits calling at Brundall Gardens. This obviously needs urgently sorting before any further new trains start operating.

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There’s only one new train out in service at the moment – it operated both the 10:36 and 12:36 departures from Norwich to Great Yarmouth leaving the 11:36 departure to a one coach Class 153. The comparison couldn’t have been more stark.

IMG_4894.jpgThese impressive new trains will certainly be welcomed by Greater Anglia’s passengers. I award them a full five star rating.

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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 7106 Class 195 and 331.

 

A south Suffolk saunter

Friday 26th July 2019

I incorporated Wednesday’s ride on Buckland Buses’ splendid 1929 Dennis on route 250 between Aldeburgh and Thropeness into an enjoyable couple of days saunter around the lovely countryside in south Suffolk.

IMG_4394.jpgOn Tuesday morning I caught the stopping train to Ipswich out of Liverpool Street at 11:04 as far as Marks Tey. It’s impressive to see the efficient use of track capacity on the fast lines out of Liverpool Street since May with a flotilla of trains pathed within minutes including the new ‘Norwich in 90’ only stopping at Ipswich leaving at 11:00; the normal hourly Norwich leaving at 11:02 with stops at Colchester, Manningtree, Ipswich and Diss then the train I caught with calls at Stratford, Shenfield, Chelmsford, Hatfield Peverel, Witham and Kelvedon. This train is followed out of Liverpool Street by a Southend Victoria train and then one to Clacton-on-Sea.

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Added to this efficiency is a three minute connection at Marks Tey to an hourly train on the single track branch line to Sudbury, which I easily made along with about a dozen other passengers.IMG_4395.jpgThis is a lovely branch line which I ranked 85th in my Hundred Best Train Journeys not least because it passes the quirky East Anglian Railway Museum at Chappel and Wakes Colne station with the Museum’s trains occupying the southbound platform which hasn’t been used for many years. The other station on the branch is at Bures just outside Sudbury.

IMG_5886.jpgGreater Anglia have sensibly placed a poster at Marks Tey explaining its policy on maintaining connections – the ten minutes allowance covers the stand time of the train on the branch within its hour’s cycle and obviously prevents knock on delays for further passengers – it was good to see this being stated even if the absolute background detail wasn’t fully explained.

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In Sudbury I wandered over to what is called a bus station (at least there are toilets) and three stops with shelters (albeit very grubby) and timetables showing departures. It’s a Go-Ahead Group bus hand-me-down spotters delight with former front line buses from around the Group now enjoying a second life at Group owned Chambers and the independent Beestons.IMG_4399.jpgIMG_4405I enjoyed a ride on a former Scania demonstrator on Beestons operated route 91 to Ipswich and noted it had oddly been fitted with a farebox alongside the driver for exact fares.IMG_4407.jpg This puzzled me for an inter-urban route and as contactless wasn’t yet in operation despite the Ticketer ticket machine displaying the symbol I handed my £5 for the single fare over to the driver who issued a ticket in the traditional way. Beestons didn’t reply to my tweet asking about the farebox and contacless so I am still mystified what the policy is.

IMG_4408.jpgRoute 91 takes 75 minutes for the 21 mile journey via Hadleigh to Ipswich; buses currently run every 90 minutes, but will be changing to two-hourly from the beginning of September, although an improved hourly frequency will be incorporated into the new timetable between Hadleigh and Ipswich.

It’s one of those routes where the first fifteen minutes is spent wandering around the town’s residential streets heading away from the direction of travel, presumably at one time covered by a separate town service of sorts. We dropped about a dozen passengers off with their shopping and sped on to Ipswich with a handful of us left on board. This driver wasn’t hanging around. Once the bus leaves the environs of Sudbury it’s a pleasant run eastwards through the Suffolk countryside. I was particularly impressed with the village of Boxford which looked very attractive and quintessential rural England.

Arriving into Ipswich’s Old Cattle Market bus station at 14:00 a First Bus single decker was just leaving proclaiming it to be a ‘Felixstowe Flyers’ with a high profile promotional flash on the side and in a striking non First Bus corporate livery, which just goes to prove such marketing works, as it encouraged me to change my original plans and seek the service out for a ride.

The attractive timetable leaflet for the 75, 76, 77 and X7 which runs between Ipswich and Felixstowe has helpful maps explaining the route variations at the Felixstowe end and the timetable shows a twenty minute frequency is overlaid with an hourly fast (pretty much non-stop) X7 via the A14 giving a journey time to central Felixstowe of just 35/36 minutes – comparing favourably with 46/48 minutes on the stopping routes.

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Having missed the 14:00 X7 departure I caught the 14:20 all-stops 75 and was impressed with the good load of passengers throughout the route.IMG_4449.jpgWe were a bit late into Felixstowe’s Great Eastern Square, due at 15:06, so I just missed being able to photograph that branded X7 I’d seen at 14:00 in Ipswich heading back at 15:10.

Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 20.26.12.pngIt gave me a chance to have a look around Felixstowe and particularly the greatly slimmed down rail station, now a shadow of its former past glory.

Great Eastern Square is actually the former station building now converted into small independent retail units with a car park out the back where once trains would have arrived on the tracks. The one platform now left is on the other side of the car park meaning passengers have to walk a fair distance to the main road outside.

IMG_4451.jpgThere’s an hourly train that shuttles up and down between Felixstowe and Ipswich timetabled to take 26 minutes. The 15:24 arrival brought a good load of passengers in and left at 15:28 with another busy train load.

IMG_4455.jpgThere’s plenty of people travelling between Ipswich and Felixstowe – I popped down to the seafront and reminded myself how attractive this coastal resort is.

IMG_4483.jpgIt was approaching 16:10 and I eagerly waited the next X7 back to Ipswich. I was waiting outside the cinema, the stop before Great Eastern Square, and the slightly late 16:00 route 77 picked up most of the dozen or so waiting passengers just as the X7 arrived with just four of us getting on board – not very impressive – and while I was pleased to have a top deck view on the journey back I was a bit surprised not to see the branded ‘Felixstowe Flyers’ bus on any of the other X7 journeys observed later that afternoon.

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One journey was operated by one of the rather smart looking Ipswich Reds branded buses which should now operate route 60….

IMG_4534.jpg… and another by a standard liveried bus…..

IMG_4601.jpgI can only assume vehicles on the X7 interwork with other routes across the late afternoon and evening peak which is a shame to lose the bespoke brand promoting what could be a decent alternative to the train and the all-stops bus routes. And I regret not being able to include a photo of a Flexistowe Flyers branded bus here despite trying to track it down, but I’m indebeted to the Central Suffolk Bus Blog (worth checking out) who included an explanation and recent report that the one vehicle so branded does appear on other routes around the network…

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As a slight digression, it was observed on Twitter after I posted a photo of the Ipswich Reds livery correctly on route 60 that it resembles the livery now being used by First Cymru in Swansea. Here’s an Ipswich reds…

IMG_4430.jpg…and here’s a First Cymru….IMG_3282.jpg…. which only goes to show you can’t keep a good livery down and it makes sense for the First Ipswich/Eastern Counties marketing people to copy and adapt a smart livery from a sister company (for now) in the same Group.

Back to the Ipswich to Felixstowe market … an off-peak day return on the train without a Railcard is £6.10 while a return on First Ipswich is just 30p cheaper at £5.80. The peak train fare is only 20p more at £6.30 with a weekly season at £24.90. On First Ipswich it’s £22 (£21 on an mTicket) for a weekly ticket I’m not sure these savings are enough to tempt rail users to give the X7 Felixstowe Flyers a go. Perhaps some more attractive fare offers and better fleet allocation and branding would help?

 

Wednesday morning was the day to travel to Aldeburgh for my vintage bus ride and I planned catching the First Ipswich route 800 which connects the town’s two Park & Ride sites from the west (Copdock, London Road) through the town centre to the east (Martlesham) every 15 minutes. One journey an hour is extended further east via Woodbridge to Rendlesham adding a half hour trip which effectively means an out of town route is efficiently dovetailed into the Park & Ride service by adding just one extra peak vehicle.

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My 800 left Ipswich town centre at 08:21 and was due in Rendlesham at 09:16 allowing a very comfortable 19 minute connection with the vintage bus leaving at 09:35 to begin its day’s operation with a positioning journey to Aldeburgh.

IMG_4656.jpgHowever despite a modest load our journey got progressively behind schedule and after we hit crawling traffic by Kesgrave High School were over 15 minutes late when we reached the Park & Ride site at Martlesham.

My driver seemed oblivious to the lateness of the journey continuing to drive in a fashion I would describe as ultra cautious and he even left the cab at the Park & Ride bus stop to have a chat with the driver on the bus waiting to return to Ipswich and then wentv to check no one was waiting in the waiting room – even though we were heading away from town, so the chances were extremely remote – he was obviously a very thorough employee and I decided the risk of getting even more late as the journey continued (and getting stranded in Rendlesham) was too great and so decided on a Plan B by bailing out at Melton Station to catch a Greater Anglia train on the East Suffolk line two stations north to Saxmundham where there was a good connection to a First Ipswich 64 to Aldeburgh.

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IMG_4662.jpgMelton is a small station with nothing much to comment on, other than it’s in need of a makeover with all its station name boards looking distinctly faded and unloved. They were barely legible. I’m sure Greater Anglia have it in hand as Saxmundham was sporting smarter signs even though the former station building was still behind barriers following fire damage eighteen months ago.IMG_4669 (1).jpg

IMG_4667.jpgTo cut what’s becoming a long story short, I was waiting for the bus on route 64 in Saxmundham High Street and started to get twitchy that it hadn’t arrived…

IMG_4671.jpg….when I spotted a tweet from First Ipswich advising of a breakdown on the 64. Although there’s no timing point of 09:05 on the journey I was waiting for (it left Ipswich at 08:50), I deduced (correctly) the tweet was referring to my bus, especially as it was now around ten minutes after it’s scheduled arrival, so I took the nuclear option of sourcing a taxi to take me the last twenty minute ride over to Aldeburgh in time to pick up the vintage bus at 11:10.

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And as you may have read I arived in Aldeburgh in time to enjoy a lovely ride on Buckland Buses 1929 vintage Dennis bus and just as we were about to leave an empty First Ipswich bus screened for route 64 arrived which was obviously a replacement for the broken down bus showing how route branded buses can sometimes end up on wrong routes for sensible reasons. And good to see First Ipswich doing their best to recover from the breakdown. But it had been a morning of unplanned events and regretfully missing that forty minute ride on the Dennis from Rendlesham to Aldeburgh.

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After enjoying the vintage ride I headed back to Saxmundham on Border Bus route 521, which takes a circuitous and very pleasant route, (and which I wrote about back in March) …

IMG_1624.jpg… and then to Ipswich on a nice air conditioned Class 170 which made a nice change for the East Suffolk line and a welcome respite from the hot weather.

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Roger French

Southend Airport evicts new bus route

Friday 14th June 2019

IMG_E0246.jpgHave you ever heard anything so ridiculous? At a time when airports should be doing all they can to enhance their environmental credentials by encouraging passengers to use public transport you’d think a new bus route introduced in the dead of night entirely at the commercial risk of a bus company would be warmly welcomed and widely promoted.

Instead Southend Airport; oh sorry, ‘London Southend Airport’ (says it all about their pompous attitude) have banned Ensignbus from running their new night time X1 express bus route connecting the airport with central London.

Introduced earlier this month, buses on the new ‘Jetlink X1 Airport Shuttle Bus’ have been forbidden from entering the airport this week and Ensignbus have been forced to abandon the service.

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We’re not talking frequent shuttle buses which could undermine longer established public transport operators already in the market. The X1 was aiming to fill the gap when trains run by Greater Anglia on the line to Liverpool Street are infrequent or not running.

From Monday of this week a new later last train began running leaving Southend Airport at 2359 arriving into Liverpool Street at 0055, whereas the X1 leaving at 2340 would take arriving air passengers to Lakeside, Canning Town, Embankment or Victoria arriving there at 0115.

Heading to the airport a new first early morning train from Liverpool Street now leaves at 0435 arriving the airport at 0529 but the X1 provides an even earlier arrival at 0435 having left Victoria at 0305 – what’s not to like about that?

Well, Leanne at Southend Airport reckons in an official statement the airport has recently come to an agreement with Greater Anglia “which extends the schedule of the airport rail service to earlier and later trains. At this current time, the airport does not have any agreement in place with Ensign buses”.

Leanne also encouragingly explains “London Southend Airport works with a number of transport partners to offer its passengers different options to get to and from the airport in a sustainable way and is always happy to discuss ideas to improve service to its customers”.

So you’d think giving customers an option of travelling direct to a different part of central London, eg Embankment or Victoria, rather than to Liverpool Street arriving in the early hours of the morning would be a great ‘improvement idea’.

It’s been pointed out London Southend Airport take 90% of the revenue from passengers travelling by train. That might just have something to do with their stance rather than some spurious claim to offer sustainable options.

Greater Anglia charge £16.40 for a late night single from the airport to Liverpool Street compared to the Ensignbus X1 fare of £15 so there’s hardly an issue with pricing.

And that 0435 arrival at the airport by bus would work much better than risking the train at 0529 if you were flying off to Faro or Bilbao at 0630 with gates closing 30 minutes before departure and security to be endured.

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Let’s hope Stobart Aviation CEO Glyn Jones, Leanne and airport colleagues do “listen to what they (passengers) are telling us and we (they) take action” by coming to an agreement with the ever resourceful and enterprising Newman team at Ensignbus very quickly so the X1 can be reinstated and customers given the promised “options to get to and from the airport in a sustainable way”.

Peter Newman has confirmed Ensignbus have “previously offered to pay fees” and interestingly there’s allegedly no agreement in place with First Essex (who run the X30 to the airport – advertised on the airport’s website along with “just a short walk from the main terminal”: three routes operated by Arriva) nor have London Southend Airport had a problem when Ensignbus has run commercially at their own risk to and from the airport on Boxing Day in the past. Perhaps that’s because it’s the only travel option that day with trains left in the sidings and no 90% rake off for Stobart Aviation.

Roger French

Bridge Over Meridian Water

Tuesday 4th June 2019

IMG_9996.jpgSometimes it’s instructive to turn up at the launch of a new rail station a day late. Opening ceremonies can be tedious affairs with dignitaries descending the scene, wooden speeches, congratulatory words, smiles all round for the cameras, pats on backs, then back to their offices. The second day often has a ‘morning after the launch before’ kind of feeling where things are not quite as good as those speeches made out.

IMG_0005.jpgIt felt a bit like that at Meridian Water this morning; that’s London’s newest station on the Stratford/Liverpool Street to Bishops Stortford line. It opened yesterday with Secretary of State Chris Grayling as the most senior person present (yes; I know!) doing the plaque unveiling honours alongside officials from Network Rail, Greater Anglia, the Mayor’s office and London Borough of Enfield.

Screen Shot 2019-06-04 at 16.56.38.pngI wrote about the background to this new station, replacing the adjacent, and now closed, Angel Road on 16th February and predicted the hoardings wouldn’t quite be taking-down ready for the scheduled opening date of 20th May. But I acknowledge just two weeks late is pretty good going for a project of this kind, so well done Team Meridian Water Builders.

IMG_9998.jpgAnd I was impressed there is a crossing point installed and surrounding footpaths have all been nicely finished – my February sceptisicm was misplaced.

IMG_0004.jpgThe new half hourly shuttle train service from Meridian Water’s bay platform 2 to Stratford using the extra third line that’s been added to the tacks north of Tottenham Hale so as not to interfere with trains to Cambridge, Stansted Airport and Bishops Stortford on this busy two track railway, doesn’t start until 9th September so for the next three months this shiny new station will see just eleven trains in both directions spread across the morning and evening peak periods with the rest of the day, evening and weekends it being a ghost shiny new station.

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IMG_0011.jpgOn this second morning into Meridian Water’s life, thanks to the 0517 Kings Lynn to Liverpool Street train breaking down at Harlow, the timetable on the line through the station was in complete disarray when I rolled up on the 0751 arrival from Stratford which luckily escaped the mayhem and ran as normal. The next departure back towards Stratford was at 0824 and the impressive new departure screens were all showing it also running on time so I had a handy half hour to explore the new facilities.

IMG_0022.jpgIn the event it didn’t take long. The station may be shiny and new but it’s pretty basic. There’s a vast overbridge to gain access, via what can only be described as long and functional staircases, to the two platform structures with their basic shelters and seats, so aside from the lifts, it’ll certainly add to your step count if you become a regular commuter.

IMG_9987.jpgOddly there’s no platform numbered 1; but platforms numbered 2 (the bay terminating platform); 3 (for southbound trains to Stratford and Liverpool Street) and 4 (trains north to Bishops Stortford). I assume the missing number 1 has been kept in reserve if ever a further platform is built for extra shuttle trains, but it didn’t look to me like there was much room to accommodate another track and platform.

IMG_0016.jpgThere’s no ticket office so on the overbridge there’s a bank of three ticket vending machines as well as assorted posters and departure screens.

IMG_0006.jpgAnd that’s about it. I couldn’t see any leaflet racks, let alone timetable leaflets or maps to take away. The notices at the top of the stairs down to the platforms had temporary printed numbers on paper but I expect these will be replaced soon with more permanent signs.

IMG_9989.jpgIMG_9988.jpgThe staircase on the eastern side of the station is convenient for the Tesco Extra opposite and the western staircase currently leads nowhere as this is where a vast area will be filled with the £6bn worth of regeneration explained in my previous post.

IMG_0008.jpgIMG_0007.jpgIt’s going to be a few years before streams of passengers will be climbing those staircases from their shiny new houses so in the meantime the few passengers who used Angel Road (it’s London’s least used station) and lived nearby off the North Circular Road actually now have a longer more inconvenient walk to and from their new replacement station. Following my post about Breich it’s going to be a real fight between who wins the crown for Britain’s Least Used Newest Station in 2019/20. My money’s on Breich but Meridian Water will not be far behind!

IMG_9992.jpgAs it’s still new, Greater Anglia dispatched three high-viz wearing customer service members of staff to be on hand this morning, as you do with these things; I doubt Angel Road ever had such a privilege but that was then and this is now.

By 0820 around half a dozen of us were on platform 3 reassured by the screens displaying an on-time departure of the 0824 down to Stratford, and the station PA duly announced its imminent arrival, twice. A train approached. It didn’t stop. Hopes were raised as within a very short time another train approached. It didn’t stop either.

IMG_0023.jpgThe platform departure screens ominously changed to show the next departure as the 0924 to Stratford. I wandered back up to the overbridge to see if the three welcoming staff members could help. Two had disappeared and the one remaining admitted he knew nothing about what was happening, and added the 0724 departure hadn’t come either.

The other passengers had by now drifted away to find alternative travel arrangements (there weren’t many – other than a 192 down to Tottenham Hale). Two photo snapping train enthusiasts from Ipswich decided to cross over to platform 4 and hope the 0852 to Bishops Stortford would come, and stop. It did. And they headed home, photos taken and mission accomplished.

IMG_0029.jpgThat just left me. I didn’t fancy waiting for the 0924, thinking it might also either not appear or not stop. I’d tapped my Oyster ‘in’ on the card reader so had opened up an unresolved £8.10 journey moving my card into a negative balance so I then was unable to use it for a ride on the 192.

I’ve had happier visits to brand new stations but before leaving thought I’d take a photograph for the record of the official plaque unveiled yesterday. Except I couldn’t find it. It turns out as Network Rail and Greater Anglia packed away all the promotional pop-up banners they took down the plaque too!

IMG_0026.jpgThe tell tale double-sided-sellotape-come-velcro marks were still there, but no sign of the plaque.IMG_0013.jpg

I’m sure it will be back again one day even if Chris Grayling won’t be.

Roger French

May’s new timetable on track: Part 1

Tuesday 21st May 2019

IMG_7172.jpgFirst improvement in the May 2019 rail timetable I experienced yesterday on my tour around was from my own local station, Hassocks where our disjointed two an hour trains to the Thameslink Core stations and on to Bedford or Cambridge (one an hour to each but to a 40/20 pattern) have been replaced with the new even half hourly Brighton to Cambridge service. Bye bye Bedford it’s been good to know you.

I caught the new 0748 which goes to Cambridge whereas previously there had been a long gap in our peak hour timetable until the 0808 to Bedford which now no longer calls at Hassocks.

IMG_7180.jpgIt wasn’t surprising on this first morning there were few passengers boarding or on board the train from Brighton, although by East Croydon we’d got busier, and by London Bridge as well as many alighting, there were also many boarding almost certainly unaware they were catching a new and extra peak hour twelve coach train. And that doesn’t often happen in commuter land. It’s a welcome addition to the timetable as are the new Saturday Cambridge Brighton journeys and the Sunday journeys which venture as far south as Gatwick Airport.

IMG_7185.jpgTimekeeping on the 0748 had been excellent throughout for this first day; we arrived London Bridge spot on time and through the Thameslink Core with five minutes spare to wait at Finsbury Park (even time for our driver to come back on board for a toilet break) before continuing north with noticeably few passengers on board this extra journey to last week’s timetable.

IMG_7193.jpgI got off at Stevenage in time to see one of the buses now running the all new Rail Replacement Bus service which has replaced trains to Hertford North while a new terminating Bay platform is built.

IMG_7187.jpgThere’s a half hourly service running direct to Hertford North and an hourly service just to Watton-at-Stone from where a half hourly train runs via Hertford North to Moorgate as normal.

IMG_7191.jpgThere was only one passenger on the 0937 departure from Stevenage to Hertford North. I’m not sure why this arrangement is happening as the four platforms at Stevenage still look as they’ve always done to me from where the Moorgate terminators terminated, but perhaps more structural changes are ahead.

I headed back south to Finsbury Park on a Horsham bound train (from Peterborough), did a quick cross platform change there to a Great Northern train from Hertford North and down the former City Line to Moorgate.

IMG_7198.jpgWhat a shame the former Network South East tiling and branding is finally being removed from these stations. Moorgate is presumably the first to be rebranded as so far Old Street, Essex Road, Highbury & Islington and Drayton Park remain untouched.

IMG_7201.jpgAs both Peterborough and Hertford North originating trains arrived and departed Finsbury Park at exactly the same time it was interesting to see just how many passengers dashed across the platform from one train to the other to either make their way towards stations on the Thameslink Core or to Moorgate.

IMG_7200.jpgSome interesting journey options and connections to the Underground are now available. I was heading to Liverpool Street and could have changed at Farringdon on to the Underground but decided to opt for Moorgate and take a stroll.

IMG_7205.jpgI arrived in good time at Liverpool Street to catch the very first northbound ‘Norwich in 90’ train operated by Greater Anglia at 1100, displacing the usual half hourly Norwich departure with its stops along the way at that time to 1102.

IMG_E7223.jpgThe ‘Norwich in 90’ idea is classic political and PR puff. Great for photo shoots and making out how wonderful everyone is at successfully campaigning for some eye catching achievement and for train companies to pat themselves on the back for responding to such calls for ‘improvements’, but of dubious benefit in the grand scheme of things.

IMG_7206.jpgNorwich folk make comparisons between the normal one hour fifty minute journey time for the 115 miles to London with the same time it takes to run non-stop from York over the 200 miles down to the Capital. But that ignores the crucial point that trains running southbound non-stop from York have come from Edinburgh, Newcastle, Durham, Darlington as well as Sunderland and other stations so already have a huge number of passengers on board making for an often full train load to whizz down to London.

The trouble for Norwich is that it’s at the end of the line, and to muster up the same number of passengers to head down to London, albeit with a stop in Ipswich is never going to stack up especially with a decent half hourly train running between the cities all day.

At the moment there are just two 90 minute journeys in each direction utilising one train which sits in Norwich for four and a half hours between the return runs. While the timings work well for Norwichites wanting a day out in London (0900 from Norwich and 1900 return from Liverpool Street) it’s not quite so good for a day in Norwich, unless you like a late start, leaving London at 1100 with a return at 1700.

And it’s that return at 1700, arriving Liverpool Street at 1830 just as the tracks are already stacked out with departing commuter trains which has caused the most consternation among Norwich in 90 critics. It’s meant a whole raft of tweaks have been necessary to create a smooth path for the all important 1830 arrival. Here’s a quick run through courtesy of Today’s Railways magazine ….

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IMG_7305.jpgAfter all that yesterday’s first run on the 1700 from Norwich hit a red signal near Bethnal Green arriving into Liverpool Street five minutes down at 1835.

My 1100 northbound journey fared better as did the first 0900 southbound, both achieving the 90 minute target; just as well with all the red lanyard wearing Greater Anglia staff, VIPs and camera crews on board.

IMG_7212.jpgWe nearly missed it with a slowing down near Diss, but they’d apparently chosen the fastest pair of engines in the fleet and our driver made up for that hiccup and arrived spot on time at 1230. While the two First Class carriages were well occupied with guests, I did a head count in standard class after we left Ipswich; there were 78 on board who could have all just about fitted into one carriage instead of the seven we had! Meanwhile the former stopping train that left 2 minutes behind us also looked to have a similar load on board as we pulled out of Liverpool Street.

IMG_7219.jpgGreater Anglia had hoped to show off one of their new trains on the Norwich in 90 runs yesterday but alas as is the way with new trains, testing is still going on and everything’s running late, so it wasn’t to be.

IMG_7226.jpgI came across a new Class 745 train on test on my next journey to Great Yarmouth where it made for an interesting contrast alongside the Class 37 engine which had brought us across the wonderful Norfolk Broads and which are still helping to keep the timetable on track until new trains are ready.

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IMG_7222.jpgIt’s an exciting time for Greater Anglia who are replacing their entire fleet over the next year and I’m sure the positive publicity surrounding the ‘Norwich in 90’ will all help to raise the profile of train travel in the region which has to be good; and it was certainly an impressive ride, if totally uncommercial.

IMG_7227.jpgAfter my nostalgic ride across to Great Yarmouth and back I just got caught up in the tail end of delays due to an earlier signal failure at Ely making for a late running 1357 departure from Norwich to Liverpool. East Midlands Trains were doing their best to recover service and combined the 75 minute late running 1257 departure with our 15 minute late 1357 journey making for a double crewed four coach train and the consequential hiatus over seat reservations. Makes me think it really is time to do away with reservations but I know the arguments for keeping them too, and sway between the two views.

IMG_7238.jpgA ride up the East Coast Main Line on an LNER HST from Peterborough took me to Retford ….

IMG_7248.jpg… where I changed to try out the all new hourly Northern service to Gainsborough Central. Theses journeys have been tacked on to a Leeds to Sheffield timetable which provide a stopping service from Sheffield eastwards to Worksop and Retford and then to Gainsborough Central.

IMG_7273.jpgPreviously the train would have veered south as it approached Gainsborough and served that town’s other station a mile south of the town centre on Lea Road and then on to Lincoln. Lea Road is a delightful station with a wonderful entrance area lovingly cared for by local people….

IMG_7286.jpg…. but it’s not nearly as conveniently sited as Central, which as it’s name implies is central. And peculiarly used to get a train service just on a Saturday and then only three return journeys which continued on via Brigg to Grimsby and Cleethorpes. These Saturday journeys still run (they give Brigg along with Kirton Lindsey their required ‘Parliamentary service’) but it’s certainly celebratory time for the new look connection back to Gainsborough Central.

IMG_7274.jpgAnd Northern have splashed the cash on some bunting to celebrate.

IMG_7276.jpgThere were just three other passengers on the 1750 arrival into Gainsborough Central yesterday having left Sheffield at a peak time 1654, but that was just day one and I’m sure as word spreads Gainsboroughites will find the new service a great improvement.

The new timetable has enabled Northern to speed up the previous hourly Sheffield via Worksop and Retford to Lincoln service by missing out the five stations between Sheffield and Worksop in the off peak (leaving them for the new Gainsborough Central train) saving about eight minutes giving a Sheffield to Lincoln in 73; that’s for 55 miles. Not quite Norwich in 90 over 115 miles but it’s a start.

IMG_7287.jpgI caught the first off peak ‘flyer’ from Lincoln at 0929 this morning and although we only had 24 on board leaving that wonderful city, we picked up a few at the next two stations, Saxilby and Gainsborough Lea Road before a good crowd at Retford and Worksop when it was foot down all the way to Sheffield and very perceptively a faster journey as we sped by the next five stations. I’m sure once this improvement becomes known it’ll become very popular especially as the train continues to Meadowhall for the shopping centre there on its way to Leeds.

IMG_7302.jpgSome passengers boarding in Lincoln wanting Sheffield were puzzled by the train showing Leeds as the destination but I overheard others on board buying through tickets to Leeds so that link up may prove beneficial.

I’m now at Sheffield and about to cross the Pennines to see more new May timetable developments and I’ll describe them in the next blog.

IMG_7307.jpgLittle tip, always follow the trolley when wanting to know which end First Class is located when it’s not displayed on station signs!

Roger French