After the award of the East Anglia franchise and the order to replace Abellio Greater Anglia’s entire fleet, RICHARD CLINNICK examines what that means for the region’s passengers and its economic prospects
With Abellio ordering an entire new fleet of trains for its Greater Anglia franchise, what lies in store for the region‘s passengers?
Worth the wait. That’s perhaps the best way to describe the Greater Anglia franchise contract awarded on August 10 ( RAIL 807).
The Government had delayed the franchise award for several weeks, due to the Brexit vote. There was a general unwillingness to even discuss the franchise, and the various bidders (and their suppliers) were in the dark regarding what would happen.
As the silence from the Department for Transport became increasingly deafening, rumours abounded that the winner had been changed following Brexit. But there was always a denial from the DfT - no firm details.
Two years ago, Abellio Greater Anglia’s then-new Managing Director Jamie Burles told RAIL that it was his railway’s turn for investment ( RAIL 756). At the time he said: “The only important thing is the next franchise specification. If you do not specify a train that needs interior ambience and decelerations and acceleration, it is about the lowest bids. Then for the next 15 years the service struggles because the bid was low. We want DfT to set the bar as high as is possibly affordable.”
Burles pointed out, rightly, that every operator and railway around the Great Eastern Main Line was receiving new trains and infrastructure improvements, while his franchise was having to make do with cascaded trains.
Neighbouring train operators c2c, Govia Thameslink Railway and Virgin Trains East Coast are all receiving new fleets. GTR will benefit from the £ 6.5 billion Thameslink programme and a rebuilt London Bridge, while VTEC will receive a fleet of Intercity Express Programme trains. AGA will also share the route between Shenfield and Liverpool Street with Crossrail - shiny new trains enter traffic on that route from 2017, to serve the £15bn cross-London project.
It perhaps spoke volumes that Burles was happy that a decision to refurbish the Mk 3 fleet used by AGA didn’t include modifications such as plug-doors. That would have meant the vehicles, the oldest of which date from the mid-1970s, remaining in traffic beyond 2020, and a probable concession that there would be no new trains. It offered hope. But that’s all the Great Eastern often has, usually followed by disappointment.
The age of the current AGA fleet is telling. Thirty Class 379 Electrostars ordered for Stansted Express and the West Anglia route were delivered in 2011. Before that 21 Class 360s were delivered to First Great Eastern in 2003, and four Class 170/2s were delivered to Anglia Railways in 2002 for the reinstated Norwich-Cambridge route. That is now operated by some of the eight Class 170/2s delivered to AR in 1999. The rest of the fleet dates from the 1980s, or in the case of some of the Mk 3 coaches, the 1970s.
However, you need to go back much further for the last fleet of brand new main line locomotives ordered specifically for the Great Eastern Main Line - all the way back to April 1958 and the Class 40s.
The GEML was home to electric services from London Liverpool Street, and the decision was made to introduce 2,000hp Type 4 diesels on expresses between London and Norwich. They didn’t last, and had to be replaced by the ‘Britannia’ steam locomotives they were themselves intended to replace.
And then the usual cascades began. In 1965 ‘nearly new’ Type 4s (later classified ‘47s’) were transferred to March to work the GEML, and these remained in place until electrification to Ipswich in 1985, when Class 86s (20 years old at that stage) moved to the railway from the West Coast Main Line.
The ‘86s’ replaced the ‘47s’ from Norwich in 1987, when the line was electrified, and
remained in traffic for the next 18 years until they were replaced by Class 90s that themselves dated from 1987. The Mk 2s hauled by the ‘86s’ were replaced by Mk 3s that (although superior in terms of their interiors) were not that much younger - in some cases only by a few months. It was the classic ‘make do and mend’.
It was the same story on the various branches. Cascaded Class 153s and ‘156s’ are used on the rural routes, while the ‘170s’ are used elsewhere. However, should you travel past Norwich Crown Point you will not find multiple units stood idle - the diesel multiple unit fleet is stretched to the point that locomotive-hauled coaching stock (LHCS) is required to ensure services can still operate. And such is the tightness of the fleet utilisation that one DMU being damaged (170204) in an accident with a tractor at a level crossing has resulted in a second LHCS being needed (see pages 30-31). Rolling stock resources are tight at AGA.
Further south, on the suburban network out of Liverpool Street, passenger numbers are massive and predicted to grow. Three million people live in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, and over the next ten years a further 205,000 new jobs will be created and 184,000 new homes constructed.
These people will need serving. Stratford has entered the top ten of Britain’s busiest stations and is unlikely to relinquish that position. More passengers are travelling from Cambridge, and a new station serving the city’s Science Park will open in May 2017 (see pages 92-95). And Stansted Airport is growing, but served by the congested West Anglia Main Line with a bottleneck that campaigners want Network Rail to sort out.
That’s a lot to tackle, hence the wish list created by the Great Eastern Main Line Taskforce. Set up by then Chancellor George Osborne, the Taskforce’s job was to investigate a need for improvements to the region’s railways, and to campaign for backing to support any improvements.
But East Anglia is a region often overlooked, or viewed as a backwater. The nearest motorway is the M11 (there is no motorway in Norfolk). Yet it offers huge economic benefits for the UK. It was the Taskforce’s responsibility to highlight this.
In its business case released in November 2014 ( RAIL 762), the Taskforce highlighted how 18% of peak-hour passengers arriving at Liverpool Street were standing (excluding the Metros), while forecasts show demand on the GEML into Suffolk and Norfolk is expected to grow by 32% and from Essex by 52%. At the time, AGA was the second least subsidised passenger operator in the UK (it received 1.5p per passenger mile, against the average of 12.5p). Under the terms of the new deal, Abellio will now pay a premium of £ 3.7
billion over nine years to run the franchise. Thus the need for new and improved rolling stock is clear, but without infrastructure improvements any new trains will not be able to fully deliver the upscale in quality. Campaigners suggest the required sum is £476 million, but that was before NR went on the public books and money became scarce. Yet the benefit: cost ratio ( BCR) for the improvements is between 8.6 and 9.5 (in comparison, HS2’s BCR is 2:3).
At the time of the report’s publication Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex generated £ 60bn in gross value added (GVA) for the UK economy, and that figure is expected to rise to £ 75bn in the next 12 years. The region is one of only two net contributor regions to the Treasury.
Taskforce co-Chairman Mark Pendlington has long called the GEML the ‘Golden Thread’, and spoken regularly of the need to serve East Anglia’s growing economy. Europe’s biggest insurance cluster is based in the region, while BT has its European research and development headquarters there. The region is a leader in innovation, research and education, the Taskforce argues.
Delivering the improvements will generate £ 4.1bn in direct economic benefits, rising to £4.5bn once wider agglomeration and productivity benefits are included
According to Taskforce research, investment in the GEML will create 8,200 new jobs in Norwich, just under 10,000 new jobs in Ipswich, 14,000 in Colchester and 16,000 in Chelmsford. That will increase council tax revenue by £15m annually, and business rates by £10m per year. Overall, for every £1 invested in the GEML upgrade, there will be a £ 9.50 return.
New trains are on the way and will begin to enter traffic from January 2019.
First to enter traffic will be Stadler Rail AG bi-mode trains for the regional routes. These will be a mixture of three- and four-car trains, with 38 on order. They will replace the Class 15x and ‘170’ fleets. This means that no rural route will be served by a one-car or two-car train, as they are today.
The Stansted Express and West Anglia Stadler Rail AG 12-car electric trains enter traffic from February 2019, replacing the Class 317s and ‘379s’ currently used in eight-car formations.
The ten 12-car Stadler Rail AG electric multiple units will enter traffic on the GEML from March 2019, replacing the eight- and nine-car Class 90/Mk 3 formations.
By 2020 Bombardier will have delivered its Aventra trains, replacing the 21 Class 360s and 94 Class 321s. All the news Bomardier trains will be five- or ten-car EMUs.
But without infrastructure improvements these new trains will not be able to achieve the plans. Their performance and acceleration will better that of the trains they replace, but the infrastructure needs to match. And so far NR has been quiet.
Pendlington told RAIL on August 22: “There is a rail summit on September 7 with Abellio, and that is our first chance to hear in detail how the plans will work. We will also hear what Network Rail is planning.
“In terms of Network Rail, they are working hard to deliver what is required. Politically there needs to be the will to deliver the improvements, and I believe they will do so.”
The issue of NR’s performance on projects such as the Edinburgh-Glasgow Improvement Programme and Great Western Main Line electrification is raised, but Pendlington has faith: “There is always a possibility something can go wrong. All I know is that they are doing their best to deliver what Anglia needs.”
He is also confident that the campaigning for the infrastructure improvements will be successful. “We have a strong team of MPs who are on the case, and even through the region’s devolution deal we are trying to lead. We are trying to move Ely North’s improvements from Control Period 6 (CP6) to CP5 if we can.”
He calls the campaign a “marathon”, but highlights how the region worked together. “Students, passengers, business leaders all helped. They all saw what was needed. They kept the faith even when questions were being asked.
“This is a £43bn economy. There is £14bn for Norfolk and Suffolk alone. I have always said this is the Golden Thread. When this is achieved, we can then focus on East West (see news).”
Rural routes in East Anglia that are currently served by one- and two-car diesel multiple units dating from the 1980s will be served by three- and four-car bi-mode trains from 2019. On March 14 2014, AGA 153335 heads away from Brundall with the 1217 Great Yarmouth-Norwich.
DB Cargo 90034, on hire to Abellio Greater Anglia, races through Ardleigh (between Manningtree and Colchester) with the 1800 Norwich-London Liverpool Street on August 15. Class 90s and Mk 3s were introduced in 2004, and will be replaced in 2019. The ‘90’ and Mk 3s here were hired to cover AGA’s own fleet undergoing maintenance.
New trains will also be introduces on suburban service from London Liverpool Street. On July 21 2016, a six-car Docklands Light Railway Stratford-Canary Wharf service arrives at Pudding Mill Lane station, as a trio of Abellio Greater Anglia trains pass en route to Liverpool Street. Class 360s pass with the 1656 from Ilford depot, in the centre are '321s' forming the 1630 from Southend Victoria, and to the fore are '321s' passing with the 1714 empty coaching stock from Orient Way.
Infrastructure is key to the improvements planned for the Great Eastern Main Line. On May 16, AGA 90010 passes Shenfield with the 1530 NorwichLiverpool Street. Contractors carry out clearance work for Crossrail on the left.