Investment in onboard product is raising the bar for business travellers, writes Dave Richardson, who tracks the latest changes
The private sector is investing nearly £14billion in new trains over the five-year period from 2016 to 2021, according to Rail Delivery Group (RDG) which brings together train operators and publicly funded infrastructure operator Network Rail.
Companies winning franchise contracts are usually committed to heavy investment, but sometimes they are over-ambitious as with Virgin Trains East Coast. It promised to pay £2.3billion to the government by 2023 but is being allowed to back out of its contract.
Many of the older trains still trundling around the rail network will be gone by 2021, by which time all trains must provide toilets with disabled access. Another requirement in new franchise contracts is free wifi connectivity throughout, while the public sector is investing in upgrading rail’s mobile infrastructure.
Over 7,000 new carriages will have been delivered by 2021, according to the RDG, and by then an extra 6,400 services each week will be operating.
Electrification projects by Network Rail are enabling cleaner, greener, more efficient trains to run in some parts of the country, although journey time reductions are usually modest.
The Great Western electrification from London to Bristol and South Wales is behind schedule and over budget. Electric trains will not run to Oxford or beyond Cardiff to Swansea, but new high-speed trains can operate on both electric and diesel power.
The main Edinburgh-glasgow line has been electrified at last and both cities will soon be linked to Stirling by electric trains.
Several routes in Northern England have also been wired up, including one route from Liverpool to Manchester and the Manchester-preston-blackpool corridor, which is just being completed.
But other electrification schemes have been put on hold, including ManchesterLeeds and throughout from London to Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield. Bimodal trains (diesel and electric) will be introduced to serve cities beyond the core electrified routes on the network.
Below are some of the major improvements that UK rail passengers can expect over the next few years. With the exception of developments at Great Western and Transport for London’s Elizabeth Line (also known as Crossrail), the most eye-catching improvements are generally in Northern England and Scotland.
Great Western Electrification of the line to Bristol and Cardiff is due to be completed by the end of this year, with a new timetable introduced from January 2019.
It is taking delivery of 93 new high-speed bimodal trains built by Japanese manufacturer Hitachi in the UK, with promised journey time reductions of up to 17 minutes on London-bristol and 14 minutes on London-swansea.
The 40-year-old diesel powered High Speed Trains (HSTS) are nearly all being replaced, with the new trains having 24% more seating capacity. A fleet of 45 new electric trains has been introduced on local Thames Valley routes, with the diesel trains they replace increasing seating capacity around Bristol. East Coast The Virgin Trains East Coast name may disappear, although it may be allowed to continue in a new arrangement agreed by the DFT. But whoever operates them, a new fleet of publicly funded Hitachi high-speed trains will start to operate in December from London to Leeds, Edinburgh and beyond. The London-edinburgh journey will be cut to four hours, a saving of nearly 30 minutes that could persuade more business travellers to switch from air, while LondonLeeds will take two hours.
The 65 new trains will also open up a new direct link to London from Middlesbrough, and increase frequency from Harrogate, Bradford and Lincoln.
Transpennine Express A major investment in new trains will transform the on-board environment on routes from the North West to the North East and Scotland over the next couple of years, including a new link between Liverpool and Glasgow starting in December.
Three new fleets of trains include 19 bimodal trains by Hitachi with a top speed of 125mph, with on-board facilities including more seats at tables with plug sockets, free wifi access throughout, and first class seating. The older diesel trains being replaced are being refurbished to increase capacity on other parts of the network.
A Business Development Manager, Susie Palmer, is working with corporates to alert them to the new opportunities for a productive journey by rail rather than road or air, in the case of Manchester-edinburgh/ Glasgow. Transpennine Express is also working with the GTMC and ITM.
Northern Operating some longer routes such as Manchester-barrow, Leeds-carlisle and Middlesbrough-newcastle-carlisle, plus many local services, Northern is also investing heavily in new trains. It will introduce 43 new electric trains and 55 new diesel trains starting in December, again with free wifi throughout.
Scotrail Apart from new electric trains on the Edinburgh-glasgow and Stirling routes, it will transform services to the north of the country from May by introducing High Speed Trains displaced from Great Western. Although they will not operate at their 125mph top speed, they will increase seating capacity and introduce new levels of comfort and catering on routes from Glasgow and Edinburgh to Stirling, Perth, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness.
Caledonian Sleeper A new fleet of trains is being introduced on overnight services from London to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William from October at a cost of £100million – the first new sleeper trains in the UK for 35 years. For the first time ever in the UK (except on Royal Scotsman luxury charters), passengers can book cabins with en suite facilities as well as cabins with sinks only or reclining seats. Tickets for Comfort Seats start from £45; Classic Rooms from £85; en suite Club Rooms from £125; and double bed suites from £200 (all per person).
Greater Anglia The operator is spending £1.4billion on a total fleet renewal including ten 12-carriage electric trains for the London-norwich route and ten 12-carriage electric trains for the Stansted Express. Commuter trains will also be renewed with 38 new bimodal trains introduced for regional services.
Elizabeth Line Transport for London is spending £1billion on 66 new trains to operate through central London from December 2018, using new tunnels and connecting with Underground services. When the route is fully open from December 2019, trains will operate from Reading and Heathrow Airport in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east, including direct trains from Heathrow to stations including Tottenham Court Road, Liverpool Street and Canary Wharf.
Thameslink New trains costing £1.6billion have already led to a major increase in capacity on northsouth routes via the City of London, serving Gatwick and Luton airports. From May this year new routes without changing trains will include Brighton to Cambridge.
Virgin Trains (West Coast) While not introducing any new trains, the operator has signed up to a raft of improvements after its franchise was extended through to 2019 with an option for a further year if the DFT so decides. The Pendolino fleet used between London and Birmingham, the North West and Glasgow is having a refit including free wifi access for all passengers (not just first class) by January of next year.
Commuter operators Many such operators are also introducing new trains to increase capacity and ease overcrowding, including South Western Railway, c2c and Great Northern. London Northwestern (formerly London Midland) has over 100 new trains on order while Merseyrail will replace its fleet by 2020.