Model Rail (UK)
Factfile: LNER Class 800 ‘Azuma’
The Class 800 series trains were developed by Hitachi from its dual‑voltage Class 395 ‘Javelin’ fleet. Built in Japan, the ‘395s’ transformed fast commuter services for the South Eastern franchise, introduced from 2009 between London St Pancras and Kent. With an aging fleet of HSTS reaching the end of their careers and the Class 91+Mk 4 fleet over 30 years old, there was a need for an all‑new fleet of trains for the prestigious East Coast route. However, instead of the railway operator sourcing replacement trains, the Department for Transport chose to oversee a procurement programme for both the East Coast and Great Western routes, under the Intercity Express Programme. While Hitachi manufactured bodyshells for the Class 800 series in Japan, final assembly was carried out in the UK, at a new facility in Newton Aycliffe, Co. Durham. Initially, it 2 was planned to produce a mixed fleet of all‑electric and bi‑mode units, but delays and cost‑cutting on electrification projects led to all trains featuring diesel generator units as well as 25kv AC electric power from overhead lines. GWR was first to introduce the new trains in 2017, with the ECML fleet entering service from 2019. The East Coast units were christened ‘Azuma’ by Virgin Trains East Coast during their development, although they would not carry Virgin branding, owing to the franchise being handed over to government control in 2018, under the LNER banner. LNER operates a fleet of 65 sets, consisting of a mix of nine‑ car Class 800/1 and five‑car Class 800/2 bi‑mode sets, plus 3 Class 801/1 five‑car units and Class 801/2 nine‑car sets which are primarily electric powered, but with single diesel power units for use in emergencies. The ‘Azuma’ fleet was initially confined to the southern reaches of the ECML owing to issues with signaling equipment north of York, and a full Anglo‑scottish service was not introduced until late summer 2019. Soon after, LNER was able to stand down its remaining HST fleet and begin phasing out the Class 91 locomotives and Mk 4 stock.