Our view: How new trains are transforming the rail travel experience

In recent months several rail operators, such as GWR, LNER and TransPennine Express have announced the introduction of new trains as part of an overall up-grade to passenger services.

London North Eastern Railway (LNER) took over the East Coast franchise last year after Stagecoach and Virgin Trains East Coast were allowed to relinquish the franchise. This August, LNER launches the first of 65 new Azuma trains between London King’s Cross and Leeds and have plans to roll out the new units between London and Scotland.

Azuma trains are built using Japanese bullet train technology for faster acceleration and incorporate diesel-electric hybrid technology, making them more resilient in the event of power disruption.

LNER’s move followed Serco Caledonian Sleeper’s launch of a new £150m fleet between London and Glasgow/Edinburgh, which will be followed on the Highlander route between London and Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William.

The new trains offer new comfort seats with a personal locker, reading light and charging point, rooms with double beds and, for the first time in the Caledonian Sleeper’s history, en-suites. Other new features include a hotel-style key card entry system and Wi-Fi throughout the train.

Last August, Great Western Railway (GWR) launched the first of 36, Italian-built Class 802 fleet trains across the West of England, including Plymouth to London Paddington. Following the delivery of GWR’s final Class 800 Intercity Express train, the operator’s capacity increased by over 10,000 seats.

GWR’s new trains have already proven to be 20% more reliable than the older trains they replaced and have helped deliver improve on-train traveller satisfaction scores by improving seat comfort and on-board information.

Faster pace

As Pacer trains retire from passenger service after more than 30 years, new and refurbished trains are being introduced across the Northern network, serving Doncaster, Liverpool, Preston, Manchester, Cumbria and Harrogate.

Over 100 new trains will be rolled out by Northern from this year, together with new trains on the TransPennine Express network, offering more comfortable seats and improved accessibility. The Department for Transport is investing £13 billion through to 2020 to transform transport across the region through the Northern Powerhouse Rail project.

Between 2019 and 2024, the government will also invest around £3 billion further in upgrading the Transpennine route between Manchester, Leeds and York to deliver faster, more frequent and more reliable journeys with more seats.

TransPennine is introducing three new Nova trains across the north and into Scotland. The 13, five-carriage trains each have 291 seats on board, 100 more than the Class 185 trains they will replace over time. They also come with free on-board Wi-Fi and modern display screens.

With the new trains expecting to be rolled out before the end of the year, this will also help TransPennine Express to launch new routes between Liverpool and Edinburgh and Liverpool and Glasgow.

Traveller impact

So, what will difference will travellers see from these new trains? The most obvious will be extra capacity, especially in Standard class. This should help to encourage more business and leisure travellers onto the railway, and in time even encourage them to make rail their preferred travel mode.

The new five-car TransPennine Express trains replace three-car units, whilst the new LNER trains have 510 standard class seats compared to 398 and 427 previously, which reflects falling corporate demand for first class seats.

Most of these new trains are Bi-Modal. This means that they offer a seamless transfer from diesel power to electric that is undetectable to passengers. The rail industry is developing alternative fuel trains, using battery and hydrogen power, so the new trains are greener, can travel further – and faster.

LNER’s Azuma trains will cut journey times between London and Leeds to two hours and London to Edinburgh in four hours by 2020, saving travellers fifteen and twenty-five minutes respectively.

The on-board experience should be better too.  Expect to see more legroom in Standard class, each seat equipped with power sockets, improved on-board Wi-Fi, more table seats, plug pockets at every seat rather than every two, electronic seat sensors and regularly updated displays making available seats easier to spot.

At a time when the rail industry is waiting to discover the scale of changes that will follow the Williams Rail Review, train operators are investing in their products to grow their share of domestic business travel. And not a moment too soon.