Greater Anglia: The future of rail travel

Source: RTM June/July 2018

Mike Kean, deputy MD and franchise and programmes director at Greater Anglia, gives us the lowdown on the train operator’s new bi-mode trains which are currently under construction in Switzerland.

I’ve recently been over to Switzerland and walked through the first of the futuristic bimode trains that Stadler is manufacturing for Greater Anglia. Stadler is making 38 bi-modes for us in total – 24 four-carriage (Class 755/4) and 14 three-carriage (Class 755/3) trains, which will switch between diesel and electric power, giving us a really versatile set of vehicles capable of running anywhere on our network – a crucial factor in us opting to include these trains in our brand-new fleet.

The bi-mode trains will mostly operate on our rural routes: Norwich to Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Sheringham and Cambridge; Ipswich to Lowestoft, Felixstowe, Peterborough and Cambridge; and Marks Tey to Sudbury. They represent a massive change from our existing trains on these routes: Class 153, Class 156, and Class 170 trains, which have a maximum of three coaches. Not only will we be offering our customers a big increase in capacity – 20% to 40% more seats – we will be significantly improving facilities on every train. Each will have free fast wi-fi, plug and USB points, and air conditioning as standard. They will also all have one accessible toilet plus a standard toilet, two wheelchair areas and dedicated spaces for six bikes per train.

Other benefits for customers with these new Stadler bi-modes is that they are built with lower floors and retractable steps, which at many stations on our routes will give level access onto the trains – a considerable help for passengers in wheelchairs or with pushchairs and small children.

Stadler has now completed the assembly of two of the four-carriage bi-modes, in that the body shells have been “wedded” to the bogies. Wiring for the plug and USB sockets, tanks for the toilets and routers for the wi-fi have been fitted. The trains are now going through an intensive period of testing at Stadler’s commissioning centre in Erlen, Switzerland before the interiors are fully fitted.

The power pack for the train, with four V8 diesel engines, sits in the middle of the train, separated from adjacent carriages by sliding glass doors. Passengers will be able to walk through the powerpack to get from one end of the train to the other. It’s an impressive sight looking down the whole length of the train as there are no doors between carriages, which creates extra space for seats and gives a light and airy feel to the train. My impression is that it looks pretty Space Age at the moment.

Our current Class 153s and Class 156s are about 30 years old, so it is no surprise that the diesel engines on the Stadler bi-modes are much more environmentally-friendly. They will be quieter and with lower emissions levels in line with the latest, tighter standards. This too is good for our customers and the communities near our rural stations and railway lines.

When the bi-mode trains are running underneath an electric line, they can switch to electricity mode and take advantage of electric energy rather than diesel. As with other modern electric trains, energy created when braking under an electric line is put back into the overhead wires to be used by other trains to accelerate – further helping to save energy. Even in diesel mode, the trains can brake electrically by using a “brake resistor,” which means there are less brake pads used, thus less dust is produced and released into the environment. When running in diesel mode, the engines generate electricity for the motors, enabling the train to accelerate more powerfully and smoothly.

It’s tremendously exciting to be introducing these modern trains to East Anglia, and even more so because they are part of the complete replacement of our entire fleet of trains. Surely worth a trip to East Anglia next year, when they come into service, to step on-board the future of rail travel?


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