Interviews

09.11.17

Modernising journeys in north east England

First Hull Trains is about to embark on the biggest fleet overhaul it has delivered since being set up in 2000. Managing director Will Dunnett tells RTM’s Josh Mines about how the new rolling stock will benefit passengers in the region.

It’s a busy time for rolling stock in the north of England. TransPennine Express (TPE) is looking forward to getting new trains on track in 2019, and CAF is progressing in building 281 carriages for Northern in Spain.

So it’s no surprise that First Hull Trains, the rapidly growing and high-performing open access TOC operating in the north east, is also keen to get in on the action. Back in November, it struck a £60m deal that would see Hitachi manufacture five brand-new AT300 trains, set for delivery around December 2019.

“It’s the first time the business has ever had brand-new rolling stock, which is a new challenge and a fantastic opportunity,” Will Dunnett, First Hull’s managing director, told me.

The trains, which will be owned by Angel and maintained by Hitachi at its Newton Aycliffe depot, represent a huge wave of reform for First Hull. The production is a joint project with fellow FirstGroup-owned TPE, which is purchasing 19 of the AT300 units, with the five First Hull trains following the delivery of this order.

Production is due to start in May 2018, before they are shipped to Newton Aycliffe for completion, commissioning and testing around February or March 2019.

A huge boost to capacity

According to Dunnett, there is one clear benefit that the new trains will bring to passengers. “There’s some great things about these units,” he explained. “We have 20% extra seating capacity, giving us 50% extra passenger capacity, because we have a fifth unit when previously we have operated with four units.

“There will be three in service and one in maintenance, but now we also have the opportunity to have an additional unit – plus the maintenance schedules are a lot more compressed, so it means we could potentially get another unit out there.”

It’s no surprise then that the new rolling stock makes up a large section of First Hull’s strategy and vision over the next few years. “We will be looking at what the next four-year plan looks like, and clearly the vast majority of that is around business transformation and how the new trains will operate,” Dunnett added. “It’s exciting times, as being bi-mode means greater connectivity between Cleethorpes and Beverley and we can move forward services between Selby and Hull.”

The advantages of an agile operator

Though First Hull is still a smaller operator than some, it has grown and established itself as an industry leader for punctuality and customer satisfaction over the last few years. Since Dunnett took over as MD in 2013, passenger numbers have gone up from 600,000 to over a million last year, and the new rolling stock looks set to keep this upward trend going.

A key advantage of being a smaller operator buying less carriages, Dunnett argued, is that it gives them more flexibility to work with Hitachi and Angel to design the right specification that works for them.

“We would hope that it being a small order will give us the opportunity to test the design teams a little bit more than perhaps some of the government-owned purchases that have gone through,” he said. “At the minute we’re working with Hitachi and Angel. We had Hitachi visit Hull in mid-October to talk about the first fit around the units. That includes things like the interior, the seating and colour schemes that we are working on.

“And internally, we are doing quite a big exercise with union consultation around driver training and engagement where we are working with our sister companies at Great Western Railway (GWR) and TPE – but in particular GWR because it is ahead of the curb.

“What’s exciting is that the industry is about to get an uplift of rolling stock and we are at the front and center of that.”

Local and long-distance capacity

Increased capacity is not the only benefit that passengers will enjoy when trains hits tracks in just over two years’ time. As Dunnett rightly pointed out, what passengers want is to be able to get to their destination quickly, comfortably and with as few delays as possible.

The bi-mode feature of the new trains is sure to do just that, as well as open up quicker routes to London, which at the moment is a two-and-a-half-hour journey direct from Hull to King’s Cross.

While Dunnett hopes this can be improved on with the new rolling stock, he noted that local routes journey times will also be cut down, and the trains being bi-mode will give drivers more options when problems inevitably crop up on the network.

“Faster acceleration and deceleration provide real opportunity,” Dunnett argued. “When the network is down, being bi-mode means we can continue to operate those diversionary journeys and keep people connected to the region.”

The trains will be such an improvement, in fact, that speed restrictions around the north east will still need to catch up for the full benefit of the AT300 to be realised. “At the moment, we will be restricted early on in the programme as the network needs to catch up, but once it does – and once we are able to maximise those speeds – then there is some real opportunity,” the First Hull MD explained.

“We are working with Network Rail on connections between Hull and Selby, because we see opportunity around there. Network Rail has been very supportive in working with us and trying to match our – and our customers’ – aspirations.

“At the end of the day, customers find it a little bit bemusing it takes so long to get to Selby as it’s not that far, only 37 miles,” Dunnett joked. “But Hull is the fourth largest city in the north, and it’s a travesty that our connectivity on road and rail is not better than it should be.”

At a time when the north is looking to Whitehall for greater investment in new routes and better transport links, it’s also clear that TOCs are taking it into their own hands to provide a quicker, more modern service for passengers as well.

Though it’s unclear how far any of this funding will have progressed in two years’ time, what is certain is that the overhaul of rolling stock in the north is set to make travel across the region a whole lot better, and as Dunnett put it, First Hull has a central role to play in this change.

“The industry is about to get an uplift of rolling stock and we are at the front and center of that”

For more information

W: www.hulltrains.co.uk

Comments

Huguenot   09/11/2017 at 17:50

Better not be too ahead of the "curb" or they'll trip over it. If only Hull Trains would reinstate the Selby stop in down morning trains and up evening ones, they would be able to tap into a huge catchment area of the Home Counties, where people don't want to travel into London and out again to go north. They did stop there initially but then withdrew it. Yes, the linespeed between Selby and Hull is appalling and needs to be raised substantially.

Huguenot   09/11/2017 at 21:31

Correction: I meant the Stevenage stop, not Selby. All Hull Trains stop at Selby, of course.

Andrew Gwilt   10/11/2017 at 03:08

I’ve heard rumours that Class 803’s could be built. But that was just lies. At least First Hull Trains and Transpennine Express will be getting the Class 802’s once the Class 800’s, Class 801’s and Class 802’s have been built for GWR and Virgin Trains East Coast.

Andrew JG   10/11/2017 at 04:21

Hull Trains will order about 5 Class 802/3's and Transpennine Express to order 19 Class 802/2's. Which doesn't seem as much. Whilst Great Western Railway (GWR) and Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) are currently ordering the IET's such as: 36 Class 800/0's, 21 Class 800/3's, 22 Class 802/0's and 14 Class 802/1's for Great Western Railway. And 13 Class 800/1's, 10 Class 800/2's, 12 Class 801/1's and 30 Class 801/2's for Virgin Trains East Coast. As both GWR and VTEC are replacing their 40 year old Class 43's HST's and Class 91's Mk4 Intercity fleets as their IET fleets are to operate on the Great Western Main Line, Cornish Main Line and East Coast Main Line.

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interviews

Modernising journeys in north east England

09/11/2017Modernising journeys in north east England

First Hull Trains is about to embark on the biggest fleet overhaul it has delivered since being set up in 2000. Managing director Will Dunnett te... more >