Rail Industry Focus


Rail revolution: Azuma rollout underway

Source: RTM August/September

Following the release of their new Azuma trains on the East Coast Main Line, operator LNER spoke to us about what the new rolling stock will mean for them and their passengers.

With the sixth Azuma train having entered service in June, it is becoming an increasingly common site to see the distinctive red and white liveries of Azuma trains transforming the East Coast Main Line.

The first set was introduced with great fanfare and celebration in May and the rollout has been progressing with around one new train introduced every week. There is now a short break in the rollout while LNER await the next sub fleet of trains to be accepted. The 65 new trains, built by Hitachi Rail in County Durham, are replacing the existing fleet of 15 HSTs and 30 IC225 sets, operated by London North Eastern Railway (LNER).

David Horne, managing director of LNER, said: “The launch of the first Azuma trains was a truly momentous occasion for LNER and in the history of the East Coast.

“Setting new benchmarks in rail travel is part of our DNA, and the new Azuma trains are the next big step for LNER in making the customer experience the best that it can be. The new on-board technology, increased flexibility within the fleet and improved customer experience is helping us transform travel.”

Passengers travelling between London King’s Cross and Leeds are the first to benefit from the increased leg room, improved WiFi and additional capacity – up to 100 more seats compared to the 225 models. There will also be more services from later this year connecting Harrogate and Lincoln to London.

 The initial feedback shows that the on-board benefits have been well-received by customers with advocacy scores putting Azuma ahead of the legacy fleet.

Preparing infrastructure for new rolling stock

The work which enabled the introduction of the class 800/801’s has been going on for some time. £780m has been invested across the East Coast route to modernise the hundreds of miles of infrastructure. The upgrade work at London King’s Cross combined with other works along the route will allow LNER to run the faster, more frequent journeys that the Azuma fleet can achieve.

Station platforms have been lengthened to accommodate the longer Azuma trains and, where necessary, modifications have been made to the infrastructure to ensure it is compatible with the new fleet. In addition, the power supply is being upgraded to enable every Azuma train to operate in electric mode on routes where overhead power lines are available.

A more agile fleet

From an operational perspective, the bi-mode trains bring several benefits. They can cover parts of the route where there is no overhead line equipment and change power source at line speed. This will enable more through journeys from new destinations and offers passengers greater reliability during disruption.

The bi-mode capability also means far fewer miles of diesel operation compared to the existing fleet, resulting in reduced carbon emissions along the route and at stations. Bi-mode trains are only five per cent heavier than an electric-only version. With a distributed traction system and lightweight aluminium construction, the Azuma induces lower forces into the track which means increased service frequency will not increase the overall wear and tear to the track.

To support the operation of Bi-mode Azuma’s on the network, a system has been developed that automatically changes the traction system between 25kv AC Electric mode to self-powered diesel operation and vice versa.

The system uses a combination of track balise and train management systems to control the raising and lowering of pantographs and the starting of the diesel engines automatically as required (i.e. whether operation is under the wires or not). Lineside signage is also deployed to support the operation of the system. This was first used on a passenger service on the inaugural Hull to London King’s Cross service on 16 May 2019.

Another new addition on the Azuma is a Driver Advisory System that forms part of the Train Management System. It supports the driver by providing them with advice on operating to the schedule, coasting and suggested speeds to reduce the energy use for the journey.

With the Azumas already having such a big impact, it’s easy to forget that their full benefits will not be seen until 2021. With a new timetable, more regular journeys between London and Edinburgh will take just four hours, and regular journeys between London and Leeds in two hours will become typical throughout the day. 

New rolling stock, new services and new infrastructure. It is certainly an exciting time for passengers on the East Coast Main Line.


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