Introducing The New, Hitachi-Built UK IEP Intercity Express Train
New high speed trains bringing fast and efficient services on GWR routes from London to Wales and the West Country, and Virgin Trains East Coast.
High speed train travel within the UK is entering a new growth phase with the arrival on British tracks of the new Hitachi-built IEP Intercity Express train.
If you’ve ever had the good fortune to travel across Japan or China by train you’ll already have experienced a taste of the ultimate in high speed train travel. You may also have enjoyed high speed journeys on the South Eastern HS1 routes which have been widely successful.
From late 2017 you’ll be able to get a similar experience on UK journeys to London and other major cities on tracks up the East Coast and on western England routes into Wales and the West Country.
Defined under the heading of the Intercity Express Programme, the new trains will be known as simply the GWR Intercity Express on Great Western Rail routes and more originally the Virgin Azuma on Virgin’s East Coast Main Line destinations.
The Class numbers given to the vehicles are the Class 800 for dual powered diesel and electric, Class 801 for electric only, and Class 802 for units similar to the bi-mode 800s but with extra build features.
Read more about the trains.
What Is The IEP?
Fast trains are not just limited to Japan and China.
Countries such as France, Spain, Germany, and Hungary are all in on the act. Even the UK already has it’s own version of the bullet trains running – known as the Javelin Train (by its association with the London Olympics of 2012), or as the Class-395 on its HS1 scheduled services from London St Pancras to Kent and the UK side of the Channel Tunnel.
After the success of the Javelin Train, all eyes have turned to the next evolution of high speed rail travel in the United Kingdom – the UK Intercity Express. The overall project is known as the Intercity Express Project or IEP. Virgin have named their East Coast fleet the Azuma, while GWR have named theirs simply The Intercity Express.
The new IEP trains will replace the ageing but highly successful Intercity 125 fleet, giving UK rail commuters the chance to experience rail speeds of around 130 mph. The 125’s give the fastest intercity rail journey times in the UK currently from cities like York, Leeds, and Edinburgh to London. The Department of Transport in the UK needed to find a suitable Intercity 125 replacement, and awarded the contract for supply of the trains to Hitachi Rail.
Hitach have a tough act to follow – the Intercity 125 fleet was capable of cruising at speeds of 125 mph and with a 145 mph top speed and was hailed worldwide in the day as an engineering feat Britain could be proud of.;
That fleet was first introduced in 1976, so as you can expect, now is the right time for it to be upgraded with new, faster, more efficient rail stock: thus the task of the Intercity Express Program.
This program introduces next generation rail travel for parts of the UK – Class 800/801/802 Super Express trains based on the design of the Hitachi A-train which has been gracing the rails of the Japanese rail network for a number of years now.
In a world in which getting from A to B in as quick a time and at as reasonable a price as possible has become the holy grail for many of the UK’s train travellers, the introduction of the IEP train promises speedy, comfortable, futuristic rail travel on selected UK routes.
One thing is for sure, the trains will need to be modern, energy efficient, reliable, and environmentally friendly. That’s the plan, and with Hitachi in the driving seat there’s a strong chance that rail travellers will experience the fruits of that promise with high quality rail travel for the next 35 years.
January 9th 2018 – First IEP Services on Cotsworld Line
GWR started operating new Intercity Express trains on the Cotswold Line, taking in stations between Worcester and London Paddington including Evesham, Honeybourne, Oxford, and Reading.
December 2017 – First IEP North Of Edinburgh
On an inaugural foray into the higher reaches of Scotland, the first Class 800/801 train pulled into Inverness under diesel power on December 15th on a test run from Doncaster.
Rail travellers in scotland will be waiting a while for scheduled services – Virgin are indicating that their Azumas won’t be seen north of the border until 2019 when five Scottish cities will be served.
October 2017 – First Scheduled GWR IEP Enters Centre Stage
The first fare paying passenger run of a new Intercity Express operated on western routes, with a GWR class 800 running from Bristol to London on October 16th. It wasn’t perfect, with the service beset by a few problems. Read more on how it went on the IEP news page, but as a summary the first service was delayed at departure, had some technical problems on route, and arrived late in London Paddington.
Not the auspicious start that GWR would have been hoping for and as you would expect, it resulted in some unwanted press coverage.
However – after the trains were taken out of service for a few days – the problems were fixed. After retests without passengers on Thursday 19th, the services restarted on Friday 20th October when the 6am Bristol to Paddington train departed as planned, followed by the 07:00 from Paddington to south Wales.
For all archived news items on the IEP developments, tests, and service introduction dates see the IEP news page.
The Intercity 125 fleet will be replaced by the IEP on the two lines regarded as the busiest and longest in Britain:
The Great Western Main Line managed by Great Western Rail, which runs out from London’s super hub of Paddington and branches out to Bristol and Cardiff in South Wales via Reading, Oxford, and Swindon, and the North and South Cotswolds. Major towns such as Newbury and Swansea are also covered. The first trains are expected to be running in summer 2017.
The East Coast Main Line, which runs out of King’s Cross (a newly refurbished and rebuilt super hub in north central London) and runs up through towns and cities like Stevenage, Peterborough, York, Wakefield, Leeds, Westgate Newcastle, and Edinburgh. Trains – known as Azumas – are planned for introduction in 2018. Virgin Trains took over management of East Coast services on 1st March 2015.
The program will also replace a number of other train set routes including those long distance routes from London to Cambridge (out of King’s Cross), London Euston to Oxford, London Paddington to Weston Super Mare and London Kings Cross to Kingston Upon Hull.
Full details of Intercity Express routes can be found on the IEP routes page here on IEPTrain.co.uk nearer the time of full introduction, and you’ll also find a page dedicated to finding the best deals on tickets.
It’s early days to be talking about timetables on the IEP routes. Current timetables will clearly change depending on frequency and carriage confirmation of the new trains. Nearer the time of service introduction you’ll find detailed info on the IEP timetables page.
Don’t expect vast differences in A to B travel times – the top speed of the IEP is not massively higher than the trains being replaced. But it is clear that travel times in general are expected to be reduced by around 15-20 minutes on some routes, with the added benefits of increased reliability, safety, and enhanced passenger comfort in the 628 seat trains too.
In fact this increase in capacity may well turn out to be one of the biggest benefits, while the reliability factor will improve trip times in general. We’re looking at a potential 40% increase in seat capacity into London Paddington and close to 30% into Kings Cross during morning peak travel times.
Aside from the obvious benefits to commuters of increased capacity and reliability, there are some additional benefits which look sure to make the trains desirable.
• Passengers can anticipate comfortable rides with air conditioning, adequate leg room, CCTV, high quality wi-fi, plenty of space for baggage, and room for items like bicycles and prams.
• Those passengers with disabilities which prevent easy access are not forgotten. IEP trains will be built with a strong focus on improved disabled accessibility, including well thought out space for wheelchairs and easy disabled access to rest rooms.
• For the environment, IEPs will do their bit to reduce greenhouse emissions, with an anticipated reduction of CO2 per passenger of close on a half. It’s reported that the carbon footprint offered by fast rail travel is significantly less than both car and plane.
• Electronic device connectivity is well catered for with free onboard WiFi, distributed via the latest Cat7 ethernet cabling. In addition, windows are created from special glass designed to reduce any negative interference with mobile phone signals.
• Potential economic benefits to UK businesses overall cannot be underestimated. Fast train links bring suppliers, consumers, and business partners closer together. Knock on effects to the UK’s economy can be huge. The manufacturing site at Newton Aycliffe is a good example of positive economic impacts, with over 700 people employed.
The July 2012 announcement by the British Government signalled intent to place a £4.5 billion (total over the 27 year term of the contract), 110 train, and 596 carriage order for the trains to be built. But the news caused uproar in some circles once it became clear that they would be built mainly by Hitachi in Japan, although overall the project will be run by a consortium known as Agility Trains – a combination of Hitachi and John Laing. Go here for a government view of the IEP Project.
In fact it ended up initially with Hitachi building some of the shells at a factory near to Hiroshima because of the complex technology needed. They were then shipped them to the UK for final fitting. That final UK build was intended to take place in a newly built complex at Newton Aycliffe, near Darlington in the North East of England. Construction of the facility was completed in September 2015, ready for production of the trains to start. New maintenance depots for the bullet trains can also be found at Swansea, Bristol, and Doncaster.
The fleet was originally intended to be composed of 122 electric (class 800), bi-mode (class 801), and solely diesel powered (Class 802) trains, which could be configured to run with anywhere from 5 up to 10 carriages. The total number of a carriages works out at 369 for the Western line, and 497 for the East Coast.
Due to issues with full electrification of tracks though, there have been some changes to orders, most notably in GWR’s allocation of vehicles.
The program has ended up being comprised of three variants;
Electric and diesel-electric hybrid for GWR to run on electrified sections of tracks between London and Bristol, with diesel power taking over for journeys into Wales.
Virgin Rail’s all electric EMU variant covering routes on the East Coast Main Line.
An adapted version of the 800 to operate on GWR routes into the West Country. Running on electric power on electrified sections between London and Bristol and switching to diesel power when moving into the counties of Devon and Cornwall.
The 802 will also see passenger services with Trans Pennine Express and Hull Trains.
There are a number of new maintenance depots planned to be built and ready in time for 2017.
For the Great Western Line these depots will be located at:
Filton Triangle – which is actually based in the Stoke Gifford region
Maliphant Sidings – a depot in Swansea, South Wales
The former depot owned by Eurostar called North Pole – which is actually in West London.
For the East Coast Main Line, depots are at Clayhills/Aberdeen, Bounds Green/London, and Doncaster. The contract for maintenance lies with Hitachi Rail Europe for the next 27 years.
Some minor changes need to be completed at other existing depots, including Bounds Green and Ferme Park in London and the Edinburgh facility at Craigentinny.
From a reliability perspective, Hitachi Rail are anticipating strong performance, citing failure times on their website of ”60,000 miles per casualty for electric trains and for all the other trains 45,000 miles between casualties”.
Problems & Drawbacks
While the IEP’s look destined to create a great experience for passengers, there are some murky aspects hiding in the background. Not least the expense of the project as a whole.
Costs of nearly £62 million and £31 million were originally being offered as the cost of upgrading the East Coast and Great Western lines respectively to be able to handle the trains, with changes having to be made to platforms, signalling, tracks, tunnels, and other rail infrastructure.
Significant platform changes – mainly involving increases in length – have been necessary at a number of stations. Curvature and length were both issues at Bristol Temple Meads for example
Increased Boarding Time?
With an increased number of passengers all getting on to a train, there may be increased waiting times at some stops as passengers all try to board – and if the baggage holding facilities end up with any reduction to those currently available, here will be extra time as everyone tries to stow their stuff securely.
Destinations Can’t Be Served?
It’s well known that the Great Western trains will only be able to run on electric power as far as Bristol, then requiring a change to diesel for onward West Country journeys into Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall. This was going to be a problem with the IEP being unable to handle the gradients in the area with pure electric power alone, though this has been negated by GWR changing part of their order into the Class 802 which offers Bi-Mode power.
This was always likely to be a problem, and some areas of track which were proposed for electrification now won’t see the change. Cardiff and Swansea are good examples.
There are still some risks that certain areas of track won’t be electrified early enough to deliver the necessary capability for the trains to run under electric power. look to be in the firing line of any delays.
The big cost problem here is that the Department For Transport’s deal with Hitachi means they’ll have to pay for the electric trains whether the tracks are ready or not – a figure which equates to a reported £400,000 a day. They have until May 2018 to solve this problem, or incur the extra costs.
More UK High Speed Trains
Greater Anglia Stadler Flirt
Greater Anglia Rail announced in mid 2017 that their 30 year old train fleet used on journeys from East Anglia into London would be replaced by 2020. Their investment of around £1.4bn will be going on 1,043 new carriages to be known as the Flirt Train.
Stadler of Switzerland is the manufacturer, and the Stadler Flirt will bring an increased number of seats, high quality air-conditioning, and on board WiFi….all on top of a new, twice a day, faster run of 90 minutes for Norwich to London journeys and 60 minutes from Ipswich to the capital. Air passengers flying from Stansted will also be able to use the trains to get to the airport from Norwich.
Class 387 Electrostars
Built by Bombardier in Derby, the electrostar can run at speeds of up to 110mph. The’re already in use by Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern, Essex Thameside and South Eastern – with GWR due to take 116 from Thameslink plus another 32 new.
The GWR Electrostars will be used to provide middle distance commuter services between Paddington and Thames Valley stations such as Oxford.
Class 802 AT-300
Supplied by Hitachi, the AT-300 order for GWR is for 22 five car and 7 nine-car sets due to start running from 2018. GWR will use the trains on services from London to West Country locations including Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall. Towns served include Plymouth and Penzance.
The AT300 fleet will run as electric trains that can be switched to diesel power on non-electrified tracks, in a similar way to the Class 800 IEPs.
Pendolino Class 390
This is an all electric train first seen at London Euston in 2002. With a of a top speed of 140mph (225km/h), it does fall into the high speed category. Though of course track conditions in the UK limit the speed it can run at to 125mph (201km/h). It’s a ’tilting’ train – designed to cope with the type of curved tracks found on West Country tracks.
Due to operate on various routes into and out of Scotland taking in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Newcastle, and Liverpool, the Civity is a Spanish built Intercity electric train which will be operated by UK operator TransPennine Express (TPE). Running at up to 125mph, the TransPennine fleet will comprise of 25 five-carriage trains.
Services are expected to be running by 2019, with excellent in train features such as onboard media servers and WiFi heading up a list of passenger features that also include advanced on-board customer information, modern interiors with spacious seating, air conditioning, and power sockets.
The arrival of the IEP train has been a long time coming. The very first decision to replace the ailing Intercity 125 fleet was made as far back as 2005, when a plan was put in place to award the contract, procure the trains and have them in full service by the early part of 2015 on both the Great Western Main Line and the East Coast Main Line.
With delays of three years on the programme, it’s now going to be the 4th quarter of 2017 before we see the IEP in passenger service, and 2018 before all intended routes are covered.
But all the indications are that the wait will have been worth it. Passengers can expect faster trains, improved comfort and reliability, and most definitely increased capacity.
With a lot of money at stake – the deal with Agility Trains is worth £5.7 billion over the course of the contract – it’s imperative that the IEP Intercity Express project does actually end up with the promised passenger benefits.
GWR with their version known as the Intercity Express running on the GWML, and Virgin Trains with their Azuma on the ECML, are both heavily invested and look sure to be putting every effort into a successful service introduction.