Great Western Intercity Express IEP – West Coast Main Line High Speed Services
New high speed Intercity trains delivering fast, comfortable, and efficient services on Western UK & West Coast rail routes.
GWR’s name for their fleet of Hitachi Super Express trains is a straightforward one – the trains are simply known as the GWR Intercity Express.
The name is of course slightly less original than Virgin’s East Coast fleet – known as the Azuma – but is of course straight and to the point!
Promising fast and efficient Intercity Express services on some GWR routes from October 2017 with a number of others to follow – and with plenty of comfort for travel weary commuters – the 93 trains will run out of the London superhub station at Paddington to the West Country and through towns and cities such as Bristol, Reading, Oxford, Newbury, and the major welsh destinations of Cardif and Swansea.
From Summer 2018 services will increase to handle the West Country routes – inluding those along the coast into Devon and Cornwall.
The trains – named after famous West Country historical figures – are expected to bring about a number of improvements in journey times and available capacity.
When they are all in service – and electrification of the parts of tracks which are due to be electrified is complete – the Great Western fleet will deliver three million extra seats a year on its trains.
That equates to an additional 7,900 more at peak times in and out of London than there were in 2016.
The full fleet will eventually number some 93 trains, consisting of 58 five-car and 35 nine-car and with 36 of those specially built to run efficiently on West Country tracks. All should be in service by the end of 2019.
Replacing The Inter-City 125
The new Express trains are designed to take over from the ageing Inter-City 125 fleet – one which has served travellers well for over 40 years since its launch on October 4th 1976 .
For rail tevellers at that time, the diesel powered HST was a revelation and contributed to hugely reduced journey times between London and major Western region locations, plus set new standards of comfort in rail travel.
The IEP offers a direct replacement. It has a tough act to follow, but all indications are that the new Hitachi-built express trains will deliver equally excellent services.
October 16th 2017 – First Scheduled GWR IEP Enters Stage With A Less Than Perfect Start
With a start that probably won’t have overly pleased GWR, Tues Oct 16th saw a run from Bristol to London of the first fare paying passenger service using a Class 800.
With reports of some overcrowding and an unlucky incident with a busted/leaking AC unit that caused some seats to be roped off, plus a delayed departure and arrival in London, you could say that the new Intercity Express made an entrance that draws parallels with a certain political party conference.
The good news? It’s very early days and clearly it would be daft to get too worked up about one less than ideal run – there’s plenty of time – and lots of future journeys – for the GWR IEP to prove itself.
In fact, within a few days the technical problems encountered were resolved and by Friday 20th October services were running with the 6am departure from Bristol to Paddington and the 7am from Paddington to south Wales.
Tickets For GWR Intercity Express Services
Now the new GWR scheduled Intercity services are running you’ll have a the same choice of where to buy tickets as you do now on any high speed routes. Clearly you won’t be able to buy tickets to ride the IEP Intercity Express to West Country destinations until the first of the new trains are running in 2018, but for journeys between London and Bristol and onwards to Wales at least you’ll get an early chance to find out what all the noise is about.
When the full compliment of stations and stops are covered, you’ll be able to get any info on tickets and fares right here.
Intercity Express Western UK Routes
The highly popular train routes radiating out from London to the western regions of the UK attract high volumes of passengers, with the introduction of the GWR Intercity Express IEP services being eagerly awaited by rail travellers.
From its starting point at Paddington, the GWR trains run to towns and cities like Reading, Oxford, Swindon, and Bristol and onwards to either Wales destinations like Cardiff and Swansea or towards West Country locations in Devon and Cornwall.
Towns like Cheltenham, Swindon, and Bath are also on the IEP routes to the West, while Exteter, Plymouth, and Penzance are covered in the South Western UK.
The new IEP Hitachi-made Intercity Express trains are due to be introduced on Great Western routes between Paddington and Bristol in 2017, a year before the Virgin Azuma Intercity Express sees its first scheduled runs up and down the East Coast Main Line.
It won’t be until 2018 before the trains are seen on scheduled services at Welsh stations and those in the West Country, and there are expected to be significant enhancements to the volume of trains running on some routes by the time that all the new trains are running in the latter part of the year.
Intercity Express Timetables
There’s not much point in looking for timetables yet, given the first trains won’t be operating until the autumn of 2017.
You can get some idea of the likely train timings by looking at current GWR timetables, though you’d have to suspect there will be some major changes that result from the improved Intercity performance overall.
When details of any new train timings are released they’ll be reported here, broken down into peak time and off peak. We’ll aim to build a comprehensive picture of services through all the stations out from London and out towards Western and South Western regions of the UK.
Inside The Intercity Express
Early reports from travellers riding some of the test journeys suggest the GWR IEP’s will start life with fairly basic interiors. There’ll likely be no lack of space although some may be finding the seats a little firm.
Aside from this there’s been very little focus on what the interiors look like, with attention more focussed on ride quality.
As the trains start scheduled services we’ll be able to report more conclusively on interior specifications, though clearly the original interior specifications give a good idea on what you’re likely to see.
Catering facilities will be confirmed as soon as scheduled services are introduced, but early indications are that there will be no buffet cars and a trolley service will be offered.
The new Intercity Express is classified as an HST/High Speed Train, but so were its predecessors and there are track limitations to how fast a train can run. All of which means you’ll not be seeing wildly different journey times than before.
Clearly there will definitely be reductions in trip times on some routes overall though, with a good example being the 15 minutes faster journey between London and South Wales. The new peak time services between these destinations due to start in 2019 – which bypass some current stops and may see stops at just a few stations like Cardiff, Newport, and Bristol Parkway before arriving at Paddington – will obviously be faster.
Increased reliability, comfort, and more capacity are all likely to have more of an impact on commuter satisfaction.
When fully in service, GWR’s Intercity Express fleet will ultimately be made up of two differently powered trains:
GWR has 36 five-car Class 800/0s, 21 nine-car Class 800/3s, on order, with the ‘800/0s’ the first to enter traffic. Driver training has been carried out, with the first GWR drivers now passed to operate the trains.
The Class 800 is a diesel-electric hybrid. This means it can run on either type of power – giving capability to run under electric power on the sections of track between London and Bristol, and changing to diesel power for onward journeys into South Wales.
GWR will run 36 five car Class 800/0s and 21 nine car Class 800/3s.
- Class 802 (also known as AT300)
The Class 802 fleet is made up of 22 five-car Class 802/0s and 14 nine-car Class 802/1s.
The Class 802 is also a dual-powered version which has a lot of similarity with the 800 but with on or two added extras :
1. Higher engine operating power of 700 kW (940 hp) per engine as opposed to 560 kW (750 hp)
2. Bigger fuel tanks
3. Design that prevents salt water damage by placing brake resistors on raised platforms on the roof
These enhancements are designed to help the trains handle the difficult streches of track in Devon and Cornwall – specifically to overcome gradients, enable the trains to complete their journeys on long sections of unelectrified track, and prevent salt water damage where trains have previously seen damage from sea spray.
Benefits & Improvements
The new trains are replacing older high speed fleets, and in addition to offering more seating capacity also bring a number of other improvements to the passenger experience:
Faster Journey Times
With faster acceleration capability, Hitachi’s new trains are able to pick up speed faster and hence reduce journey times. They’re able to reach the maximum 125mph in around 4 minutes and 30 seconds, shaving about 40 seconds off the current acceleration capability. It’s anticipated that the new trains should save passengers around six minutes on Paddington to Exeter and Plymouth runs, with journeys to Penzance seeing around a 14 minute drop.
We’ve seen the improvements made in leg room in aircraft over recent years, and the IEP has been designed with similar principles in mind. The specifications of carriages include specially designed seating along with better leg room intended to improve the level of comfort for passengers.
Facilities & Travel Features
Luggage handling capability is well covered with plenty of room available, adequate space for bikes, and glass bottomed luggage racks that make it easier to spot your own stuff. Broadband coverage for Wifi access is expected to be of high quality. There’s also the prospect of a new traffic-light reservation system designed to make bookings easier.
Lower fuel emissions will ensure there’s significantly less negative environmental impact.
Increased reliability overall will lead to a reduction in delays. This may be particularly noticeable for those Devon and Cornwall passengers who will have seen issues in the past caused by salt water damage to train braking systems.
The new GWR Intercity Express trains are faster, more comfortable, and there’s much more chance of getting a seat.
So what can go wrong?
Nothing’s ever completely perfect is it!
Will the trolley food service be good enough on long journeys?
Have all the platform lengthening requirements been fully identified and completed?
Will the new services attract even more travellers, eventually exceeding the space available?
Will it all have been worth the cost?
We should be able to get the answers to these questions as the IEPs start running throughout late 2017 and 2018. Those answers should give a good pointer to any likely problems that Virgin will face on the East Coast Main Line as their Azuma IEPs are introduced in 2018.
To illustrate the benefits that GWR and Hitachi see as deliverables of the new Super Express trains, here are a few quotes made in the lead up to their introduction on GWR intercity routes…..
Mark Hopwood, Managing Director of GWR….
‘marks another significant step towards delivering new trains, more seats, more frequent services and quicker journeys; and a step change in passenger experience on the Great Western. It is great to see work on the fleet for Devon and Cornwall progress.’
‘our new trains are going to deliver reliability that is at least three or four times that of the current stock’
Karen Boswell, Managing Director of Hitachi Rail Europe….
‘Introducing a new bullet train inspired fleet to run along iconic stretches of British railway will be a truly historic moment.
‘These new trains will transform passenger experiences, offering a truly 21st century experience with more seats and on-board technology. Additional luggage space and a smoother ride will increase comfort for longer journeys connecting distant parts of the country.’
GWR provide services to rail travellers on some of the most travelled routes in the UK. They’re under pressure to deliver to those travellers a strong, efficient, comfortable, value for money service.
They already have a good reputation, and one which the new GWR Intercity Express is expected to enhance.
If the new train is the hits the heights of success anticipated, GWR look set for a long a fruitful period of stable high speed train services for commuters between London, Wales, and the West Country.