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 ten carriage 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 – reaching as far as Penzance and inluding various important towns and cities 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 at 652 seats per journey in and out of London than there were in 2016. An incrrease in capacity of around 24%.
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.
IET Intercity Express – Press Announcements
Following the first scheduled journey on Oct 16th 2017 there was naturally huge press and passenger interest. Here’s a selection of views and official press announcements:
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.
These busy Western routes stretch outwards from London across the Thames Valley to Oxford, Worcestershire, the Cotswolds, South Wales, the West and South West.
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 IET 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 & Introductions
Now the first trains are operating normally on London Paddington to Bristol and Wales routes, your first port of call for current train times should be the current GWR timetables.
When all services are running on newly introduced IEPs in late 2018/early 2019 the timetables are likely to look significantly different than they are now, with the full benefits realised.
December 2017 is planned for introduction of Taunton and Hereford services via Oxford
June 2018 will see Cheltenham Spa added to IEP routes
December 2018 should see all GWR trains in service with a Monday-Friday hourly service from London running non-stop between Reading and Taunton
For Wales, from December 2018 the standard off-peak pattern to and from South Wales will be 2 trains per hour to South Wales via Bristol Parkway, with onward extensions to and from Carmarthen in certain hours. For peak times these services increase to three.
In the Thames Valley, the new trains will allow for more frequent, faster journeys, including peak trains from Oxford and Newbury, and additional services from Swindon to and from Didcot. Travellers in Bristol will find an increased capacity and more frequent trains on peak-time services, as will those travelling between Swindon and Gloucester.”
Latest IET Timetable Announcements
Monday to Friday from 13th November
0633 Bristol to Paddington
0645 Paddington to Swansea 0845 Paddington to Swansea 1415 Paddington to Swansea
1029 Swansea to Paddington 1229 Swansea to Paddington
1730 Paddington to Bristol 1930 Paddington to Bristol.
2234 Bristol to Paddington
1656 Cardiff to Paddington
SATURDAYS from 18th November, 2017
0645 Bristol to Swansea, 0929 Swansea to Paddington, 1330 Paddington to Bristol, 1600 Bristol to Paddington, 2000 Paddington to Bristol, 0800 Paddington to Bristol, 1000 Bristol to Paddington, 1230 Paddington to Bristol, 1500 Bristol to Paddington, 1730 Paddington to Weston-super-Mare, 2010 Weston-super-Mare to Paddington
SUNDAYS from 19th November, 2017
0948 Bristol to Paddington, 1237 Paddington to Swansea, 1651 Swansea to Paddington.
2003 Paddington to Weston- super-Mare
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 & Ride Quality
Early reports from travellers riding some of initial scheduled journeys suggest the GWR IEP’s have started life with fairly basic interiors.
They’re spotlessly clean of course, and have a modern feel with indirect white lighting positioned along the length of the ceiling. Information displays are easy to read with large, clear letters.
Seating is 2+1 in first class (6-8) and 2+2 in standard class (5,9), with a mix of tables and front-to-back seats. Windows have pull-down blinds. Power sockets can be found between the seats with free Wi-Fi available, and seats have arm rests although they’re on the narrow side at 33mm.
There’s no lack of space overall although some may be finding the seats a little firm. The luggage rack situated above the seats is sufficiently deep to handle smaller sized suitcases. Toilets have large, clearly-marked locking handles, positioned right next to the close button.
Aside from this there’s been very little focus on what the interiors look like, with attention more centred on ride quality. An important factor of this will be focussed on changeover from electric to diesel power, with early reports suggesting this is almost imperceptible other than noticing a drop in speed. It’s definitely more noisy at slow speeds and approaching stops under diesel power though, and this will be noticeable to passengers who used the older 125’s regularly..
Acceleration is smooth and powerful under diesel power, although the top speed in this mode is around 115 mph. That’s short of the 125mph under electric power.
As the trains start more regular 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 14 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.
Ultimately this should lead to expected time savings over the older trains of:
London Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads – up to 17 minutes
London Paddington to Swansea – up to 14 minutes
London Paddington to Cheltenham Spa – up to 12 minutes
London Paddington to Hereford via Oxford – up to 10 minutes
London to Penzance – up to 14 minutes
Faster services will of course be well-received, although 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.
Using pre-manufactured shells built by Hitachi at their main Japanese manufacturing facility, they are then completing the builds of the 802 models at their plant in Pistoia, Italy.
The Class 802 has also been ordered by First Hull Trains and First Transpennine Express.
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, generally more space, better and more reliable air in all areas, window blinds throughout, and first class has tables at all seats.
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.
Electric trains make less noise, resulting in less noise during journeys for passengers and less noise disturbance for those outside the trains.
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 now the first IEPs are running and as services are increased 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.
One of the big deals about the GWR IET’s is around their ability to run under electric power.
But of course that’s only good for those sections of track that have undergone electrification, and as of late 2017 the full intended work on electrification hasn’t yet been completed.
On some tracks it’s not intended to be, and possiby never will. Hence one of the main reasons why bi-mode powered trains are needed.
As of October 2017 the GWR Intercity Express trains are only able to run under electric power between London Paddington and Maidenhead. That’s around 39km.
Network Rail state that the next section between Maidenhead, Reading and Didcot (totalling arond 47km) should be completed by January 2018, and the onward sections to Bristol Parkway and Cardif in late 2018. Reading to Newbury is also planned for December 2018. Network Rail have a whole section on their website dedicated to explaining the GWML electrification programme.
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.