Virgin Train’s Azuma IEP – East Coast Main Line New Intercity Express
New high speed trains bringing fast and efficient services on ECML routes from London to Northern UK cities.
Virgin have named their fleet of mixed Electric and Bi-Mode diesel IEP trains – destined to serve on East Coast routes – as the Azuma fleet. Named after the Japanese for ‘East’.
March 18th 2016 saw the first liveried train roll into London’s Kings Cross station, to be greeted in person by Richard Branson.
The train is the first of a 65 strong IEP Class 800 or Class 801 fleet, with the full compliment of Azumas expected to be running on East Coast routes by 2020. It will be comprised of 13 nine-car bi-mode trains, ten five-car bi-mode trains, 12 five-car electric multiple units (EMPU’s) and 30 nine-car pure electric trains.
With the first train entering service in 2018, travellers on the Virgin East service will enjoy speeds of 125mph, with the potential for the trains to run at 140mph. There are reportedly working groups from both Hitachi, Virgin, and Network Rail looking at how to achieve the highest speeds possible.
Rail-net.co.uk carries a full page of great images of the first Virgin Azuma taken while on its inaugural trip through Middlesex and West London into Kings Cross.
October 10th 2017 – In readiness for Virgin’s new IEP’s, today saw the announcement of new early morning Saturday services designed to ferry early morning passengers from York and other Northern cities such as Leeds and Newark to London before 7am.
The 24 new timetabled train services will start in December, delivering thousands of additional cheaper advance fares with over 12000 more seats up for grabs.
Sept 8th 2017 – First IEP test run into Edinburgh.
August 16th 2017 – Scotland welcomed its first IEP train with a Virgin Azuma trial run from Doncaster to Dunbar. The 9 car train – 800101 – is one of the 65 strong fleet of IEP Class 800/801s which are currently being built by Hitachi Rail Europe.
Tickets For Azuma Intercity Services
Clearly you won’t be able to buy tickets to ride the Azuma on scheduled ECML IEP routes until the first trains are running in 2018. When those initial scheduled services do kick off, you can find any the information on tickets and fares right here.
Once services do start, the ways to buy tickets are not going to be wildly different than they are now. You’ll have a choice of going straight to Virgin’s ticket page or using one of a number of ticket reseller websites like TheTrainline.
It’s worth noting that the last named of these are most likely to be useful for comparing and finding the best prices, although it’s worth trying out Virgins’s farefinder tool too.
There’s not much point in looking for Azuma timetables yet, given the first trains won’t be operating until 2018.
You can get some idea of the likely timetables by looking at current Virgin Trains East Coast services, though you’d have to suspect there will be some major changes that result from the improved Intercity performance overall.
Check back here for listings of Azuma train timetables nearer the date when first services will be introduced.
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 timetabled services through all the stations out from London and up the country towards Northern regions of the UK.
Inside The Azuma
We’ve already seen the basic layouts inside the IEP trains, but of course Virgin will be adding some touches that give the interiors that distinctive Virgin brand look and feel. This Daily Mirror news article gives you a first look inside Virgin’s Azuma.
As you can see from the images in the article, there’s plenty of smart looking red and grey colouring alongside the high quality seating and other passenger benefits we’ve already covered. If you’re already riding Virgin trains then you’ll have a good feeling for the types and quality of upholstery likely to be used.
Virgins trains will reportedly deliver two levels of catering service – full galley with a first-class at-seat service plus a standard cafe located in the middle to serve standard class passengers.
Although the Azuma falls under the classification of being a high speed train, there are of course track limits to how fast the trains can actually run plus the trains themselves can’t go a huge amount faster than the intercity express trains they’re replacing.
So we’re unlikely to be seeing huge positive differences in journey times, although there will definitely be some time savings on some routes. Due to the faster acceleration capability of the trains, travellers can expect to see a reduction of up to 22 minutes on some journeys resulting in london-Edinburgh trips of 4 hours and London-Leeds of 2 hours.
The biggest benefits are likely to be noticed in an increase in reliability, comfort, and more capacity – all of which may also have an impact of trip times.
Benefits & Improvements
The new trains are designed to replace ageing fleets that currently operate services, but replacement by new for old doesn’t tell the whole story. The IEP Azumas will deliver a number of improvements in 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 capability.
It’s anticipated that the main trips from London-Edinburgh and London-Leeds will see 4 hour and 2 hour times respectively, with London-Newcastle coming in at around two and a half hours.
Direct routes to new destinations such as Middlesbrough and Huddersfield are expected to be introduced, in combination with enhanced through services to towns like Harrogate and Lincoln.
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
Our phones, tablets, and laptops are all essential personal items, so the news of free and reliable broadband will be welcome, as is the option to use near-seat power supplies to keep them charged. Those of us with extra luggage are well catered for with plenty of storage space, and making trip reservations should be easy with the traffic-light reservation systems.
With lower fuel emissions we can expect significant improvements from an ‘impact on the environment’ perspective
With the promise of faster, more comfortable rail journeys, alongside the likelihood of increased capacity meaning you’ll always get a seat, it’s hard to spot any drawbacks. Virgin’s Azuma IEP looks set to be a big hit.
Or does it?
There are one or two problems to overcome.
First, it will be good to see the plans to get even faster speeds from the trains come to fruition – up to 140mph remember.
But it remains to be seen whether the benefits of such an introduction would outweigh the costs. Money will need to be spent on track improvements and changes, along with signalling and level crossings.
And even though there’s no denying the increased passenger capacities, it’s possible that extended length trains could mean that some station platforms need extending. That will depend on any decision to increase carriages over the current numbers of course.
We should be able to see as early as 2017 whether these are the only issues with the trains, as services are due to start with GWR IEPs running on the Great Western Main Line towards the end of that year. That’s before the Virgin Azuma is due to start operating on East Coast routes.
To illustrate what Virgin and Hitachi feel about the trains, here are a few quotes made just after the first Virgin-liveried Azuma journey…..
David Horne, Managing Director of Virgin Trains on the East Coast….
“Since Virgin Trains launched services on the East Coast in 2015 we have committed more than £40m to improving our existing fleet for passengers. As part of this we’re bringing in brand new interiors with new seats in both first and standard, new carpets and mood-lighting – a first for trains in the UK.
I’m delighted that today we have been able to showcase how that transformation will continue, with the first of our brand-new Azumas alongside one of our existing spruced-up fleet. We’ve already celebrated the return of the restored Flying Scotsman to the route and now we are able to celebrate the stars of tomorrow, count down to 2018, and usher in a new era for the East Coast.”
Karen Boswell, Managing Director of Hitachi Rail Europe….
“Hitachi has a long and proud heritage producing top quality, high-speed trains, going back to 1964 when our first ‘Bullet Train’ entered passenger service in Japan. We are, therefore, thrilled to be delivering the trains which from 2018 will transform the journey experience for tens of thousands of Virgin Trains customers travelling between London and Scotland along the East Coast.
We are doubly proud that these new trains for the East Coast are being manufactured right here in the UK, creating some 730 new long-term jobs, engineering careers and apprenticeships.”
Virgin Trains will no doubt have some intelligent minds working on delivering the best experience possible on the Azumas, but those minds can always be supplemented with others that can see a wider long term perspective.
In early 2016 they ran a competition known as Azuma4kids – intended to come up with ideas that could be used in future – which resulted in six youngsters from across the UK being selected as winners.
The winners came up with some great ideas based on entertainment, practicality, and environmental lines, any or all of which might be implemented on Azuma trains in some form, including:
• Personalised carriage pods for private or business meeting use
• Solar powered propulsion
• Private carriages for pets
• See through full height carriage sides
• Mini-golf carriages or compartments
• Double decker/Bi-floor configuration
In any major project there are some key names to be aware of. Names at Virgin East Coast heavily involved with the Azuma as of September 2016 include:
Derek Black – IEP Programme Engineering Manager at Virgin Trains East Coast
Andrew Marden – Fleet Control Manager
Alison Watson – Director of Customer Experience
Virgin have a strong grip on the franchise to supply ECML travellers with efficient rail services, and there is every indication that the Azuma IEP will further enhance their reputation.
It’s possible if the Glasgow-London journey time does reduce as promised, then some commuters who may have used air will make the switch. Likewise with Edinburgh to London. Plus of course it’s not just journey times, the increased number of trains running will also have a positive impact.
The more the ECML service is used, the more Virgin will have available to plough back in, all ensuring the stability and growth of the services over the next 30 or so years.