by Phil Marsh

The future of rail transport in the southeast unveiled with 100mph driverless train

Published: 31st January 2014

The future of rail transport in the southeast unveiled with 100mph driverless train

A full size mock-up of the new Thameslink train has been unveiled with Stephen Hammond, the Railways’ Minister in attendance. The train is to be made by German company Siemens and will be tested in England in two years time. The train, designated a Class 700, contains a variety of step changing features, marks the next stage in inter-urban train travel. A full size mock-up of the new Thameslink train has been unveiled with Stephen Hammond, the Railways’ Minister in attendance. The train is to be made by German company Siemens and will be tested in England in two years time. The train, designated a Class 700, contains a variety of step changing features, marks the next stage in inter-urban train travel.

Relieving London

The Class 700 train forms a key component of the £6.5 billion Network Rail and Department for Transport (DfT) Thameslink project which will revolutionise north-south transport through London. When complete, millions of commuters will benefit daily travelling in an area bounded by Kings Lynn, Peterborough and Bedford to a range of destinations along the south coast via central London without changing trains. This will also relieve buses and the tube as cross-London passengers will have direct train services.

But there is still a lot of work to be carried out before Kings Lynn and Peterborough join the new Thameslink network from 2018 coinciding with the completion of the redevelopment of London Bridge and other infrastructure upgrades in that area.

Airport links

When these are complete, the new trains comprising of 1,140 carriages will be operating up to 100mph providing an easy link for commuters and leisure passengers to Gatwick and Luton airports. With this in mind, provision of luggage space, something not considered properly on Virgin’s trains for example, has been considered.

Seating is ‘two by two’ across the carriage with roomy areas by the doors with tip-up seats rather than the cramped three by two as on many trains that run on the existing Thameslink network. This also allows more standing room cynics will say, but the designers say that this arrangement allows passenger quicker access and egress from the train.

Air conditioning will respond to how many passengers are on the train by measuring levels of CO2 – a first in the UK. Real time on-board travel information will be another improvement for passengers.

Train timetable

The new trains will start operations in early 2016 and run on the current Bedford to Brighton and Wimbledon loop services. From 2017 their route availability will increase as more of the infrastructure upgrade is completed with the full service commencing from 2018. They will connect at Farringdon with Crossrail services bringing more major changes to commuters.

The new fleet will be serviced at Hornsey and Three Bridges at new depots currently under construction and these will have to make sure reliability matches other Siemens trains which are generally four times as reliable as the current Thameslink trains.

The main risk will be in the acceptance programme (as with any new train) but Siemens has a testing facility at Wildenrath in Germany which replicates UK rail conditions as far as possible. This has given them a lead in train testing and reliability and they provide and operate the most reliable fleets in the UK. Their trains are used by Southwest Trains, Scotrail, Transpennine Express, Abellio (Anglia) and London Midland operating across England and Scotland.

Train operators

The trains will be used in the new Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise which will be gradually introduced starting in September 2014 and will take over Southern services from July 2015. This will be what the Industry is calling a ‘super-franchise’ and whoever runs it will have to deal with major upgrade works at London Bridge and Bermondsey which will bring serious disruption for some.

The end result – driverless trains!

The Thameslink project will significantly boost capacity and reliability across London and morning peak services will see double the number of carriages used today giving 80 per cent more peak seats between Blackfriars and St Pancras on an intensive service of up to 24 trains an hour on this section.

Special Automatic Train Operation (ATO) will be introduced on this section which means the train will drive itself with the driver concentrating on door and passenger duties. Special signalling will be provided with monitoring equipment linking with track balises instructing the train how fast it should travel and where to stop.

The Class 700 fleet will comprise of 55 X 12-carriage trains (1754 passenger capacity) and 60 with eight carriages (1146 capacity) with the first train due to enter service in 2016.

They will feature wide interconnecting gangways allowing passengers to move easily throughout the train and existing franchise operators First Capital Connect (FCC) is advising on the design and delivery of the new trains working closely with Siemens so that commuters and long-distance passengers’ aspirations are met and delivering the specification required by the DfT.

They said:

Rail Minister Stephen Hammond, said:

“We are transforming our railways through the biggest programme of rail investment ever. “These exciting new trains, combined with the wider Thameslink Programme are a real boost to UK Plc, creating thousands of jobs in construction and across the supply chain, which is driving forward our economy.

The trains have been designed specifically to meet the demands of the ambitious Thameslink infrastructure programme delivering high frequency, high capacity services. They will be more reliable and more energy efficient than existing rolling stock and their lightweight design will mean less wear and tear on the tracks, saving money in maintaining the network over the long term.”

Steve Scrimshaw, Managing Director, Siemens Rail Systems UK, commented: “Over £80 million pounds has been invested by Siemens in the design and development of the Class 700. The innovative design incorporates the feedback of UK train operators, train crew, cleaners and maintainers, as well as dedicated passenger research, helping us turn proven technology and expertise into a state-of-the-art train of the future.”

FCC MD David Statham said: “This new fleet will give passengers more trains, more carriages and more capacity which our passengers desperately need.”

Who pays?

The DfT has delayed the trains by a year or so while finance was being arranged as they did not appear to want a Rolling Stock Lease Company involved so Cross London Trains was formed. This is a consortium comprising of Siemens Project Ventures GMbH, Innisfree Limited and 3i infrastructure plc, is financing the new trains and will lease them to the operator of the Thameslink franchise.

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