Published: 23 December 2015
When the Hitachi train factory near Shildon was opened on September 3rd, the event was to a large extent, hi-jacked by senior politicians. Their presence made any close examination of the Intercity Express train (IEP) difficult but Hitachi made their bi-mode train No. 800002 available for inspection by railway journalists in December.
The day allowed a close inspection of the train which will be trial running in 2016 when sufficient overhead wires allow its operation. But even if the lack of wires continues, the train inspected is also fitted with a diesel engine which ensures the train can be used in diesel or electric mode.
The train was ordered to a specification drawn up by the Department for Transport (DfT) in 2005, 10 years ago. The DfT became involved because they considered that the new train market was subject to a monopoly type cartel by three Rolling Stock Lease companies. Several investigations were carried out and no ‘arrangement’ was ever found.
The main depot for the Great Western fleet of IEPs is located at North Pole depot, a couple of miles west of Paddington station and was built 25 years ago to house the Eurostar fleet. Eurostar vacated the depot in 2007 and ever since, it has been empty but has now been refurbished for use by Hitachi for the next 27years.
This train will be used to make sure North Pole has been re-activated correctly to enable these trains to be maintained there.
The driving cab is a busy area demonstrating that a train driver is a highly skilled and intensive job. There are many duties to be carried out and they all have to be carried out safely so the cab design is a careful development to ensure all controls are to hand. There are several screens so the driver can monitor the train and especially using the 10 cameras monitoring the external doors.
To increase the number of seats available, the IEP carriages are three metres longer than the carriages they are replacing. This will allow an extra 20% of seats to be provided to help satisfy growing demand. The downside of this is that there are 90 standard class seats in each carriage, as specified by the DfT, are fairly cramped and have a grab-handle on each aisle side. The seats are best described as ‘firm’ but this is due to stringent fire retardant safety regulations are concerned. Not all seats have a window to look out of
The usual location for these is on top of the seats so how useful they will be when carrying refreshments or luggage remains to be seen. Hitachi are thought to be looking at redesigning these. There is no buffet car which will reduce passing passengers though. All the seats seemed comfortable when tested but travelling for a few hours will be the real test!
The accessible toilet is roomy and looks good and hopefully will not replicate the smell that emanates from the Virgin West Coast fleet! The overall interior ambience felt good and presumably will be at the train operator’s discretion to change this into branded livery.
The diesel engine can generate 700kW of power when away from overhead wires and can be boosted to 1000kW if needed giving a reserve if needed and also enough power to climb the Devon and Cornwall banks on long distance trains. Great Western Railway (formerly known as First Great Western) will start using these trains in 2017 but acceptance testing and driver training will be starting in 2016.
The internal connecting doors at the end of each carriage slide gently together unlike other trains that tend to trap you! But beware of a different floor level between two of the carriages – these are indicated by prominent yellow warning notices on the doors.
The GWR and Hitachi have just announced that their own IEP-ordered trains will be built in Italy. Passengers will probably initially welcome these trains but once the 40 year old Intercity 125 High Speed Trains have been replaced by the Hitachi trains, just maybe they will hanker after the comfort of what is reckoned to be the UK’s best train.
The train will perform as Hitachi trains do, as designed. The rest of the deal is down to the specification made by the DfT at a cost of £30million. Virgin East Coast will also be using Hitachi trains so how each fleet will be fitted out will be interesting.