Introduction of new trains to East Anglia will be like moving ‘from mid-table to Champions League’ says Greater Anglia boss
PUBLISHED: 11:55 31 December 2018 | UPDATED: 12:02 31 December 2018
Archant Norfolk 2015
First new trains on Greater Anglia network due to arrive in summer 2019
From the summer of next year Greater Anglia will start phasing in the first of its new trains that will eventually replace all the current trains on its network, which covers the entire East Anglia region.
In total, 1043 new carriages - 378 from Swiss manufacturer Stadler and 665 from Bombardier, based in Derby, UK - have been ordered. This equates to 169 trains: the Intercity trains, Stansted Express trains and regional trains - amounting to 58 trains - are being built by Stadler, while Bombardier’s consignment will make up 111 trains for the core commuting services into London.
And accoprding to Greater Anglia managing director Jamie Burles, preparations for the this huge task are starting to ramp up.
Most modern train fleet in the country
“If we get it right, the full positive impact of the fleet introduction can come to fruition,” said Mr Burles.
“On some lines there will be a huge quality uplift - going from a 40-year old single carriage diesel train to a minimum three-carriage state-of-the-art bi-mode train with air conditioning, plug sockets and broadband wi-fi.
“We see it as potentially providing a huge shot in the arm for the region’s economy. We’ll go from the region that used to get second hand trains from elsewhere in the country to having the most modern train fleet in the country.
“We’ll be going from mid-table to Champions League in an incredibly short time as we are looking at rolling it out in 18 months.”
Heightened state of readiness
Greater Anglia’s speediest deployment so far was when its 30 new Stansted Express trains were introduced over a 12 month-period six years ago. This latest roll-out will see the company deploying 169 trains in 18 months. The extent and pace of the roll-out to come - deploying trains at what will be effectively six times the pace of its previous record best - is hugely challenging, requiring, Burles says “intense management and oversight” and requiring “a lot more people and much better processes”.
“We need to be in a heightened state of readiness to launch so many trains on what is already a very busy network,” he continued.
“That’s causing lots of headaches that we are having to knock down one by one. One of the biggest is how you manage your old train fleet but bring in a new one at the same time.”
Even on the most basic level Greater Anglia will have to store a far bigger train fleet on the network whilst it transitions from the old to the new.
Mr Burles said: “We are moving to a point where we will be running only two train fleets – Bombardier and Stadler – but at the moment we have 13 train fleets. That’s a hugely complex jigsaw puzzle – and also we need to be running 1,300 trains each day during all of that with a quite rightly demanding commuter base who need us to spirit them to work in the morning and back home again in the evening. That’s not to mention the occasional customers, leisure and airport passengers and everyone in between.”
It’s only really when you get into the detail of it that you realise the magnitude of the task facing Greater Anglia.
The operator is currently having to revamp all its maintenance depots to accommodate the new trains while the entire engineering workforce is having to be retrained on the far higher technical requirements of the new trains.
The principal depots at Ilford and Norwich are being expanded and new ‘stabling’ is being introduced to store old trains.
Platforms at some stations are being extended because Greater Anglia is bringing in longer trains with more carriages and more seats. New technology is also being introduced at stations so they can receive the new trains.
Bearing this intimidating checklist in mind, Greater Anglia has formed a “project management organisation” to oversee this massive job.
“We’ve resourced up and now have a team of people who are experts in bringing in new trains,” added Burles.
“Whether that’s overseeing the manufacture of the new trains; the testing of the new trains; the commissioning of the new trains. We have people who are experts in the strategy for storing old trains and the changes that will have to be made to stations. We also have experts in running multi-million pound simulators to train all the drivers.
“The new trains impact everything that everybody does in our organisation – including our 900 drivers, the 250 conductors, the cleaners, as well as station staff on how they dispatch trains and understand how they work.
The company also intends to introduce a new uniform for staff to reinforce the revitalised image of Greater Anglia as the new trains appear.
“We would like to the see standards upgraded across the board. In order to facilitate this we’ve taken our one of our established directors – Andrew Goodrum who was in a customer service role – and he is now business readiness director.
“He has assembled a team to take the business through every single touch point with the new trains and consider every single role and how it will be impacted by the new trains.”
The first Stadler trains from Switzerland have already arrived in the UK and are undergoing some initial static tests. Over the coming months people will start to see these trains being run in on the region’s tracks to ensure all their systems work smoothly and are in co-ordination with British systems.
A key element of the preparation is training the company’s 900 train drivers, who will be going into what is in effect a completely new work place.
Mr Burles continued: “With the 40-year old, one carriage diesel trains that we still use, the driver sits in a cubby hole at the front of the train and uses older technology.
“The driver representatives who have experienced the new trains have likened them to the Starship Enterprise. Instead of sitting to the side, the driver will now be on a large, adjustable seat in the centre, looking through a massive windscreen that enables them to see everything.”
Burles says the transition is like going from “a Morris Minor to Series 3 BMW”.
Mr Burles said that preparing people well, “giving them the right tools to do the job” and creating an enthusiasm for the new trains to come is key to the introduction.
“A successful introduction will be the trains coming in broadly on time; the customer enjoying the new environment they are travelling in and the extra capacity in terms of extra seats; plus the news trains being mechanically reliable and working well.
“If all of that comes together, the customer becomes happier because they see that their fares – that are not cheap – have been reinvested in a brand new travelling environment for them. A happier customer means happier staff because the staff are getting improved feedback – it’s a virtuous circle.
“The railways in this region have wanted new stock for decades and now that it is imminent, we have to make a big success of it -it is absolutely about driving that virtuous circle.
“We have a lot of pride in the organisation already and it’s about matching that pride with the biggest investment the railways in East Anglia have ever seen.
He continued: “We’ve always classed ourselves as trying our best with the tools at our disposal because when you are a franchisee you inherit the train set from your predecessor and a series of short-term franchises only ever means low investment from government because there isn’t time to implement the big change.
“So, now we have a long franchise of nine years and that is why it has been matched with a gargantuan sum circa £2bn. It’s absolutely our chance to move from a company that says we have tried our best with the resources at our disposal to now ‘this is what we can do’ with the required investment.”