Last week I travelled on one of the new Class 800 Intercity Express Trains for the first time. These new trains will be replacing HSTs (Intercity 125) with Great Western on routes out of Paddington. The new trains are bi-mode, which means they can operate either on electric power (from 25kV AC overhead wires) or on diesel. It was always the plan that some of the new trains would be bi-mode (for example electrification of the Great Western lines was never planned to go beyond Newbury or Bristol on the routes to Taunton, Exeter and the west) but now electrification has been “de-scoped” all trains will be bi-mode. Extra diesel engines will now be fitted to the trains planned only for electric operation.
It is not a secret that electrification is delayed and massively over budget. Wires were planned to extend to Oxford and Bristol (Temple Meads) but there is still no firm schedule for this. Between Cardiff and Swansea electrification has been cancelled altogether. So at the moment the project is concentrating on wiring the route from Paddington to Cardiff (via Didcot, Swindon and Bristol Parkway) and from Reading to Newbury.
New IETs will begin to appear on trains through Oxford from January 2018. Since September the new trains are beginning to appear between Swansea, Cardiff, Bristol and London Paddington. From this week there are extra services including to Taunton and Weston-super-Mare.
From Oxford I got a local train to Didcot. My journey by IET was only from Didcot to Reading. I was in Coach C (middle coach of rear unit) which is standard class, as was the Train Manager. At Didcot selective door operation is used as a 10-Coach IET is too long for the platform. The train was formed of 2x 5-coach units and the Train Manager has to control which doors open if the platform is too short. Regular travellers will know that HSTs have old-fashioned slam doors which do not open automatically
My first impressions of IET were very positive. Seats are quite firm but I liked the ambience and decor. I liked the red, yellow and green seat reservation indicators. The ride was very smooth and the diesel engines barely audible. Much quieter and less plastic than the Class 220 Voyager that I had on my return to Oxford with Cross-country. Ride quality was good. The vestibules are narrower – a consequence of the tapered ends of the 26m bodyshell compared with Mk3 HST stock which is 23m long.
I also travelled to Banbury on one of Chiltern’s silver sets last week. Chiltern Railways have done a very good job on their Mk3 refurbishment, including lighting and retention tank toilets. Refurbished stock meets the latest disability and accessibility requirements with sliding plug doors etc. Seats are more comfortable than the Class 800 IET, but the armrests do get in the way. You definitely know there is a big diesel loco up front though! I would like to do a run on the IET after dark to compare the lighting levels.
At Reading a poster was on display giving details of the scheduled Class 800 services. Overall I was very impressed with the new train – it will be a worthy successor to the HSTs which have served over 40 years.