2016 was a difficult year for rail travellers, with far too many incidents including infrastructure and train failures, causing major disruption to family life of the regular commuters to London.
Over the Christmas and New Year holiday, Network Rail started to remodel the tracks at Shenfield, and replaced the overhead wires in the Gidea Park area. This is all part of major works to upgrade the slow (or Metro) lines from Shenfield to London ready to receive new Crossrail trains that will start to enter service next May. Sharp eyed travellers will have noticed the first of these new trains has already been delivered to Ilford depot. Unfortunately, the Shenfield works have isolated the Metro lines north of Gidea Park, meaning that trains are unable to pass a failed train on the main line. This caused delays of several hours one evening in November.
The first of 30 refurbished class 321 trains has entered service. These can be distinguished externally because they have an red and grey horizontal strip on them below the windows. Internally, they have new seats, air conditioning, wi-fi, and power sockets, so are a substantial improvement on what they were. All the main line trains have already been refurbished.
New trains will be delivered to replace all the existing fleet between 2019 and 2021, including all refurbished units. The operator has promised to make the existing fleet more reliable in the interim; we will be monitoring the situation to ensure this occurs. There can be a real temptation to cut back on maintenance of old trains that are shortly going to be removed from service.
We were expecting the latest fare increase, as this is government inspired, with the train operator obliged to follow their instructions. What we were not expecting was the sharp increase in car parking charges; this is totally unnecessary, and a real penalty for those already struggling to pay the rail fare increases. It seems that the authorities are doing everything possible to discourage rail travel, as motoring costs are frozen (apart from oil prices) while all costs associated with rail travel continue to increase disproportionately. We now have train fares that are six times the European average.