Thursday, 3 January 2019

Greater Anglia Rail Prospects for 2019

Introduction
The area has seen a disappointing rail service with delayed, cancelled and short formed trains leading to a poor customer experience.  This, coupled with rail fares that increase in price regardless of service quality, has led to increasing customer dissatisfaction, especially at peak travel times.  
Rail fares
Regulated rail fares continue to rise every year in accordance with the retail prices index, which gives a higher rate of increase than other indices.  Compared with other European countries fares are ridiculously high, being three times those of Germany and France, and ten times those of Italy.   Since 2010, fuel price duty has been frozen, with no increases, so a 25% differential has been created.  This has made car commuting, even for a sole driver, a far more attractive proposition.
Trains
The existing rail fleet will be entirely replaced during the next two years.  Meanwhile the old fleet is worked hard.  Some trains are becoming quite tatty, and all are becoming less reliable.  Failing units lead to short formed trains, which can be a real problem during peak periods, as trains become severely overcrowded.   This sort of travel experience hardly encourages a productive day at work.  New trains have started to arrive, with four new bi-mode trains for country branch lines now delivered for testing and driver training; the first of these should enter service in May 2019.
Infrastructure
Replacement of old overhead wires is nearly complete so issues relating to sagging wires in hot weather should now be history.   However, other infrastructure issues such as power failures, signal failures and defective track have been far more frequent in 2018 than they should have been. 
Freight Trains
Most freight trains from Felixstowe are carrying containers bound for the north of England, yet repeated delays in improving the cross-country rail route mean that most of these trains use the main line between Ipswich and Stratford, where they transfer to the North London line.  It is at this point (Stratford) that these trains cause chaos to our train services. Often the trains are forced to queue up to enter the north London line (which is very congested), and in transiting they block the main line for three or four minutes, as the trains are long (30 wagons) and must negotiate a 20mph speed limit at this point.   On numerous occasions the writer has been on main line trains that have been held up for a freight train for several minutes, enough time for all the train connections to be missed.   As most connecting trains only run hourly, the inconvenience to rail travellers is very real and a strong discouragement to train travel.  Recent upgrades to the Felixstowe branch will make this problem much worse, as more of these trains will be running throughout the day.
Summary
Until the government sets aside funds for strategic rail upgrades needed to divert freight away from the Great Eastern main line, it will be very difficult to run a reliable train service.   Also, Network Rail needs to instigate a series of measures to make the infrastructure more reliable.   So although new trains will arrive during 2019, they will continue to provide an unreliable train service.
Derek Monnery
Chairman, Essex Rail Users Federation
January 2019

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Update

Following a recent meeting with Abellio and a visit to Derby, you may be interested in the following highlights:


  • New trains update: - 
    • First two class 755 bi-modes now delivered to Norwich, with 20 expected by May.  A pair will be used for Norwich in 90 from May 2019 (extra services)
    • First new class 745 for Stansted Express under test, should be delivered early 2019
    • First new class 720 now built, second nearly ready, third being assembled, fourth just a construction kit,   In service autumn 2019.
  • GA is still working to update its unreliable trains.  Particular issue with 321 Renatus units in the recent past, but now 25 out of 30 in service and reliability much improved.

  • Smartcards now introduced for season tickets a month and over, but cardboard tickets can be requested.

  • In January two new products launched (i) a Flex Carnet (ii) 26-30 Railcard

  • Delay Repay 15 will be introduced early in 2019, with lawyers currently as franchise agreement needs changing.

  • A passenger assistance App is being trialled

  • All stations apart from the least used have now got ticket vending machines.

  • Customer newsletters being issued by email and hard copy.

  • Water dispensers in at Ipswich, Chelmsford and Cambridge, more planned.

  • Infrastructure being upgraded at Norwich and Ilford for new trains.   New depot to replace Brantham will be announced soon.

  • Timetables will remain as they are (with tweeking) until May 2020.  Most changes delayed until then.  May change will be limited to the Norwich in 90 extra trains.

  • Crossrail tunnels to GE main line will be opened between September and December 2019 depending on how testing goes.

  • Changes taking place at Network Rail due to change of CEO.  Looks promising for improvements.

  • Infrastructure improvements will be driven but the GE task force

  • Beaulieu Park, the new station proposed north of Chelmsford, proceeding on the basis of a three platform layout.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

New Committee Members

At a committee meeting on 24th April, we welcomed Thomas Rowe (representing Colchester) and Derek Cox (representing Witham) to our committee.  This should enable us to more accurately represent the views of rail users on the Great Eastern main line when lobbying to get improvements to our train services.

Friday, 13 January 2017

New Year Message

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. 

We will continue to fight for a fairer deal for rail travellers in 2017.  We are pleased to announce that our Chairman, Derek Monnery, has been appointed to represent East Anglia on the new Greater Anglia Stakeholder Board, so will have three meetings a year with senior Greater Anglia managers.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

New Franchise

At long last we, the long suffering rail users of East Anglia have got a proper long term deal for our rail services.  Abellio (Dutch Railways) has won a nine year franchise in which they promise to replace the entire train fleet, Suburban, Main Line, Stansted Express, and Regional.

There will be essentially five types of unit supplied by two manufacturers, Bombardier and Stadler.  All trains will have free wi-fi.

The Bombardier units will be built in Derby and will have a lot of similarities to the Crossrail trains already being built there.  These will be used on all suburban services where class 317, 321 and 360 trains are used now.  There will be two different types, 5 car and 10 car, with the former used on branch lines and the latter on the main line.  These will be delivered in 2020.

There will be three different types of Stadler units, 10 car, 5 car and 4 car.  The 10 car units will be electric and replace InterCity sets and Stansted Express class 379 units.   The 5 car and 4 car units will be bi-mode (able to operate both on diesel and electric power) and will be used on Regional Services to replace existing class 153, 156, and 170 diesel railcars.  These will be delivered in 2019.

Of course regular rail users will know that many of the problems on the line relate to infrastructure faults, so we will be putting pressure on Network Rail to eliminate the string of signal, point and other failures that wreck our timetables on a regular basis.  New trains will only solve half our existing problems.

We also need to know that the existing train fleet will not be allowed to deteriorate further while we wait for the new trains.  Again we will be putting pressure on Abellio to ensure that we do not suffer a poorer service before new trains arrive. 

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

End of Year

It's been a pretty tough year for rail users in our area with far too many "incidents" occurring that have caused severe delays to journeys.  The majority of these have been infrastructure related (Network Rail responsibility), but we are getting increasing numbers of train faults, caused by the age of the trains, and in some cases by inadequate maintenance.

The new Greater Anglia rail franchise starts in October 2016.   Bids have just gone into the Department for Transport from three rail companies; Abellio (the current operator), National Express (the previous operator) and First Group (who ran the First Great Eastern rail franchise immediately after rail privatisation).   Based on the track record of these companies, there is one that is best qualified of the three by quite a margin, and indeed this company has been a lot more proactive in researching what is needed.   So we are hopeful that common sense will prevail, and we will get a step change in improvement.

We have certainly been very proactive ourselves in lobbying MPs, DfT, and other interested parties to ensure that this takes place.  In December, there have been debates in the House of Commons about the poor condition of our rail services, with promises made of new trains and other improvements.  Ministers have been left in no doubt that things need to improve and fast.

So we are left with lots of promises, but being realistic, it will be 2020 before new trains arrive in sufficient quantities to make our train service what it should be.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Norwich in 90

In case you haven't seen it there is a very good article in the latest Rail magazine (issue 779) about the Norwich in 90 Campaign. Worth a look.