Sunday, 24 January 2021


New trains

After the long hiatus in getting our new trains to work reliably, new class 720 suburban trains are being introduced into passenger service.   At the time of writing, six units were being used at any one time, formed into pairs, and were reaching Southend, Southminster, and Braintree.  A two unit, 10-car train is the same length as a 12-car set of old stock and holds many more passengers.  They should be reaching Ipswich in early Spring, with over 50 units constructed with most stored, waiting for installation of the latest software and for sufficient drivers to be trained.

The relatively modern class 360 (blue) trains have been rapidly phased out, and by the time you read this, all will be gone.  They are going to a new home at Kettering and will be used on the newly electrified St. Pancras to Bedford, Kettering, and Corby lines. They have been uprated to run at 110mph, not possible on the GE main line due to the frequency of stops.  They will be refurbished soon, with the new electric service starting in May.

The remaining old trains are of classes 321 and 322 and are in varying states of repair.  All are around thirty years old, and some of them are unlikely to be used again after they leave our lines.  The unmodified ones are draughty and basic and were called “dusty bins” when they were built.

All the new Stadler trains are in service with electric versions running from London to Norwich and Stansted Airport, and bi-modes (diesel and electric) being used on all non-electrified branch lines including Marks Tey to Sudbury.  

December 2021 timetable changes

The new trains have faster acceleration and braking, so can achieve faster point to point journey times.  So, it makes sense for the train timetables to be revised to reflect this.  The new one comes in next December and is currently out for consultation, with feedback needed by 12th February.  If you have any particular issues with the current timetable that need addressing, please contact us.  

Engineering works

If you need to travel by train at weekends, please check to ensure your trains are running.  Most Sunday services are being replaced by buses for part of the journey, adding an hour to journey times. I understand that there are still Crossrail works to be completed at Romford and Ilford that cannot be done while trains are running.  Another Crossrail related project is the extension of platforms 16 and 17 at Liverpool Street station so that full length 9-car trains can run rather than the current shortened 7-car ones.  

Greater Anglia Stakeholders Advisory Board

Part of the franchise commitment for the Greater Anglia rail franchise was the setting up of a Stakeholders Advisory Board to provide consumer feedback on rail issues.  I was invited to join the Board a couple of years ago and have found it very useful for keeping rail managers “on their toes”.   I have the dubious reputation for being quite vocal there, but it is all very measured, and we do get things done that benefit rail users throughout the area.  An issue that is top of the agenda is getting targeted investment to improve our rail infrastructure.

Haughley and Ely infrastructure improvements

Many of you will have noticed long trains of shipping containers being hauled along the Great Eastern main line. These head up to London before returning north to the Midlands and North of England.   However, there is a direct route via Bury St. Edmunds and Peterborough that parallels the A14, but this is so constricted that few container trains can use it.  The pinch points are Haughley Junction (north of Stowmarket), Soham (a long stretch of single track) and Ely North (a three-way major junction).  At both Haughley and Ely resignalling schemes desogned in the 1980s have left key junctions with stretches of single track that prevent frequent train services.   Ideally this cross-country route should be double track and electrified throughout to provide a low carbon direct alternative to the A14 trunk road.  Each of these container trains can take 70 HGVs off the A14, a big CO2 saving.  Upgrading this line should be the highest priority if this government’s climate change commitments are to be met, but controversial road schemes still get the money first (for example the £1.5 billion A303 Stonehenge by-pass).


Derek Monnery

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

15 Minute Delay Repay

Press Release from Greater Anglia dated 12th March 2019


Passengers on Greater Anglia are set to benefit from improved compensation thanks to a new deal signed between the operator and the Department for Transport (DfT).  From 1 April 2019, they will be able to claim compensation for journeys delayed between 15 and 29 minutes under the Delay Repay 15 (DR15) scheme.

This means that passengers, who take over 80 million journeys a year on the Greater Anglia network, will be able to claim back 25% of the single fare, irrespective of the cause of the delay. Existing  compensation arrangements already exist for delays of 30 minutes or over.  

Greater Anglia was determined to introduce DR15 as soon as possible after Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport, announced in October 2016 that DR15 should be rolled out to all rail franchises.

In recent years, the company has also taken positive steps to increase awareness of the customer compensation options available, make the claims process simpler and give customers more choice in the ways that they can receive their compensation.  Customers can now claim compensation online, by email or by hard copy form. Compensation can be transferred directly into your bank account, as a credit on your credit card, by voucher, Paypal or alternatively as a charitable donation. This latter option was introduced by Greater Anglia last summer, following feedback from customers and stakeholders, and has already raised over £8,000 for the Samaritans charity.  

Rail Minister Andrew Jones said:

“Our top priority is ensuring passengers see the reliable and punctual services they expect, but when things do go wrong, it’s only right that they are compensated fairly and quickly. This is why the launch of DR15 on Greater Anglia is important news for passengers, providing them with better compensation if their services are delayed.”

Commenting on the introduction of Delay Repay 15 for Greater Anglia customers, Jamie Burles, Managing Director for Greater Anglia said :

“We’re delighted to be able to provide better compensation, with the launch of Delay Repay 15 from next month and we are sure it will be welcomed by our customers. We’ve worked in close partnership with the Department for Transport to offer this significant benefit during the existing franchise as soon as possible, meeting our customers’ aspirations to see this upgrade earlier than expected.

It’s all part of a wider transformation of train service standards in East Anglia that sees us bringing in a complete fleet of brand-new trains across our entire network over the next two years, with the first new trains due in service later this year.  We’re fully focused on improving punctuality and reliability, in collaboration with Network Rail, but customers will now be able to claim compensation for any delays of 15 minutes and over, when things do go wrong.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Greater Anglia Rail Prospects for 2019

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.
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.
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.
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


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.