THE Brighton Mainline is set for bigger and better trains with more seats and more services for customers, rail bosses have promised.
The improvements are set to be rolled out across the next three years thanks to the £6.5 billion Thameslink programme.
Rail bosses claim the Brighton Mainline will be one of the greatest benefactors of the huge government investment in the south’s railways.
But after years of consistently late and delayed trains, cramped journeys in carriages reminiscent of sardine tins and ever-increasing rail costs – it has been a long time coming.
The programme aims to transform north-south travel through London. When complete, in 2018, passengers will have new spacious trains that run every two to three-minutes through central London in peak times, improved connections and better options to more destinations across an expanded Thameslink network.
New robust track and signalling systems will also allow for more reliable journeys.
Hundreds of brand new Class 700 trains will offer increased comfort and luxuries like WiFi and on-board, real-time travel information.
The trains will be able to anticipate delay-causing problems before they occur and can even tell how many people have washed their hands after using the toilet. When Southern Rail joins the Govia Thameslink (GTR) family in July, it could spell the end of an era that has seen passenger satisfaction hit an all-time low.
The Argus was invited to the new multimillion-pound Three Bridges depot for a sneak preview at what is in store for passengers in the near future.
Keith Wallace, GTR Thameslink programme director, said: “For passengers on Brighton mainline services, the new depot and 700 trains will, by 2018, deliver 1,000 more seats in the morning peak and allow trains to be lengthened from eight to 12 carriages.
“There will be double the number of peak direct services between Brighton and London Bridge and we will provide 24 trains per hour through our central London stations. With brand new trains, we’re able to increase capacity and comfort and we will have the ability to provide quality real time information on-board. The trains are designed to accommodate a variety of customer needs, from commuters, to airport passengers – as well as customers making longer-distance journeys.
“We’ve also focussed heavily on customers with reduced mobility – as well as customers travelling with bikes.”
THE purpose-built Three Bridges depot will be ready to receive the new Class 700 trains for testing and training purposes this summer. The trains are currently undergoing testing at Siemens’ state-of-the-art testing facility in Germany to ensure they are ready for the UK’s busy rail network.
From the middle of 2016, one Class 700 train will be delivered every week to the Three Bridges depot and rolled out for use across the entire network.
And as well as housing Sussex’s shiny new collection of trains, the depot, which is the size of 13 football pitches, will host train testing and driver training, as well as train washing, preparation and maintenance.
The construction of a second depot in Hornsey, north London, is also well underway. Both depots are being constructed by main contractor VolkerFitzpatrick on behalf of Siemens.
Lee Millard, Thameslink project manager, said: “Compared to the existing 319 trains we have, the benefits are enormous.
“They’re air conditioned, there’s more space for luggage within the train itself and it lends itself far better to a high capacity operation.
“In terms of onboard real-time information, we can tell you if the underground isn’t working before you arrive in London, we can tell you what’s going on with the network as a whole. Another key feature is improved accessibility. These trains are designed to be around for a long time so we’re looking at things like wheelchair spaces and accessible toilets, but we’re also installing platform humps at central London stations so you’ll have unassisted access to one part of the train. It’s a first for heavy rail.”
The new Class 700 trains will still have partitioned first class carriages, but also dedicated bike spaces for cyclists. Passengers waiting on platforms for trains will also know in advance which carriages they need to be on.
Once complete, passengers can expect a “tube-style” service in peak times through London with trains leaving every two to four minutes.
Mr Millard said: “One of the key frustrations today on Thameslink services is that you can have mixed formations of carriages arriving on platforms.
“First class could be anywhere on the train, bike spaces could be anywhere on the train, and actually the 700 undoes a lot of that and gives real consistency regardless of which way the train is orientated. We know where things are and can show that on platform screens on platforms too.”
He added: “In terms of the Brighton Mainline specifically, we’re looking at 1000 more seats, 60% more carriages in peak morning times, so we’re dealing with some serious numbers.
“We’re also lengthening Brighton to St Pancras services from eight to 12 carriages, doubling the number of peak direct services between Brighton and London Bridge and creating a turn-up-and-go service, tube-style.
“You’re not going to be checking when your train is. You’ll turn up and know in two or four minutes there’s a service to East Croydon, London Bridge and up towards St Pancras. It’s a high frequency service.”
The timetable at Brighton will also be changed when Southern Rail joins the GTR family in a few months. GTR is working towards a single timetable at the station which has never happened previously because two or three operators have always been competing for space on what is a congested network.
It could mean the end of horror stories like ones exclusively published by The Argus earlier this year, which included revelations that Southern Rail’s most popular Brighton to London Victoria commuter train was late every day in 2014.
Elsewhere, GTR bosses have said it is “very aware” that it cannot achieve its goals by simply relying on hardware, like new trains, alone.
The firm is also planning to bankroll a “huge investment” in staff across the network to ensure passengers are “aware of where they’re going and what they’re doing at all times”.
In total around 8,000 jobs will be created through the Thameslink Programme, including up to 2,000 in support of the new trains, across the UK supply chain.
And at London Bridge in 2018, Thameslink will build dedicated platforms for its trains and carry out major track remodelling through the station that will tackle the problem of “bottlenecking” – where trains are delayed because they are waiting behind other services.
Iain Smith, programme director of the Thameslink rolling stock project at Siemens, said: “The fact that we are now so close to the completion of Three Bridges depot, with Hornsey following closely behind, is hugely exciting.
“Three Bridges depot is of particular importance to the overall Thameslink Programme due to its role in commissioning the state-of-the-art trains.
“Without a working depot, we can’t fully test trains, perform maintenance or put them into service.
“The completion of the first depot later this year will mark a key milestone and takes us a step nearer to a transformation in service for Thameslink passengers”.
- 50% boost in passenger capacity into central London during peak hours, 10,000 extra seats by 2018
- 8,000 jobs created as part of governmen’s £6.5 billion Thameslink Programme
- Free wifi, enhanced staffing at over 100 stations
- 1,398 new state-of-the-art electric carriages, boosting fleet by 27%
Siemens has spent £50 million on developing the new Class 700, which is the UK’s first second-generation train.
The innovative design incorporates the feedback of train operators, passenger focus groups, train crew, cleaners and maintainers.
The class 700’s lightweight design allows for less wear and tear on the tracks, saving money in maintaining the network.
Steve Scrimshaw, managing director of Siemens Rail Systems in the UK, said: “The manufacture of the state of the art Class 700 is fully on track.
“I’m excited that the first train will arrive into the newly constructed Three Bridges depot in a matter of months. The fact that we have made such quick progress is testament to our commitment to delivering this strategically important project.”
Once the trains have been delivered they will be handed over to their owner Cross London Trains, which will lease them to Govia Thameslink ready for the start of passenger service between Bedford and Brighton and Wimbledon and Sutton in spring 2016.