‘Controversy? What controversy?’ quipped Steve Scrimshaw, Siemens’ managing director for rail in the UK, talking about the challenge of delivering the trains for Thameslink – one of the most contentious train orders in recent years.
Sat across from each other on one of Govia Thameslink Railway’s (GTR) 12-car Class 700 trains somewhere between Blackfriars and East Croydon, we discussed the new commuter fleet, which is due to start going into passenger service in the coming weeks. The ride was part of a showcase event held on 24 May at Blackfriars station to which stakeholders and members of the media were invited to see the ceremonial unveiling of the Class 700.
Over the next few weeks, GTR hopes to roll out the new fleet across the network, starting with the Brighton to Bedford route. The Class 700, of which 115 are being built, will increase capacity substantially, particularly through central London.
Within Thameslink’s central core between Blackfriars and St Pancras International, Class 700s will operate 24 trains an hour, utilising an ETCS signalling system overlaid with Automatic Train Operation (ATO) – a first in the UK.
To date, 17 trains have been delivered to the UK from Siemens’ factory in Krefeld, Germany – a combination of eight and 12-car units. The remaining 100 trains will be delivered, tested and commissioned by the end of 2018.
As well as providing greater capacity compared to the existing fleet, the Class 700s have wider walkways, wider doors and passenger information screens displaying real-time service information. They’re also more energy efficient and lighter than the previous generation of Desiro units. There is, however, a notable lack of Wi-Fi, something GTR says it hopes to remedy.
Procurement of the Thameslink fleet began in 2008. Siemens, as part of the Cross London Trains consortium, was named as the preferred bidder in 2011 and financial close was eventually achieved in July 2013. But it was an unpopular decision at the time, with many feeling that the trains should have been manufactured in the UK.
In response, Siemens has worked hard to highlight the contribution that its businesses in the UK, and the wider British supply chain, have made to the project. One example is Siemens’ factory in Hebburn, South Tyneside, which has produced electrical components for the trains.
‘We’ve said we’ve created up to 2,000 jobs,’ said Steve. ‘We’ve got two depots [Three Bridges and Hornsey] that we’ve built and we’ve invested more than £3 million of our own money… When we set this up, we always said it would be something that would be a sustainable legacy.’
Before he was appointed as Siemens UK’s managing director for rail, Steve had been involved in the Thameslink procurement process. He said it was an ‘emotional’ experience to be sat in one of the completed trains eight years on.
Infrastructure works being carried out across the network for the Thameslink Programme, particularly at London Bridge, have been behind a great deal of the disruption to services over the past couple of years. The level of disruption felt by passengers has been aggravated by a growing rift between GTR and the two principal rail trade unions – ASLEF and RMT – over the application of driver-only operation (DOO).
In a press release announcing the launch, Nick Gray, Network Rail’s Thameslink Programme sponsor, said, ‘Launching this new generation of trains at such an iconic station symbolises what the Thameslink Programme is doing to transform rail travel across London. We have worked closely with our colleagues at Thameslink and Siemens to get the infrastructure ready for these trains to create a more reliable, regular and modern service.’
GTR’s chief executive, Charles Horton, said the event last month showed the operator was starting to deliver on the service improvements it has been promising passengers.
‘It won’t be very long now before customers are able to travel on them and, from my point of view, this is the next step in a journey which is starting to come towards its end in terms of really delivering the upgrade in performance and capacity that customers want to see.’
In February, GTR finalised the funding for 25 more six-car Desiro units for its Great Northern services. Due to be in service by the end of 2018, these will operate out of Moorgate to Welwyn Garden City and Letchworth Garden City, via Hertford and Stevenage.