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 that need addressing, please contact us.  What I do know is that the current pattern of two Norwich trains and a “stopper” to Ipswich will be maintained.  The “Norwich in 90” express trains will be retimed, and the current plan is to run them in the paths of our current 0853 and 0953 to London.  I have said that we would need substitute 0845 and 0945 trains from Ipswich which should still give us trains to London at the same time (the fast trains would go through earlier than this).  We also need a later last train back from London.  It was in 1988 that I first became involved in checking timetables, when Rosemary Smith and I managed to persuade BR to retain the Manningtree stop for Norwich trains.  Incredibly, Manningtree could have had just had one hourly slow train to London off peak. 

Engineering works

At the risk of repeating myself, 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 on the Great Eastern main line crossing the Stour at Cattawade. 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

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