THE new trains for Thameslink, unveiled in late January, are already running late, which we hope is not an indication of future performance on the route.
The procurement of Class 700 was lengthened, we are told, by its complexity – more than a dozen funding bodies are involved. But it was also perhaps unfortunate that the negotiations were at a critical stage when a financial crisis swept around the world, affecting Europe in particular.
The Eurozone difficulties might have had an impact on the cost of money, which is a serious matter when you are trying to raise a cool £1.6 billion or so. Siemens was finally announced as preferred bidder in June 2011, but it took another two years for the DfT to sign off the deal.
Construction is now under way in Germany, and we are looking forward to seeing the trains in action under test this spring.
The Desiro City is a clever and lighter train. It will monitor the degree of crowding, and will use the load data to adjust the air conditioning. Waiting passengers can also be informed that, for example, the forward vehicles of an approaching train are less crowded.
The operational requirements of 2.5 minute headways are extremely demanding. There seems to be nowhere to put a faulty train between Smithfield sidings, just south of Farringdon, and Kentish Town. We may yet regret the pinchpoint which is the two-platform low-level station at St Pancras.
We may also regret the utilitarian interior of this stock. There is plenty of standing space (understandably), but the seats are the least yielding of any modern train. They are less comfortable than many modern buses and much less welcoming than the average car. The colour scheme is a chilly combination of blues and greys.
The layout also disappoints, particularly when compared with the hospitable Class 377s on the route at the moment. Apparently the cost limits meant that no standard class passengers could have the benefit of tables, and there has been no consistent attempt to line up seats with windows. The large proportion of ‘airline’ seating may strike some commuters as mildly claustrophobic, and taller passengers might find it difficult to keep their knees clear of the seat in front.
The 700 must perform various functions. In central and inner surburban London, it is a Metro train. It is also meant for longer distance and airport traffic. Unfortunately, apart from some luggage hoppers, the Metro passengers seem to have won the day.
I fear that longer journeys will be an experience to be tolerated, rather than enjoyed. In the bleak world that is the Department for Transport enjoyment may not be a factor, but other forms of transport are becoming more comfortable, while the 700s are a step backwards.
Commuters may seem to be a captive market, but there are limits. If railways are to continue playing their full part, they must make their customers feel as welcome as possible. On this measurement, I am sorry to say, the Class 700 falls short.