FROM THE ARCHIVES: Eastern promise

  • With the unveiling of the first Stadler-built trains for Greater Anglia, RAIL looks back to when the current franchise was awarded to Abellio. 

  • This feature was first published in RAIL 808.

Worth the wait. That’s perhaps the best way to describe the Greater Anglia franchise contract awarded on August 10 (RAIL 807).

The Government had delayed the franchise award for several weeks, due to the Brexit vote. There was a general unwillingness to even discuss the franchise, and the various bidders (and their suppliers) were in the dark regarding what would happen.

As the silence from the Department for Transport became increasingly deafening, rumours abounded that the winner had been changed following Brexit. But there was always a denial from the DfT - no firm details.

Two years ago, Abellio Greater Anglia’s then-new Managing Director Jamie Burles told RAIL that it was his railway’s turn for investment (RAIL 756). At the time he said: “The only important thing is the next franchise specification. If you do not specify a train that needs interior ambience and decelerations and acceleration, it is about the lowest bids. Then for the next 15 years the service struggles because the bid was low. We want DfT to set the bar as high as is possibly affordable.”

Burles pointed out, rightly, that every operator and railway around the Great Eastern Main Line was receiving new trains and infrastructure improvements, while his franchise was having to make do with cascaded trains.

Neighbouring train operators c2c, Govia Thameslink Railway and Virgin Trains East Coast are all receiving new fleets. GTR will benefit from the £6.5 billion Thameslink programme and a rebuilt London Bridge, while VTEC will receive a fleet of Intercity Express Programme trains. AGA will also share the route between Shenfield and Liverpool Street with Crossrail - shiny new trains enter traffic on that route from 2017, to serve the £15bn cross-London project.

It perhaps spoke volumes that Burles was happy that a decision to refurbish the Mk 3 fleet used by AGA didn’t include modifications such as plug-doors. That would have meant the vehicles, the oldest of which date from the mid-1970s, remaining in traffic beyond 2020, and a probable concession that there would be no new trains. It offered hope. But that’s all the Great Eastern often has, usually followed by disappointment.

The age of the current AGA fleet is telling. Thirty Class 379 Electrostars ordered for Stansted Express and the West Anglia route were delivered in 2011. Before that 21 Class 360s were delivered to First Great Eastern in 2003, and four Class 170/2s were delivered to Anglia Railways in 2002 for the reinstated Norwich-Cambridge route. That is now operated by some of the eight Class 170/2s delivered to AR in 1999. The rest of the fleet dates from the 1980s, or in the case of some of the Mk 3 coaches, the 1970s.

However, you need to go back much further for the last fleet of brand new main line locomotives ordered specifically for the Great Eastern Main Line - all the way back to April 1958 and the Class 40s.

The GEML was home to electric services from London Liverpool Street, and the decision was made to introduce 2,000hp Type 4 diesels on expresses between London and Norwich. They didn’t last, and had to be replaced by the ‘Britannia’ steam locomotives they were themselves intended to replace.

And then the usual cascades began. In 1965 ‘nearly new’ Type 4s (later classified ‘47s’) were transferred to March to work the GEML, and these remained in place until electrification to Ipswich in 1985, when Class 86s (20 years old at that stage) moved to the railway from the West Coast Main Line.

The ‘86s’ replaced the ‘47s’ from Norwich in 1987, when the line was electrified, and remained in traffic for the next 18 years until they were replaced by Class 90s that themselves dated from 1987. The Mk 2s hauled by the ‘86s’ were replaced by Mk 3s that (although superior in terms of their interiors) were not that much younger - in some cases only by a few months. It was the classic ‘make do and mend’.

It was the same story on the various branches. Cascaded Class 153s and ‘156s’ are used on the rural routes, while the ‘170s’ are used elsewhere. However, should you travel past Norwich Crown Point you will not find multiple units stood idle - the diesel multiple unit fleet is stretched to the point that locomotive-hauled coaching stock (LHCS) is required to ensure services can still operate. And such is the tightness of the fleet utilisation that one DMU being damaged (170204) in an accident with a tractor at a level crossing has resulted in a second LHCS being needed (see pages 30-31). Rolling stock resources are tight at AGA.

Further south, on the suburban network out of Liverpool Street, passenger numbers are massive and predicted to grow. Three million people live in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, and over the next ten years a further 205,000 new jobs will be created and 184,000 new homes constructed.

These people will need serving. Stratford has entered the top ten of Britain’s busiest stations and is unlikely to relinquish that position. More passengers are travelling from Cambridge, and a new station serving the city’s Science Park will open in May 2017 (see pages 92-95). And Stansted Airport is growing, but served by the congested West Anglia Main Line with a bottleneck that campaigners want Network Rail to sort out.

That’s a lot to tackle, hence the wish list created by the Great Eastern Main Line Taskforce. Set up by then Chancellor George Osborne, the Taskforce’s job was to investigate a need for improvements to the region’s railways, and to campaign for backing to support any improvements.

But East Anglia is a region often overlooked, or viewed as a backwater. The nearest motorway is the M11 (there is no motorway in Norfolk). Yet it offers huge economic benefits for the UK. It was the Taskforce’s responsibility to highlight this.

In its business case released in November 2014 (RAIL 762), the Taskforce highlighted how 18% of peak-hour passengers arriving at Liverpool Street were standing (excluding the Metros), while forecasts show demand on the GEML into Suffolk and Norfolk is expected to grow by 32% and from Essex by 52%. At the time, AGA was the second least subsidised passenger operator in the UK (it received 1.5p per passenger mile, against the average of 12.5p). Under the terms of the new deal, Abellio will now pay a premium of £3.7 billion over nine years to run the franchise.

Thus the need for new and improved rolling stock is clear, but without infrastructure improvements any new trains will not be able to fully deliver the upscale in quality. Campaigners suggest the required sum is £476 million, but that was before NR went on the public books and money became scarce. Yet the benefit:cost ratio (BCR) for the improvements is between 8.6 and 9.5 (in comparison, HS2’s BCR is 2:3).

At the time of the report’s publication Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex generated £60bn in gross value added (GVA) for the UK economy, and that figure is expected to rise to £75bn in the next 12 years. The region is one of only two net contributor regions to the Treasury. 

Taskforce co-Chairman Mark Pendlington has long called the GEML the ‘Golden Thread’, and spoken regularly of the need to serve East Anglia’s growing economy. Europe’s biggest insurance cluster is based in the region, while BT has its European research and development headquarters there. The region is a leader in innovation, research and education, the Taskforce argues.

Delivering the improvements will generate £4.1bn in direct economic benefits, rising to £4.5bn once wider agglomeration and productivity benefits are included.

According to Taskforce research, investment in the GEML will create 8,200 new jobs in Norwich, just under 10,000 new jobs in Ipswich, 14,000 in Colchester and 16,000 in Chelmsford. That will increase council tax revenue by £15m annually, and business rates by £10m per year. Overall, for every £1 invested in the GEML upgrade, there will be a £9.50 return.

New trains are on the way and will begin to enter traffic from January 2019.

First to enter traffic will be Stadler Rail AG bi-mode trains for the regional routes. These will be a mixture of three- and four-car trains, with 38 on order. They will replace the Class 15x and ‘170’ fleets. This means that no rural route will be served by a one-car or two-car train, as they are today.

The Stansted Express and West Anglia Stadler Rail AG 12-car electric trains enter traffic from February 2019, replacing the Class 317s and ‘379s’ currently used in eight-car formations.

The ten 12-car Stadler Rail AG electric multiple units will enter traffic on the GEML from March 2019, replacing the eight- and nine-car Class 90/Mk 3 formations.

By 2020 Bombardier will have delivered its Aventra trains, replacing the 21 Class 360s and 94 Class 321s. All the new Bombardier trains will be five- or ten-car EMUs.

But without infrastructure improvements these new trains will not be able to achieve the plans. Their performance and acceleration will better that of the trains they replace, but the infrastructure needs to match. And so far NR has been quiet.

Pendlington told RAIL on August 21: “There is a rail summit on September 7 with Abellio, and that is our first chance to hear in detail how the plans will work. We will also hear what Network Rail is planning.

“In terms of Network Rail, they are working hard to deliver what is required. Politically there needs to be the will to deliver the improvements, and I believe they will do so.”

The issue of NR’s performance on projects such as the Edinburgh-Glasgow Improvement Programme and Great Western Main Line electrification is raised, but Pendlington has faith: “There is always a possibility something can go wrong. All I know is that they are doing their best to deliver what Anglia needs.”
He is also confident that the campaigning for the infrastructure improvements will be successful. “We have a strong team of MPs who are on the case, and even through the region’s devolution deal we are trying to lead. We are trying to move Ely North’s improvements from Control Period 6 (CP6) to CP5 if we can.”

He calls the campaign a “marathon”, but highlights how the region worked together. “Students, passengers, business leaders all helped. They all saw what was needed. They kept the faith even when questions were being asked.
“This is a £43bn economy. There is £14bn for Norfolk and Suffolk alone. I have always said this the Golden Thread. When this is achieved, we can then focus on East West (see news).”


Further reading

  • Greater Expectations, RAIL 756
  • Ambitious Anglia, RAIL 762
  • New trains as Abellio scoops East Anglia franchise, RAIL 807


The Taskforce view

On August 10, the day that the Government announced new trains as Abellio was awarded the East Anglia franchise, Great Eastern Main Line Taskforce co-Chairman Mark Pendlington said: “To have secured new state-of-the-art rolling stock is a massive win for all those who depend on a reliable and high-performing railway here in the East. Businesses, commuters, and students at universities and colleges are among many who have worked tirelessly to support our GEML campaign.

“Today we have been rewarded with the guarantee of transformational change to our rail services in years to come. And as we set about growing our economy, winning new investment and securing new jobs, we can say with growing confidence that the East is a modern, mobile and accessible economy, fit to compete and win in the UK and global marketplace.

“We presented the Government with a compelling case for transformational improvements to our main line railway. We provided solid evidence for the potential £4.5 billion boost to the economy and 50,000 new jobs across Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. The award of the franchise to Abellio marks the beginning of realising that ambition. It brings the promised Norwich in 90, Ipswich in 60 and Colchester in 40 within reach, and our work continues to secure a consistently high standard of rail service for everyone.”

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith, who co-chairs the GEML Taskforce, said: “We have now succeeded in getting huge investment into our rail line in the form of new trains. These trains are finally what we deserve in the East, giving a more pleasant journey for passengers and most of all giving reliability back to all the people who use the trains for work and jobs. 

“Together with investment in the track and other infrastructure, this is what our campaign has achieved. It will deliver ‘Norwich in 90’, along with benefits to all three counties as expected over the next eight years. It means East Anglia is open for business and will bring thousands more jobs to the region, which means a massive boost for the economy and for households.

“Our campaign is reinvigorated, as is our relentless pursuit of a better, faster more efficient rail service.”

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  • AndrewJG8918 - 15/05/2018 23:32

    About time that Greater Anglia are getting rid of the older trains and replacing them with brand new trains that East Anglia needs. So it doesn't fall apart from other regions in England. That are getting new trains. Whilst North of England is having a mixture of new and old trains and replacing the older trains such as the Class 142, Class 143 and Class 144 Pacers.

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  • A A bryan - 24/05/2019 11:57

    London - Norwich in 60 minutes might eventually be possible. It is not rocket science.

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