Great Northern, who operate the trains on my daily commute, have just introduced some brand new Class 717 rains. These have been long in the coming, but various issues have meant that they’ve come into service a few months after they were initially expected to.
In fact, they’ve been running a limited service for a while, but it was a non-timetabled service, and ran in mid-mornings for a couple of trips. Today was the day when the first they’ve properly been introduced to peak-time commuters.
The above video was shot with an Osmo Pocket in slow motion, and edited on my phone with Adobe Clip.
The trains in general are very nice and make a massive change from the old, and somewhat failing Class 313 trains that have run for something like 40 years now.
Obviously, having only taken a single journey on the new train, my experience is limited, but here are a few pros and cons.
- Aircon! This will be really appreciated on some of those hot summer days when services are packed.
- Very smooth starting and stopping.
- Lots of space – you can walk all the way through the trains. And all 717 services will have six cars and not just three as a number of 313 services had.
- WiFi – I tried it and it worked. Although the 50mb limit will mean that you won’t be streaming Netflix with it. Indeed downloading the odd podcast might be troublesome. (To be fair, there’s good 4G mobile coverage along most of this route – tunnels excepted.)
- Power sockets – I didn’t get a seat today (see below), but I know they’re there.
- Internal displays – There are display screens everywhere which should include London Underground updates. None of the screens were working this morning however.
- Fewer seats. The old 313s had sets of 2 seats on one side, and sets of 3 seats on the other. These trains are all 2 seats a side. That means fewer overall seats, and more standing room.
- Limited luggage space. Although this is primarily a commuter line, there seem to be few spots for buggies, wheelchairs and bikes. I carry a Brompton folding bike with me most mornings, and I’ve not yet found a suitable place to keep it. There were two perfect spots on 313s that all Brompton owners knew about and used.
- No toilets. The operators have clearly maximised space over ‘conveniences’, but even a single toilet would have been useful.
The proof of the pudding will come in the eating, so we will see how things go. I’ve yet to sit down on a service, but the seats look to be on the harder side.
The removal of seats meant that when I took the 0800 service this morning that began at Hertford North, I couldn’t actually get a seat. It’s unusual for me not to get a seat at all at this time, although services regularly won’t have seats just a couple of stops later.
This is all inevitable though. There are increasing passenger volumes, but few of the stations along this route can accommodate trains longer than six cars. That’s particularly the case when it comes to the section of the line from Drayton Park to Moorgate, where all the platforms are underground and limited to six cars. It would take major work to increase them.
There’s definitely room to increase the number of services though, and in particular, there’s room to adjust which services stop at which stations. At the moment, many of the peak Hertford North-Moorgate services stop at most stations, while relatively few Welwyn-Moorgate services stop at every station. That branch of the service also has faster trains running through to Cambridge, but note the number of lines indicating skipped stations on Welwyn services compared to Hertford ones.
I will simply note that near my station alone, there is currently a 500-home construction site, a large number of whose residents is likely to use the local station.
The Office of Rail and Road publishes estimates of stations entries and exits, so you can really see the growth in rail usage on this particular part of the network.
Over the period of this chart, there has been a 62% increase in footfall!
Anyway, the new trains are nice, and the entire fleet of old 313s should be replaced by them in the coming weeks. But on its own, that won’t be enough. We’ll also need more services, and smarter timetabling to accommodate ever increasing commuter numbers.