While the new Corby electrics, out of all the trains due to be introduced on the Midland Main Line, are the trains that will be used most heavily by travellers to and from Bedford, numerous other changes to the EMR fleet will have at least some impact.
East Midlands expresses in 2020: HSTs
Currently, the express services on the Midland Main Line are made up of quite modern class 222 Meridian trains, and rather older High Speed Trains. It’s the HSTs we’re concerned with here. These very well liked trains, widely regarded as both very comfortable for passengers and something of a design icon in their own right, have recently been withdrawn from services on the East Coast Main Line (King’s Cross to Scotland) and Great Western Main Line (Paddington to the West). And in December 2020, they are due to be withdrawn from the Midland Main Line as well.
Except it’s not as straightforward as that. Remember the fiasco of the railway’s failure to meet new standards on accessibility for disabled people? Well, as predicted long ago on this site, the Department for Transport had no choice other than to issue a derogation to allow the continued use of HSTs. However, the HSTs that have been withdrawn from service on the ECML were refurbished more recently than the ones currently used by East Midland Railway (seen every day running through Bedford, wearing their old East Midlands Trains livery, suitably rebranded). This means that they have some features that are compliant with the regulations; overall they still need a derogation, but they are ‘less non-compliant’.
So, by ‘late spring’ most of the old blue-liveried HSTs should be gone, to be replaced by red-liveried HSTs, sporting the colours of the London North Eastern Railway, and before that Virgin Trains East Coast, but now with an EMR logo. They will start to come into service within the next week or two, and are due to be working on the line only until December, when all the HSTs will be withdrawn – including three remaining blue, ex-East Midlands Trains sets, that are leased separately and will be kept on (long story, don’t ask).
LNER held a very successful and quite high profile railtour to mark the end of HST service on their routes, and it seems pretty likely that EMR will do something similar, though perhaps not quite as big. It may even be that, rather than repainting a train into its original BR livery as LNER did, EMR will put one into their new purple livery – but that’s all still very much TBC.
However, EMR have trialled a four-coach HST, to see if this shorter, lighter train can match Meridian timings. This has been done with an eye to ‘contingency’ options – it’s not clear exactly how they might be used, and what the results of the trial were, but if there are delays to the introduction of the class 360s, for instance, we could yet see these ‘fun-size’ HSTs in service into 2021.
East Midlands expresses in 2020 and beyond: class 180s
While the HSTs will be withdrawn, EMR plans to make up for their loss partly by gaining a few Meridians from the Corby services (which will get their own class 360 trains, see posts passim), partly by generally making more efficient use of their fleet such as by reducing down-time at terminus stations, and partly by adding four trains to the fleet, in the form of four class 180 diesel units.
The class 180s are being cascaded from Hull Trains, who (like LNER) are getting new bi-mode trains to replace them. Like the Meridians, they are 125mph trains with impressive acceleration – and frankly, for the average passenger they look pretty similar too, so many people won’t notice the difference. Unfortunately, there’s no getting away from the fact that they have long-held reputations for unreliability – some members of the class have been made to work reliably by some depots, so it might not be a problem, but across the railway as a whole they are not especially well-regarded trains.
The class 180s are expected in service from May.
East Midlands expresses from 2021: Class 810s
There is no sign (yet) of the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, reversing the decision by his notorious predecessor Chris Grayling to scrap electrification of the Midland Main Line north of Market Harborough. So, EMR has ordered a fleet of bi-mode trains, which can run on either diesel or electric power, but have to use energy to lug around whatever set of power equipment they’re not using at any given moment.
Unsurprisingly, the trains are coming from the Hitachi family of Intercity Express Trains that are becoming ubiquitous across the rail network, making up the new fleets ordered by LNER and GWR, plus Hull Trains, and part of the new TransPennine Express fleet as well. The trains that will run out of St Pancras are broadly similar: they will have slightly shorter carriages, to fit in with the infrastructure on the line, and enhanced diesel performance compared to other trains in the family, so that they can match the Meridians’ performance levels. While in principle this is a tough new demand, the trains overall are now quite well developed and mature, so (touch wood) they should be reasonably reliable when they enter service, as the teething problems will mostly have been ironed out with the earlier trains.
There will be 33 five-car sets, and most services will have two of them coupled together. Their interiors are still being developed: fortunately EMR is not required to run the hard, Thameslink-style seats specified on some other operators’ bi-mode trains. They will have denser seating than the Meridians, though: a 5-coach train will be roughly equivalent to a 7-coach Meridian. It remains to be seen whether this will translate into uncomfortably cramped interiors; the Meridians are apparently quite inefficient in this regard, partly because they contain over-generous provision for first class.
Rather stupidly, they will run for a while on diesel power between London and Bedford, despite the presence of electric wires overhead. This is because the wires need upgrading to support speeds above 100mph, which is due to be completed no earlier than December 2023, so to get up to 125mph they will have to use their diesel engines.
There has been speculation that they will be officially designated as class 804, but it now appears that this won’t be the case (class 803 has yet to be assigned to any new trains, so that’s another possibility). EDIT: just after this post was written, but just before it was published, EMR’s Fleet Director tweeted that the trains will in fact be class 810.
They are due to enter service from 2022, and whatever Intercity services call at Bedford from that time (whether just on Sundays or, later, reinstated Intercity stops to connect with East West Rail), they will be formed of these new trains.
Featured image adapted from a promotional image by East Midlands Railway.