Ellie Burrows, route director, Anglia.
Welcome back to my Train of Thought blog.
I started writing a blog so that I could keep you updated on Network Rail Anglia’s journey over the next few years. Between 2019 and 2024 we’re investing around £2.2bn in operating, looking after and improving the railway infrastructure. Every penny that we spend goes towards creating a railway that gets people and goods where they need to be on time, every time.
An extraordinary joint effort
This is most certainly not a journey that we are taking alone. Running the railway in Anglia relies heavily on my amazing colleagues here at Network Rail, but it is also entirely dependent on our key partners – the passenger and freight train operators, a vast range of contractors and suppliers, local and national government, and input from the full range of stakeholders right across the route.
In short, the railway is a system that goes far beyond any one single business or organisation. Day in, day out, it is an extraordinary joint effort on a massive scale.
That’s why I am clear with my teams at Network Rail that constant improvement in the way we work together is the key to us fulfilling our guiding mission of putting passengers first. All our work to provide the best possible service for passengers is inextricably linked to the work our partners do to achieve the same goal. It is impossible for us to succeed by ourselves.
To illustrate my point about the power and importance of collaboration on our part of the railway, I am going to focus on the support we are providing to our fantastic train operating partner, Greater Anglia, with the total transformation of their train fleet.
This transformation is well underway. The first new train went into passenger service in July 2019 on the Norwich–Lowestoft and Norwich–Great Yarmouth routes, marking the start of a roll-out which has already seen the retirement of all the old diesel and slam-door trains. By summer 2022, the entirety of the old Greater Anglia fleet will have been replaced with state-of-the-art, brand-new trains that are fully equipped for twenty-first century travel.
Revolutionising the passenger experience
If you’ve had the chance to take a trip on one of the new trains, you’ll know that there is no comparison whatsoever with their predecessors. All of them provide the benefit of more seats (and more comfortable seats), a quieter ride, LED lighting, fast free WiFi, better passenger information, more effective air conditioning, plug sockets, large picture windows, dedicated bicycle spaces and much improved accessibility. The intercity, regional and Stansted Express trains also have lower floors with a retractable step for level access boarding at many stations, while the new suburban trains also have underfloor heating and no internal doors between carriages.
Not only do the new trains revolutionise the passenger experience inside the train, they accelerate and slow down more quickly than the previous rolling stock, providing greater service reliability and resilience, as well as the potential to reduce journey times in future timetables.
The trains are greener and cleaner too. Regenerative braking is used to deliver energy back into the electrical supply network, the interior lights automatically brighten and dim depending on the conditions outside and all trains can now run on electricity wherever there are overhead power lines. Even where trains still need to run on diesel, their engines are newer and much more efficient.
It’s worth having a look at the Greater Anglia website to get to know the new trains better and discover just how much of an upgrade they are.
In order to be able to introduce their new trains, Greater Anglia has had to make significant changes to the railway infrastructure, and there is still a lot of work happening ahead of the roll-out of over 100 more trains across the rest of their routes.
Getting a new train running on the network isn’t as straightforward as when you buy a new car and drive it off the forecourt onto the road.
There are lots of reasons why the new trains can’t immediately be put into service as soon as they are finished.
For a start, they are a completely different design and configuration to the old trains, so platforms have to be lengthened at certain stations and signals moved so that drivers can see them clearly. New sidings are required to store the longer trains, and the position of the track needs to be checked across all routes to make sure there is always enough room on either side for trains to run safely.
New trains have different power requirements too. This means that engineers sometimes need to upgrade the electrical supply to the overhead lines, and put new fuel tanks in place for the trains that need diesel to run.
At the train depots, bespoke maintenance equipment needs to be installed. And the new trains no longer empty toilet waste directly onto the tracks as the old trains did, so vacuum-powered hoses must be set up to empty the onboard tanks.
Where does Network Rail come in?
You might be wondering why I said that Greater Anglia is doing all this work when it’s Network Rail’s job to look after the railway infrastructure. Where do we come in?
In this case, Greater Anglia is responsible both for the new trains themselves and for the delivery of the related infrastructure changes. But even so, Network Rail is intrinsically involved in almost all aspects of the programme, not least through our work on asset protection and optimisation.
Our asset protection teams provide expert support to anyone outside of Network Rail who is planning activities on or near the railway. The aim is to help people deliver their projects successfully and safely, with minimum disruption to the railway.
We often do asset protection for organisations that normally have nothing to do with the railway, for example housing developers and utility companies, as well as for individual lineside neighbours who are having building works done on their home.
However, we also carry out asset protection with other businesses in our industry that work directly on the railway itself. This includes projects by Greater Anglia and their contractors.
Before the start of an infrastructure project for the new trains programme that is going to affect the wider railway, we collaborate with Greater Anglia to understand the exact nature of the work, review the proposed design and construction methodology and finally get the agreement in place so that work can begin.
It’s not just members of our asset protection team itself who are involved in helping to deliver these projects efficiently and effectively. Experts from right across our business work alongside Greater Anglia’s teams every single day, including sponsors (project delivery specialists), a wide range of engineers, and colleagues who help contractors get safe access to the railway.
The bigger picture
Even once the final new train has been introduced, it is only the end of the beginning. Network Rail and Greater Anglia are going to be working together to bring the benefits to passengers for many years to come.
I mentioned before about the improved performance of the new trains potentially allowing for reduced journey times in future. These kinds of changes require a lot of input from the Network Rail people who keep the railway running. Our planners, signallers, control room colleagues and operations managers have already played a key role in getting us ready to start running the new trains on our network, and they are going to be just as critical in maximising the performance capabilities of the fleet, day in, day out.
More broadly, it’s crucial that we don’t see Greater Anglia’s new trains and our ambitious railway upgrade plan as separate endeavours. There’s no point in giving passengers a fantastic on-board experience if their train is delayed. The new trains run on Network Rail infrastructure and we are determined to play our part in delivering the most reliable railway we possibly can – building on the excellent progress of the last 12 months, where our joint Network Rail-Greater Anglia efforts have delivered some record performance across our network.
Our joint focus with Greater Anglia over the coming years will absolutely be on making the most of these amazing new trains, which represent the biggest transformation of the passenger experience in East Anglia for a generation. They are going to be valuable assets as we work to win people back to the railway after the pandemic and, coupled with the huge investment we are making in infrastructure, they really do exemplify the ethos of building back better (and greener).
Putting passengers first, together
Rail industry leaders are talking about collaboration a lot at the moment, and I couldn’t be more willing to be part of the conversation. From my point of view, the more focus we put on improving the way we work together, the more effective we will become.
I think our partnership with Greater Anglia on their new trains programme is a good case study because it shows that we can collaborate in a way that is outside our business as usual activities. We have had to adapt to each other, create new ways of working, break down barriers and innovate on the go.
All of this bodes well for a future where, as an industry, we are going to need to deliver infrastructure projects faster and more cost effectively than ever before. If we are going to keep fulfilling our mission of putting passengers first, we will need to do it with all our partners by our side, drawing on the power of collaboration to drive us forward.
We’re looking forward to welcoming more and more of you back to our railway as restrictions gradually lift. With brand-new trains rolling out across the network, many already in place, and ongoing investment in our infrastructure, there are brighter days and better journeys ahead.