Two major East Coast Main Line upgrades ahead of introduction of new Azuma trains

Preparations for the exciting Virgin ‘Azuma’ trains move two steps closer to completion this month, as major railway upgrades are completed.

The new fleet of Class 800 and 801 trains, assembled by Hitachi Rail in Newton Aycliffe, will see faster, more reliable and more environmentally friendly trains with more seats and more frequent services and will be introduced by Virgin Trains on their East Coast Main Line route in 2018, to provide an improved service for passengers.

Ahead of that, two major infrastructure landmarks are set to be completed.

The first, to upgrade the power supply on the East Coast Main Line, reached a major milestone on Friday, 25 August and saw the completion of all critical enhancement works to the existing railway power supply on the section of route from London to Doncaster, enabling the introduction of the new trains from late December 2018.

This phase of work has included the commissioning of new substations at Coreys Mill, Welwyn and Langley towards the end of 2016, Essendine and Stoke Rochford in April/May of this year and most recently, Hitchin earlier this month. Also in direct support of the milestone, this week has seen the entry into service of a new 400kv National Grid substation at Essendine, feeding power to the railway via a new lineside substation.

Phase one, completed in March 2016, saw a series of ‘firm service capacity’ upgrades, increasing the maximum power supply from the National Grid to the rail network at four locations between Doncaster and London – Ferme Park, Little Barford, Nene and Welwyn.

The second major landmark, which is anticipated to be completed on 31 August, will see the completion of a project to lengthen platforms at Durham, Northallerton and Stevenage to cater for the longer trains.

This included extending platform 1 at Durham by 35 metres, lengthening platform 2 by 17 metres at Northallerton and also the extension of platforms 1-2 (18m) and 3-4 (11m) at Stevenage station.

Rob McIntosh, Managing Director of Network Rail’s London North Eastern and East Midlands route, said: “I’m delighted that the vital work on the East Coast Main Line is continuing to progress well and these two milestones represent significant steps towards preparing the railway for the new Azuma trains. The East Coast Main Line is a vital route, and the improved service that will follow the introduction of the new fleet will bring major benefits to the economics and communities our railway serves.”

David Horne, Managing Director of Virgin Trains East Coast, said: “Our Virgin Azuma trains, which will be introduced from next year, will help us to transform the customer experience, creating more capacity, and faster and more comfortable journeys on our east coast route. That transformation hinges on the successful delivery of all the planned infrastructure work needed for Azuma and the new timetable. This is an important step on that journey.”

Rob Cairns, Route Delivery Director for Network Rail, said: “This is a tremendous achievement by all those involved with the project, enabling entry into service of the enhanced power supply, which in turn will facilitate the introduction of the new trains.”