The state-run operator of East Coast mainline rail services has promised new new trains next year with ‘really comfortable’ seats – in contrast to those compared to ironing boards - however there is concern over whether the overhead line can take it.
London North Eastern Railway (LNER), which runs trains from London to Scotland said the first of its long-awaited Azuma trains will make journeys from London to Leeds in early 2019, with dates for further roll-outs announced throughout the year.
The inside of a Thameslink Class 700
Controversially, the trains are a diesel-electric ‘bi-mode’ hybrid. LNER said this would make them more resilient during disruption.
However last year Network Rail's route managing director, Rob McIntosh, told the All Party Parliamentary Rail Group that he was concerned by the age and fragility of the overhead infrastructure and its ability to support 'nice new trains' with two pantographs, so the old and fragile overhead line 'is going to work twice as hard'.
An LNER spokesperson confirmed that the new trains would have two pantographs on both five and nine car sets, although only the front one would usually be used. However, where two five car sets are coupled together, both pantographs will be used.
The east coast section of the network frequently suffers from damage to overhead power lines and Network Rail has been carrying out a four-year East Coast Mainline power supply upgrade project.
Bi-mode trains have been introduced on sections of the network elsewhere where electrification has not been complete and are controversial because of the pollution they produce when running in diesel mode.
As well as an extra 7cm of leg-room – ‘the best on the east coast’ – and more overhead and under-seat luggage space, the company said in a video that ‘all the seats are really comfy, with lots of clever stuff’.
The claim has drawn comparisons with the new Class 700 trains recently introduced by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and South Western Railway, whose seats were described by passengers as like ‘ironing boards’.
LNER acknowledged that ‘it’s been more than 30 years since the east coast mainline had a refresh’. It said the new Azuma trains, built by Hitachi's UK manufacturing team in County Durham using parts supplied from the North East use Japanese bullet train technology.