The Anonymous Widower

Observations On Thameslink Between Brighton And Cambridge

Yesterday, Thameslink opened the first of their services up the East Coast Main Line.

I gave more details in Thameslink Is Now Serving Peterborough And Cambridge.

Today, I did the following trips.

  • Dalston Junction to Brighton, by Overground, tram and Thameslink.
  • Brighton to Cambridge, leaving at 11:32 and arriving at 14:14, which was a journey time of two hours, forty-two minutes.
  • Cambridge to Finsbury Park, leaving at 14:24 and arriving at 15:10, which was a journey time of forty-six minutes.

These are pictures, I took along the Brighton to Cambridge part of the route.

These are some of my observations.

Are The Class 700 Trains Fast Enough?

There didn’t seem to be any problems today, but usually, when an electric train runs with the 125 mph trains on a High Speed Line like the East Coast, West Coast and Great Western Main Lines, they are a little bit faster than the hundred mph of the Class 700 trains.

Both, Class 350 trains and Class 387 trains are 110 mph trains and they have run successfully on High Speed Lines with 125 mph trains.

Interestingly, TransPennine Express has bought Class 397 trains, to work the West Coast Main Line. These are 125 mph trains, but they will have to work with uprated trains at 140mph, when in-cab signalling is installed.

In-Cab Signalling On The Main Lines

When modern in-cab signalling is installed on the Brighton, Midland and East Coast Main Lines will the current in-cab signalling of the Class 700 trains be able to be quickly updated?

I suspect it will not be a difficult project.

The Updating Of The Midland Main Line

In OLE Changes To Boost Midland Main Line Speeds, I said this.

The title of this post is the same as that of an article in Issue 840 of Rail Magazine.

Currently, the overhead line equipment (OLE) between St. Pancras and Bedford is rated at 100 mph.

But the new OLE between Bedford and Corby via Kettering is going to be built to a standard that will allow 125 mph running.

The article goes on to say that to make the best use of  125 mph bi-mode trains, the possibility of upgrading the St. Pancras to Bedford electrification to the 125 mph standard.

This must give advantages.

Are the Class 700 trains able to to take full advantage?

And are they fast enough to work with 125 mph bi-mode trains?

Are The Class 700 Trains Powerful Enough?

I ask this question, as surely changing from a slow line to a fast line, needs some acceleration and acceleration needs power.

The power available divided by the number of cars for the three trains is as follows.

  • Class 387 train – 420 kW/car
  • Class 350 train – 375 kW/car
  • Class 700 train – 417 kW/car

These figures are not that different.

By comparison, the Class 319 trains, which worked Thameslink for many years had just 247.5 kW/car.

The Class 700 Trains Aren’t Passenger Friendly For Long Distances

I regularly use Class 700 trains for short journeys on Thameslink around London. But going between say West Hampstead Thameslink and Blackfriars, is more of the sort of journey you would take on an Underground train.

  • They are perfectly adequate for short journeys in Central London.
  • The trains are generally lightly loaded, with seats often available.
  • There are plenty of hand-holds for safe standing.
  • The on train information is good.
  • I’ve even used the trains for their toilets.

On the other hand, taking an hour’s journey around London, there are several journeys, where you get a train with much better seats and a higher level of comfort.

  • Aldgate to Uxbridge on the Metropolitan Line, riding on a S8 Stock train.
  • Highbury and Islington to West Croydon on the London Overground, riding on a Class 378 train.
  • Liverpool Street to Shenfield, riding on a Class 345 train.
  • Liverpool Street to Bishops Stortford on a Class 317 train.
  • Paddington to Reading, riding on a Class 387 train.
  • Waterloo to Windsor, riding in a Class 455 train.

Note the presence of two seriously-old trains; Classes 317 and 455, and a train designed for the Underground.

Some of these journeys will get better, as new trains are introduced.

If you look at your new car, passenger features are much better than what you had twenty years ago.

The same can be said for some of London’s commuter trains, but can it be said for the Class 700 trains, when compared with the previous Class 319 trains.

  • Standing is a better experience on a Class 700 train.
  • Sitting is a better experience on a Class 319 train.
  • Entry and exit is better on a Class 700 train.
  • The toilets are better on a Class 700 train.
  • There is no wi-fi or power sockets on either train.
  • The Class 700 train is a better train to serve an Airport.
  • The Class 700 train uses the colours of a nuclear submarine, to calm passengers down!

After my trip of two hours forty-two minutes yesterday, between Brighton and Cambridge, I’m convinced the Class 700 train is unsuitable for this length of journey.

  • The seats are not comfortable enough for this distance.
  • By Cambridge, my phone was in desperate need of a re-charge.
  • At least I don’t generally use wi-fi.

The train was not very crowded, so with a more comfortable seat and a power-socket I’d have been a lot happier.

Passenger Loading Of The Train

For most of the journey, the train was virtually empty and I had four seats to myself.

Incidentally, I suspect that a lot of groups travelling all the way, will put their feet on the seats opposite for comfort.

The only time, the train had more than a few passengers was between Gatwick Airport and London Bridge stations, when it was almost completely full.

Various factors probably contribute.

  • Between London and Brighton, you can take one of Southern’s comfortable Class 377 trains.
  • Between London and Bedford, you can still take one of East Midland’s comfortable trains.
  • Between London and Cambridge, you can take one of Great Northern’s comfortable Class 387 trains.
  • Between London and Cambridge, you can take one of Greater Anglia’s comfortable Class 379 trains.

Competition may work in the Off Peak, but surely commuters have no choice.

But it was interesting, that the only crowded part of the route was the section, where there is no competition.

Take the standard grandparents living in Cambridge wanting to go to see their grandchildren in Brighton.

Will they take a two hours forty-two minutes journey in an uncomfortable train, when you can break the journey in a pleasant cafe in Central London?

Regular travellers on long Thameslink routes will work out their best strategies.

I’d love to analyse Thameslink’s passenger statistics.

But then Thameslink didn’t specify the trains.

Summing Up Brighton To Cambridge

These thoughts can probably be applied to Bedford to Brighton as well.

On the plus side, there is the following.

  • The journey time.
  • Entry and exit to the train.
  • Standing space, which makes it an excellent extra Underground Line in Central London.
  • Toilets

On the negative side, there is the following.

  • The seats.
  • The lack of passenger-friendly features like tables, power sockets and wi-fi.

But, I suspect that for Thameslink, these trains will not be welcoming to Off Peak travellers, where the competition is other operators and the car.

Is Thameslink An Extended Underground Line?

Crossrail has been designed as an extended Underground Line from Reading and Heathrow in the West to Abbey Wood and Shenfield in the East.

  • Between Whitechapel and Paddington, the line functions as a high-capacity Underground Line.
  • Crossrail will appear on the Tube Map.
  • Crossrail stations will have excellent connections to the Undeground.
  • By linking services from Paddington and Liverpool Street together back-to-back, platform space is released at two major stations, which can be used to increase capacity on other routes.
  • Crossrail’s stations are seen as locations to create commercial and residential developments.
  • All stations on the route are being improved and made step-free.
  • Crossrail’s trains appear to have been designed to function as both Underground trains and commuter trains, borrowing heavily from the successful S8 Stock of the Metropolitan Line.

So how does Thameslink compare?

  • Thameslink seems to have been designed as a series of main routes across London, that go through a Central Tunnel.
  • Between London Bridge and Finsbury Park/West Hapstead Thameslink, Londonders will use the line as a high-capacity Underground Line.
  • Thameslink will not appear on the Tube Map.
  • Thameslink stations have mixed connections to the Underground, that were designed by that useless designer called Topsy.
  • Platform space has been released at St. Pancras and London Bridge and the latest remodelling has improved matters.
  • Are Thameslink’s stations seen as development hubs?
  • Are Thameslink’s stations being given the right level of improvement and step-free access?
  • Thameslink’s trains were not designed for the job they are doing.

Thameslink is most certainly not an extended Underground Line!

A Comparison With The Great Eastern Main Line

The Great Eastern Main Line is a line I know well.

  • It has a long-distance service from Liverpool Street to Norwich via Colchester and Ipswich.
  • It has an extensive commuter network from Liverpool Street.
  • Crossrail will increase capacity at Liverpool Street.

When Greater Anglia decided to replace the fleet, they could have gone for a unified fleet.

But they decided on a split fleet.

Note.

  1. It was a pragmatic decision, that provided the right train for each service.
  2. Particular attention has been paid to the interior design.
  3. The interior design has been shown to passengers, before any trains have been built.
  4. All trains will have toilets.
  5. First Class will be eliminated on the Class 720 trains.
  6. The Class 720 trains could share tracks and platforms with Crossrail’s Class 345 trains.

It looks like Greater Anglia took a lot of care.

Did the Department for Transport take a similar amount of care to get the design for the Thameslink trains?

Obviously not!

What Needs To Be Done

These are my ideas.

Split The Train Fleet

Greater Anglia’s decision to split their fleet is a telling one.

  • Express services between London and Norwich and Stansted Airport services will be run by twelve-car Class 745 trains with First Class seats.
  • London commuter services will be run by five- and ten-car high-capacity Class 720 trains with no First Class.
  • Both trains have 100 mph operating speeds.
  • Both trains appear to have well-designed interiors.
  • Both trains will be compatible with respect to station, track and signalling.

Additionally, their Class 755 trains for secondary routes will have similar performance, opening up the possibility of other direct services to London.

I believe that eventually, Thameslink services will be run by two sets of compatible trains.

If they borrowed from Greater Anglia’s logic, this could see.

  • A sub-fleet suitable for long-distance services with twelve-car trains, First Class, tables and better seats for steerage.
  • A sub-fleet suitable for London commuter services with eight-car trains and no First Class.

Note.

  1. The current seats may be acceptable for eight-car trains running short commuter routes.
  2. All trains would be fitted with wi-fi, power-sockets, cup holders, seat-back tables and other passenger-friendly equipment where appropriate.
  3. Of the long-distance routes, only Cambridge to Maidstone East is proposed to be run by an eight-car train.
  4. The long-distance trains would have the ability to run at 110 mph, where possible and needed.

I believe with a bit of sorting and remanufacturing, the current fleet could do a much better job.

  • Passengers would get better seats and other facilities.
  • Thameslink would get faster services on long routes.
  • Would a more passenger-friendly train attract more passengers, especially in the Off Peak?
  • Services on the Brighton, East Coast and Midland Main Lines would allow faster running of other services.

I don’t think I’m talking about anything that is too difficult.

Would It Be Advantageous To Allow Some Twelve-Car Trains To Split And Join?

In Has Thameslink Got The Wrong Length Of Train?, I showed how if the trains were twelve- and six-car units and the latter had the ability to split and join automatically, this would lead to the following.

  • More efficient use of trains.
  • Better operation on the Sutton Loop Line.
  • The creation of extra services by splitting at the ends of a route.

I also showed how it may be possible to adjust the lengths of the current fleet into twelve- and six-car units.

 

 

Put Thameslink On The Tube Map

I know it was an initial service, but passenger numbers on my journey from Brighton to Cambridge , must have been well below Thameslink’s forecast for the route.

I doubt more than a handfull did the whole route, like I did.

It was particularly noticeable, that passengers were thin on the ground between London Bridge and Finsbury Park stations.

And yet this route will have the following characteristics, when Thameslink is fully open.

  • Six trains per hour (tph). Running all day.
  • Two extra tph in the Peak.
  • Full step-free access at London Bridge station.
  • Full step-free access at Finsbury Park station, including to the Piccadilly and Victoria Lines.
  • Same platform interchange with services to and from Moorgate on the Northern City Line at Finsbury Park.
  • Step-free access at all the intermediate stations between London Bridge and Finsbury Park.

I think that Finsbury Park could become a well-used interchange for Thameslink passengers.

But like other interchanges, it needs to be shown on the Tube map, so passengers know it’s there.

On the other hand, if you ask National Rail’s timetable, the best route from Brighton to Oakliegh Park at 11:30 on a Monday, it advises using Thameslink to Finsbury Park and then a local train on the Northern City Line.

More And Better Interchanges on Thameslink

Thameslink doesn’t have many interchanges with the Underground.

  • West Hampstead Thameslink
  • Kentish Town
  • Finsbury Park
  • Kings Cross St. Pancras
  • Farringdon
  • London Blackfriars
  • London Bridge
  • Elephant and Castle

Some are fairly rudimentary and involve some walking, that is not easy.

There is also two interchanges with the Overground.

  • Peckham Rye
  • Denmark Hill

But the Thameslink frequency at these stations, is only four tph, with two extra in the Peak.

Various plans have been floated in the last few years.

  • New stations at Camberwell and Loughborough Junction have been proposed.
  • A  new transport hub linking Catford and Catford Bridge stations has been proposed.
  • A pedestrian link between City Tameslink and St. Paul’s stations.
  • An extension to the Docklands Light Railway to City Thameslink and on to Charing Cross, Euston and Victoria.

Thameslink will only get bigger and better.

 

 

 

March 9, 2018 - Posted by | Travel | , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] I wrote about it in Observations On Thameslink Between Brighton And Cambridge. […]

    Pingback by London Has A New Underground Line « The Anonymous Widower | March 11, 2018 | Reply


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