|MARLOW - MAIDENHEAD PASSENGERS' ASSOCIATION|
The numbers in brackets refer to the pictures. Click on a picture to see a larger image.
It was a mild Monday morning when I arrived at Paddington station in plenty of time to catch the 07:00 departure to Bristol Temple Meads. This was to be the first IET out of Paddington in public service, although the first of all was the 06:00 from Bristol - more of that later.
The lines through Reading had been closed over the weekend for electrification work but fortunately the railway had been handed back on time so all was well.
The sleek new Hitachi Class 800/0 train was waiting at platform 3, attended by a large number of GWR and Hitachi staff (2,3). It comprised two 5-car sets, numbers 008 and 009 which had been released into service along with 005 and 006 coming the other way. The coach letters are displayed on both external and internal information screens. The first set is labelled A to E with A being a quiet coach, D a composite (one third first class) and E first class. Needless to say a wheelchair accessible toilet is provided (12).
When two sets are coupled together the second set is labelled G, H, J, K and L respectively. There’s no F in IET! Small labels near the door controls indicate which seat numbers are closest to that end of the coach (4). I joined coach D in the leading unit, the palindromic 800 008.
Normally the first class accommodation will be at the London end but on this occasion both first class sections were marshalled in the centre of the train.
The trains being brand new, the interiors were spotlessly clean and the ambience of the train is good. Seating is 2+1 in first class (6-8) and 2+2 in standard class (5,9), both with a mix of tables and front-to-back seats. Seat pitch in standard class is adequate but I found the seats just about as uncomfortable as those in the Electrostars and for the same reason - lack of lumbar support. With a bit more care the tables could have been located where they aligned with windows. Pull-down blinds are slotted into the windows. I'm not sure I like them because whenever you want to see what's on the other side of the train you find that someone’s pulled the blind down.
The trains are equipped for electronic seat reservations (10) but GWR was still using cards (5) - probably a good precaution in case an HST had to be substituted. Concealed lighting is no doubt provided by LEDs and the air conditioning is reasonably quiet (unlike class 166s). The green matrix information screens show the coach letter on the left and the time on the right, with scrolling messages in the middle.
Power sockets (230v AC but not USB) for phones, tablets and laptops are provided between the seats (11), and free Wi-Fi was available. If you’re in the window seat remember to route your cable under your legs in case you have to leave your seat during the journey.
We made an on-time departure and the train accelerated swiftly out of the station. Between Slough and Maidenhead we reached the maximum speed of 200km/hr (125mph) which is of course what the HSTs or “Intercity 125s” achieved forty years ago. So much for progress! I'm reminded that the line speed is dictated by the signal spacing and that is unlikely to change before we move to in-cab, moving block signalling - what’s now dubbed the “digital railway”.
Changeover from electric to diesel was almost imperceptible except that our speed fell away, but Reading was reached three minutes early. With the train standing in the platform the sound of the diesel engines became more apparent, but nowhere near as intrusive as on Adelantes and Voyagers.
After departing Reading on time we struggled to keep up to 110mph and we were three minutes down at Didcot Parkway. The acceleration away from a standstill on diesel is impressive but top speed leaves something to be desired. We reached 100mph by Grove and peaked at 112 near Shrivenham. Swindon was reached four minutes late.
After Swindon we hit 100mph at Wootton Bassett Junction and topped out at 121 after Christian Malford. The next stop was Chippenham where we were still four minutes down. At this point the CIS decided to play and display some irritating recorded announcements about CCTV and unattended luggage. Normal journey announcements were made live by the train staff.
The train was full with standing passengers from Chippenham, and departure was six minutes down. At this point the refreshment trolley was announced. Needless to say it didn't get through! I guess there's one trolley for the two units, and there being no gangway between them it would have to be manhandled using the ramps.
We were told that because of the short platforms at Bath Spa the doors on the last three coaches of the rear train would not open, leaving just two coaches through which to alight or board. Unlike HSTs which do not have passenger accommodation in the power cars, all the IET vehicles carry passengers.
Bath was reached five minutes late, and the aforementioned palaver meant that departure was seven down. This was held until Bristol Temple Meads (13-17).
The train remained in Platform 15 ready to form the 09:30 service to Paddington. This time I rode in the leading coach which was coach G in 800 009. This time the information system was functionning properly with all the station stops announced. Departure was on time and Bath Spa was reached two down at 09:43. Slow station work probably due to unfamiliarity lost an extra minute. The 2 minute sheduled stop was a bit optimistic.
100mph was reached by Thingley Junction before we had to slow for Chippenham. Whilst acceleration was brisk the same can't be said for retardation. The train glided into stations at a very leisurely speed. We departed Chippenham without further loss and reached 95mph near Lyneham. We reached Swindon seven minutes down and left eight down.
The train being less crowded on this journey the trolley had no problem getting through and I purchased a welcome cup of coffee (18). The attendant couldn't take NFC (“contactless”) payments so cash was required.
Speed crept up to 118mph between Grove and Steventon before the next stop at Didcot Parkway. Despite SDO on two cars departure was made at 10:41 with no further loss. 100mph was achieved at South Stoke, rising to 110 at Pangbourne. Departure from Reading was seven minutes down and we struggled to reach 104mph before Maidenhead.
The changeover was again hardly detectable but our speed drifted down to 100 at Taplow before the juice kicked in. 125mph was easily gained by Cippenham and apart from a dip to 100 at West Drayton we held it through to Hanwell when we had to slow for a 30mph temporary speed limit through Ealing. This lost the time we had gained and we drew to a cautious halt on the blocks at Paddington’s platform 3 nine minutes adrift at 11:23 (19-20). It sounded as though the engines were still running.
It looks like the bi-mode IETs might be able to keep to HST timings on diesel with lower line speeds, but on long 125mph stretches they are frankly disappointing and have no scope for making up time. The sooner full electrification is completed the better!
Our train was prepared for its next trip to Swansea and back, which it completed without any disasters. This can’t be said for its sister train, 800 005 and 006 on the 06:00 from Bristol Temple Meads. Departure was late because of system problems at Stoke Gifford depot. An air conditioning fault resulted in water dripping onto the seats in one coach, and the changeover to electric traction at Maidenhead failed because the pantograph wouldn't rise.
The train ground to a halt at Taplow where its systems needed to be reset before it could continue its journey on diesel, arriving 41 minutes late at Paddington. The invited guests and press on board were unimpressed!
The train was withdrawn from service and taken back to North Pole depot. A reliable HST was substituted. Ironically the Intercity 125 included one of the oldest power cars, 43002 Sir Kenneth Grange in original “flying banana” livery. Nothing like rubbing salt in the wound!
Both trains were back in service on Tuesday only to be withdrawn again until Friday with a number of software and data issues.
Last updated 22nd October, 2017