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Weekend Read for 99p | Britain’s New Trains

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Bombardier’s latest EMU platform is well on the way to overtaking its hugely successful predecessor, the ‘Electrostar’ family, with thousands of vehicles ordered for delivery over the next few years.

Netherlands Railways subsidiary Abellio took the industry by surprise in August2016 when, as part of its new GreaterAnglia franchise, it opted to replace the entire existing fleet with new Bombardier and Stadler-built trains. The lion’s share of that order went to Bombardier’s Derby plant, with a massive £900 million order for 111 ‘Aventra’ EMUs.

The Class 720s, formed into 89 five-car and 2210-car trains will form a unified fleet and replace ex- BR Class 317s and 321s dating from the 1980s, early-2000s Siemens Class 360/1s and more recent Class 379 ‘Electrostars’ on inner and outer-suburban routes radiating from London Liverpool Street to Essex, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

As part of the ‘Aventra’ family, the Class 720s will resemble Crossrail’s Class 345s and Class 710s being constructed for Crossrail and London Overground respectively. However, the ‘720s’ will have a higher maximum speed of 100mph, reflecting the longer-distance services they will work.

GA Aventras will work from Liverpool Street to Cambridge, Hertford East, Southend Victoria, Southminster, Braintree, Colchester, Clacton, Walton and Ipswich, supported by the Stadler FLIRTs working the Stansted Express and London-Norwich inter-city services. They will be maintained at Ilford depot and another facility yet to be decided.

A new depot at Brantham, near Manningtree, was to have been completed in time to start receiving the new fleet for commissioning in late-2018, but this has been put on hold due to access problems. As this publication went to press, an alternative site in Harwich was being suggested.

The units will be fully air-conditioned, with seatback tables and at-seat power sockets, passenger-loading and capacity indicators providing real time data to the passenger information system and on-train wi-fi. Seating will be arranged in 3+2 and 2+2 suburban style, with seats cantilevered from the wall to create more space for bags and make cleaning easier.

Five-car Class 720/5 sets will be 122m long and provide 544 seats, while their 10-car sisters will have a whopping 1146 seats, highlighting their intended role as peak-time ‘crowdbusters’.

Variations of the ‘Aventra’ platform are being built for several different customers but, according to Bombardier, the Class 720 is one of the most densely populated vehicles it has yet designed.

The 665 cars are designed to carry as many people as possible, a key factor of Abellio’s bid to retain the East Anglia franchise (from 2016 to 2025) on the basis of strong passenger growth over the coming years. The Class 720s will individually carry between 22% and 45% more people than the current fleet.

The walk-through ‘Aventra’ cars will have 3+2 and 2+2 seating configurations, as well as fold-down chairs and areas for wheelchair users. Perhaps controversially, the Class 720s will not include First Class accommodation – another compromise to ensure increased seating capacity.

The ‘720s’ will allow GA to increase capacity while reducing the number of cars per train at the same time – reducing weight and maintenance costs. The cars are longer than the current fleet at 24m rather than 20m – making the 10-car variant comparable in size to a 12-car Class 321 formation.

An interior mock-up was unveiled by GreaterAnglia in September 2017, following a consultation with passenger groups and members of the public. Changes to the original specification included replacing the proposed Fainsa seating with softer seating and the addition of seatback tables – the omission of which from Thameslink Class 700s has been the cause of much criticism.

Passenger information systems will display where space is available on a train, whether toilets are available, journey progression and updates for onward journeys by main line and London Underground services.

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