Thursday, 19 January 2017

Defining standards for passenger train accommodation.

Amongst all the railway enthusiasts on facebook (and IRL) there is (and has always been) a certain amount of banter about which trains are "the best". Among enthusiasts styling, the ability to see out of windows and provision of tables are most normally the highest priorities when it comes to rolling stock. Complaints abound that modern "plastic rubbish" isn't as good as old BR Mk1 stock, where all the seats lined up with the windows. But for the modern day traveller, such quirks come secondary to facilities such as wifi, and the ability to find a seat at all (just check out the facebook page of any TOC to see the number of complaints about the unavailability of wifi.)
To define what I think makes a good train, I've come up with a list of standards of what I think trains should provide, categorised by the type of route the train is on.

  1. Inter-city trains. These mostly are the fast expresses running to London termini, but also include longer distance Cross-country services such as Aberdeen-Penzance. Journeys of 3-8 hours require comfortable seating with sufficient legroom and catering, ideally from a full buffet as full meals, rather than mere snacks are likely to be required. Sufficient luggage space will be required for people going on holiday or on long trips away. First class accommodation will be required and of course toilets! Doors will be at the end of the carriages to provide a comfortable, draught-free cabin environment. Best practice example: Class 390 Pendolino. While some criticise these units for small or no windows and a generally "enclosed" feel, they have loads of legroom, even in airline-style seats, a shop selling burgers and drinks and charging points for laptops, tablets and smartphones. Worst practice example: Class 220 Voyager. For long distance services, these trains are far too small, often having to run as pairs, which necessitates doubling-up of catering crews since there is no gangway connection between units. Legroom is poor and the noise from underfloor engines is intrusive. For diesel services I would prefer locomotive haulage to a DMU.
  2. Cross-country/Inter regional. With journeys of 1-3 hours between Glasgow and Aberdeen or Glasgow and Manchester, for instance, accommodation needn't be as lavish as Inter-city trains, but adequate legroom and luggage space is still required. Catering may be provided by a trolley and DMUs with underfloor engines become more tolerable. First class accommodation is still desirable and of course there must still be toilets. Best practice example: Class 170 Turbostar. With comfortable seating and a tea trolley, a turbostar is a relatively pleasant way to enjoy the 3 hour journey from the central belt to Aberdeen. They are quiet by DMU standards and have enough luggage space for those expecting an extended stay at their destination. 
  3. Outer suburban/Rural. This category takes in a wide range of services, but generally involves trains running between towns and cities to smaller towns and villages in hinterlands, such as London to Brighton or Glasgow to Ayr. It also encompasses services on rural branch lines, where passenger numbers are generally lower, and services to ferries and airports, where extra luggage space is required. Journey times are up to 2 hours, but may be longer on some services to more remote parts of Scotland for instance (in which case a tea trolley may be provided). First class accommodation is not required, but may be offered on services to larger cities. Best practice: Class 380 Desiro. These new trains have transformed services to Ayrshire, bringing more luggage space and free wifi to south-west Scotland. Worst practice: Class 142 Pacer. The ubiquitous "railbus" has no legroom, no luggage space and is noisy and uncomfortable. Simply the worst train on British Railways.
  4. Inner City commuter trains. People movers. These trains carry workers and students to their place of business. Journeys are generally less than 1 hour and passenger numbers are extremely high, so numbers of seats are more important than luggage space. Catering is not required. First class accommodation is not required. Wide double doors in 1/3 and 2/3 positions allow for rapid loading and unloading. Best practice: Class 313 family. The PEP-derived trains (classes 313, 314, 315, 445, 446, 507 and 508, which share a common body with AC or DC power in 2, 3 and 4-car formations) These veteran units are approaching the end of their service lives, but still set the standard for commuter trains. Worst practice: It's those pesky class 142s again. On unelectrified commuter routes, the 142 is outclassed by the class 150 Sprinters.

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