RAIL journeys between Edinburgh and London will be cut to just over four hours in 2019 after the UK Government announced yesterday it had ordered a new fleet of trains for the east coast main line.
• New fleet of Hitachi trains to cut nearly 20 minutes from journey times on rail routes between Edinburgh-London
• The new trains are expected to be up to five times more reliable than the current East Coast fleet
The new Hitachi trains, which would slice 18 minutes off journey times, are also expected to be up to five times as reliable as operator East Coast’s electric trains, which they will replace.
UK ministers also raised the prospect of even faster journeys by saying they had an “aspiration” to raise the line’s 125mph limit to 140mph to enable the trains to run at full speed sometime after 2019.
This would require signalling and other improvements. Plans for 140mph trains running on the Glasgow-London west coast main line were shelved during its upgrade a decade ago.
The new trains’ faster acceleration and braking will cut typical Edinburgh-London journeys from 4hrs 23min to 4hrs 5min.
The fastest current train is the 5:40am from Edinburgh, which takes exactly four hours by stopping only in Newcastle.
Yesterday’s order comes a year after ministers announced similar trains would replace East Coast’s 40-year-old diesel trains on the route from 2018, which run between London, Aberdeen and Inverness. They will cut journeys by some 30 minutes.
The new £1.2 billion order is for 30 nine-carriage trains, to be built in County Durham, which will increase the total number of seats by nearly one fifth compared to current trains.
The trains will use 12 per cent less energy per passenger per journey compared to the existing fleet, with an extra 2in (50mm) of legroom in airline-style seats.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Passenger Focus, said: “As well as adding more seats, this should improve the reliability of the East Coast route and reduce time and costs for repairs now that all the fleet is the same. It is critical that Hitachi continues its efforts to involve passengers in the design of the new carriages.”
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “This will not only deliver significant benefits to passengers by further slashing journey times and bolstering capacity, but will also stimulate economic growth through improved connectivity between some of Britain’s biggest cities.”
Hitachi Rail Europe chief executive Alistair Dormer said the trains would build on its successful Javelin fleet, which operate Kent-London commuter services on High Speed One, the former Channel Tunnel Rail Link.
He said: “We have increased legroom, included airline-sized overhead luggage storage, high-quality hotel-standard toilets with baby changing facilities, conveniently-located bike storage and many more features that will make every journey on the trains a great experience.”
Rail experts said the trains would be welcomed by passengers, but were sceptical whether the train order was a good deal.
RAIL magazine business editor Philip Haigh said: “What concerns me is the Government has been unable to explain how the order is good value for money, as it’s essentially a PFI deal.
“It appears the overall cost of the new trains will be twice that of the old diesel fleet.”
A spokesman for the Department for Transport (DfT) said: ”The additional revenue generated by the new trains will offset much of their cost increases.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We welcome the DfT’s announcement of their investment in new Class 800 rolling stock for the East Coast route, which we expect will have benefits to passengers travelling to and from Scotland.
“While the new trains will offer more passenger comfort and reliability, we await more detail on the journey time savings to be felt for passengers on services between Edinburgh and Aberdeen when services begin in 2019.”