Degrading practices, part 2

(… continued from Degrading practices, part 1, posted on 19 Mar 2015).

One of the discoveries on the Internet that I made during my research for these postings on the impact that bringing HS2 into service might have on the service pattern on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) is a real-time display of the departure board at Euston station. As trains depart from the station they are magically removed from the top of the board, and new services, with later departure times, replace them at the bottom. If you watch this board for a time you will see the names of the three train operating companies that, between them, operate all of these services: Virgin Trains, London Midland, and London Overground.

The Virgin Trains franchise, currently extended until 2017 (or possibly 2018) pending a rerun of the botched 2012 franchising competition, covers the majority of long-distance passenger services under the InterCity West Coast banner. These are limited-stop, express, services to and from London Euston that extend as far as Edinburgh, Glasgow and Holyhead and serve the principle cities of the Midlands and North West including Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.

London Midland operates commuter and some long-distance “semi-fast” passenger services, confusingly under the “Express” banner. This operator also serves a couple of WCML branch lines and provides a service between Birmingham New Street and Liverpool Lime Street. The services to and from Euston extend as far north as Crewe.

London Overground operates suburban commuter multi-stop services using the “DC lines” that run alongside the WCML tracks between Euston and Watford Junction. This service is overseen by Transport for London and is more akin to the London Underground than a main line railway.

There is one other train operator that runs a passenger service that uses part of the WCML tracks running northwards from Euston, and that is Southern, providing an hourly service between South Croydon and Milton Keynes Central, running across London via the West London line. This train does not use Euston station; the first station that it calls at on the WCML north of Euston is Wembley Central.

Using published timetables from VirginLondon Midland and Southern I have constructed a table showing services departing Euston, plus the above-mentioned Southern service, and the WCML stations that are served by these services. For reasons that will become apparent, I have limited my tabulation to weekday services departing between 17:00 and 17:59 and have omitted the London Overground trains.

In my table station stops on each service are indicated by “X” and the terminal stations for each service by “T”. I have added two additional pieces of information for each service: whether the service runs on the fast (F) or slow (S) lines, and the train type utilised for the service.

For the larger part of its length WCML operates on a four-track basis, with two tracks serving each direction of travel. For efficiency of operation one of these two tracks operates as a “slow” line and the other as a fast line. All of the Virgin services and the London Midland services with fewer station stops run on the fast line. The slow line is used for frequently stopping London Midland services and the Southern service.

The rolling stock employed is basically of two types. Virgin Trains operate with “tilting” trains – mainly electricity-powered Pendolinos (class 390), but also diesel-powered Supervoyagers (class 221) on the North Wales service – whereas London Midland utilises more prosaic “commuter” stock. One significant difference that these choices impose is that the Virgin services have a maximum operating speed of 125mph, whilst London Midland services are limited to 110mph.

There are also differences in passenger capacity. An eleven car Pendolino accommodates 589 seated passengers (seating plan), a twelve car London Midland service can carry up to 690 seated passengers. At face value this might be taken to imply that London Midland passengers are more cramped, but a direct comparison is difficult as the Virgin seating plan reveals that there are losses of seating space to catering and sales and a comparatively high proportion of first class seats (25%). Unfortunately, London Midland does not publish seating plans, so I have not been able to compare seating densities in a quantitative way, but the per-passenger space in standard class for some London Midland passengers is certainly compromised by a five-abreast plan, compared with four seats across a Virgin carriage – please refer to the comment by LesF below for additional information/clarification on seating configurations.

You can form your own judgement on seating density by viewing videos of the interiors of Virgin and London Midland trains. What is clear is that a London Midland passenger can expect a rather more austere environment for his journey.

I should note before closing this posting that WCML also carries freight services, but these normally run outside peak hours and on the slow lines.

(To be continued …)

PS: Whilst I have tried very hard to get my facts, and interpretations that follow, right, I am very conscious that I am not a railway buff, but that some of my readers are. If I get anything in this current series wrong, please let me know.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by LesF on March 23, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    Thanks for the interesting post. London Midland’s fleet of class 350 Desiros was upgraded to 110mph running some time ago. This allows them to fit more services in between 125mph Pendolinos. (Trains don’t run at top speed throughout their journeys.)
    Some 350’s have 3+2 seating i.e. 5 seats across the carriage, and some have 2+2 seating and therefore less seats overall. 3+2’s are used mainly for local services, 2+2 for long distance. You can see a 350 seat layout by googling class 350 seating plan. The number seems to be 197 for a 4-car unit so 591 for 12 cars because they are just 3 trains fastened together. Pendolinos seem more cramped than 2+2 350’s, probably because of the tiny windows that don’t line up with the seats, and because of compromises to accommodate the tilting mechanism.
    9-car Pendos are having 1 car in each train converted from first class to standard to yield more seats, and I expect the same to be done to the 11-car sets if passenger numbers continue to rise. While HS2 is clearly a mistake, we will need a major expansion of rail capacity sooner or later. Just a shame they’ve spent 5 years barking up the wrong tree.

    Reply

    • Thanks Les. I have made changes to my blog and updated my table of Euston departures. It appears that Professor McNaughton has the five abreast seating configuration in mind as he refers (in paragraph 173 of the transcript of his presentation) to train for “long-distance commuting” having “around 700 seats”. I accept that the level of passenger comfort will depend on the seating configuration used for a Class 350, but still feel that the general level of comfort of a Virgin Pendolino is higher than a London Midland Class 350 irrespective of the precise seating configuration of the latter.

      Reply

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