Operator: Great Anglia
Date: Tuesday 19th October 2021
Last time I ventured into Anglia for a proper railday the branch lines and rural routes were served by a fleet of Sprinters and Turbos. Since then, when I’ve travelled through, I’ve gradually seen these replaced by Greater Anglia’s new class 755 FLIRT trains, however until now haven’t had a chance to try one out.
Eagle eyed readers will notice that these new trains are part of the same family as the new inter-city and Stansted Express trains (read about those here) that Greater Anglia have also introduced. This isn’t because the branch lines of Anglia are suddenly getting 12 carriage trains on their services but because Swiss manufacture Stadler has designed the FLIRT family to be modular. The class 755s operated by Greater Anglia are a mix of three car 755/3s and four car 755/4s, however the wider FLIRT family ranges from two to 12 cars and can be found in 20 countries worldwide.
The oldest of the trains the class 755s have replaced were the class 156 Sprinters which, by the time they were replaced, were over 30 years old and were missing amenities that are now seen as fairly standard across the railway such as Wi-Fi and power sockets. The older units also had limited accessibility with access provided by ramps and the dot-matrix displays only providing the most basic destination and route information.
The new 755s are a game changer in passenger comfort on the rural lines in Anglia, with them being the first new trains delivered to serve some of the lines since their predecessors in the late 1980s. With low floors in the centre of the carriages (the floors raise over the bogies at either end) and LED displays showing a wide range of information, accessibility has greatly improved on these routes whilst the trains also include both standard and USB power sockets and has onboard Wi-Fi.
Whilst the new trains have brought about great improvements for passengers, one of the least noticeable but most significant changes is above passengers heads. The class 755s have pantographs! Constructed as bi-mode, the new trains are able to run on diesel power across the unelectrified branch lines and rural routes before raising the pantograph and changing to electric power on the Great Eastern and West Anglia mainlines.
Whilst the 12 miles from Stowmarket to Ipswich or the 15 miles from Ely to Cambridge may not seem like much, with a fuel economy of less than five miles per gallon managed by the class 170s that used to operate the longer, cross-Anglia routes, that’s five to six gallons of diesel saved per round trip. The new trains have also meant an extension of the former Norwich to Cambridge route south to Stansted Airport, meaning almost half of this route is now under the wires. There’s also the hidden hope that widespread electrification of the railways will be somewhere it the network’s future (especially Felixstowe to Peterborough), meaning these trains are future proofed for positive change.
The longest routes served by the class 755s are the Norwich to Stansted and Ipswich to Peterborough routes which, at between 1hour 40minutes and 2hours long, would have been endurance challenges on some of the former rolling stock. We travelled between Peterborough and Bury St Edmunds, a journey of just over an hour, and I barely noticed. The new trains are comfortable, quiet and provide an all-round pleasant journey, so much so that my mother (with her almost 0 railway knowledge) commented on how she was surprised as she thought diesel trains were noisy!
Whilst Sprinter and Turbos have done a sterling job serving some of Britain’s secondary and branch line routes over the past 20-30 years, I think that their useful life is coming to an end, especially when you compare them to the FLIRTs or the 195s/331s on Northern (read about the latter here). Unfortunately, the country’s rolling stock strategy leaves a lot to be desired and the 170s that were retired from Anglia in 2019 have seen service in Wales before transferring to the East Midlands where they are described as a ‘new’ fleet and ‘modern’ despite being 20+ years old.
Overall Rating 14/25 (read about my rating system here!)