Last week I got to travel on a brand spanking new Great Western Railway Class 800 express train, running betwixt London Paddington and Cardiff.
As a fan of the venerable Inter City 125 trains, I was keen to check out the much-hyped wonders of this new Hitachi-built successor, so here’s some notes I made from my two journeys:
So, I’m on one of the shiny new GWR electro-diesel Class 800 Super Express trains.
The carriage is very bright and airy, the seats firmer than usual but once again the effing wankers have designed a train where the windows don’t line up with the seats. How hard can it be to fix this?
One of the big pleasures of travelling by train is watching the countryside glide past, but on this train some seats only have a partial view, while some poor sods will have bought their expensive train ticket just to stare at a wall of white plastic (see above).
Those sat in the middle are more lucky, although some seats still don’t match up exactly with the windows. How hard can this be, FFS?
The armrests are pencil thin and the dull, two tone greys of the seats make them look a bit dirty already. There’s a bit more leg room though, probably on account of the extra-thin, extra-firm seats.
The booked/not booked seat indicators are an improvement though (although these weren’t working on the return trip).
Seeing as my pre-booked ticket preference for a seat facing the direction of travel had been ignored by National Rail, at least I was able to find another seat facing the right way quickly enough.
Another much-needed improvement were the individual power sockets per seat, and the pull-down tray was reassuringly solid, although anyone wielding a 15″ laptop or bigger will struggle to wedge it in into the available space.
Sadly, the wi-fi remains as slow/patchy/completely useless as ever (see previous rant here) – despite being sat at Reading Station, there was no signal at all and the signal would disappear for long stretches of the journey west.
If you’ve ever got a long journey ahead with GWR, I recommend stocking up on your phone’s data allowance because you’ll be tearing your hair out waiting for pages to download on the company’s sloth-powered network.
Because the much promised full electrification of the South Wales line has yet to materialise, the train has dual diesel-electric power, so the journey gets progressively noisier once the motive power is switched from Paddington’s overhead supply.
It’s noticeably quieter than the 125 on electric power, although there’s some no shortage of rumblings on diesel.
The biggest downer about these new trains is the lack of an onboard buffet – according to this article, they’re gone for good on the GWR.
Because the shiny new Hitachi train is now split into two separate units, you can’t have one buffet serving everyone, so you have to wait for a trolley to rumble into view (if there is one), and that’s rubbish.
Anyone in desperate need of some caffeine will either have to go hunting for the trolley or hope that the train isn’t too overcrowded for it to negotiate its way to you (many’s the time I’ve been on a trip to Cardiff where it’s so overcrowded with people, bags and buggies that it’s difficult to even get to the nearest toilet).
Back to my trip, a two person-operated buffet eventually made it my way and dispensed those comedy ‘milk in a stick’ sachets that always manage to eject half of their contents on opening (see above). There surely must be a less wasteful means to dispense milk?
Talking of staff, there sure seems to be a lot of them on this train – with the train being split into two parts, it needs two sets of guards, train managers, trolley buffet staff etc, plus random GWR-branded folk I saw wandering around. It’s like a Job Centre on wheels!
The all-important toilets were an improvement, although I only used the small one and not the traditionally troublesome large disabled one – although that apparently now has far clearer instructions about locking the door so there should be less involuntary flashing going on.
There’s no guards van, so bikes get wedged into these small spaces, which are apparently bookable (see below).
The door openings between carriages are very slick – when they work. I got stuck in one for a few disconcerting seconds.
The first class looks comfortable enough, but it’s not a patch on the positively palatial leather seats on the older Inter City 125s which exuded executive comfort.
Arriving at Paddington – here you can see the buffet-thwarting two units tethered together.
I still think it’s a ruddy cheek that they can use the branding of the magnificent Great Western Railway.
One last look at the neo-Bullet Train hooter of the Class 800.
My verdict so far?
A bit meh. When the Inter City 125s were introduced they repented a giant leap for passengerkind, whereas these units are more like a slight lurch forward. There’s some nice new touches, but if I could choose my ideal way to travel (and my budget was unlimited) it would be first class in the old 125s please.
The lack of a buffet car is a huge step backwards and there’s no excuse for misaligned windows. The bastards.
Here’s a video showing off the new trains in a bit more depth: