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:
7 Comments on “In photos: A trip on the new GWR Intercity Express trains – and my verdict”
I think we are getting these HST replacements on the Sheffield-Derby-London line as well. The fact that things are malfunctioning already doesn’t bode particularly well does it?
I haven’t been unlucky enough to spend a few hours staring at a blank wall on a train but what really irks me is the sloth- like progress of the electrification west of Didcot. I was really expecting it to have been finished/ done and dusted yet it wasn’t.
Are the electro- diesel units a rather shabby way of saying electrification isn’t ever going to happen – not even on trunk routes. I rather fancy grasping the ‘ electric nettle’ was too much for the planners and the keeper of the purse- strings. The chances of electrified lines reaching Penzance are pretty unlikely.
It will be just diesel traction west of Plymouth.
Never been on such an uncomfortable train. The seats in standard are rock hard and it made me want to get off and wait for an old style HST. GWR have also reduced the luggage space by only having luggage racks at one end of the carriage. The aisle is also much narrower and that’s before you even get started on the horrible gray and bright green color scheme. First Class doesn’t look much better and today I was so glad to be back on a super luxurious old style HST for the the return journey. If you find yourself lumbered with the ‘new and improved’ Intercity Express train make sure you have a bean bag and have a seat next to a window as not all seats have windows by them. And this is why we keep having to pay an increase in train fares to pay for rubbish which they spent millions (maybe billions) on ‘upgrading.’
I travelled on one today from Paddington to Temple Meads. The seats are a disaster. Imagine if you want to travel from London to Penzance. I’d like something a bit more comfortable than a church pew to sit on for four hours, thanks very much. Chris Grayling should be sacked.
How little a nationalised industry has moved on since the 1970’s. Compare a 1970’s car with a car from 2018. It’s a massive leap forward in both comfort and technology. These new trains are about the same as the outgoing ones, only less comfortable. Why anyone would pay for 1st class is beyond me. I think it’s a ploy to get rid of first class entirely. If this is the best the public sector can do, I think it’s time we privatised the whole thing, and I means properly. No government subsidies. Any number of train operators can pay to run their rolling stock on the tracks. It’s the only way we’ll see improvements. As soon as we get driverless cars from the private sector (again), these uncomfortable overpriced boxes will be deserted, and they deserve to be.
The uncomfortable trains are not the fault of it being the “public sector” per se, may I suggest you travel on the very comfortable intercity trains in Scandinavia which are “public sector” It may be more to do with the disdain the government and (private) rail companies treat passengers in the UK.
I have yet to sample one of these, but I am not hopeful looking at them. if they are as bad as I fear then once they arrive on East Coast then my days of travelling on it will be over. I already no longer use Cross Country due to the ghastly Voyagers. I read today that passenger numbers are falling again now, and that may well be due to the high fares now charged. People are returning to their cars – just as the government wanted all along. Cars mean revenue, and fat profits for the motor manufacturers, dealers ( having stitched up the design of modern cars so only the main dealers can work on them, and charge what they like), and oil bosses.
I used to travel this route a lot in the 80s and 90s, and loved the wonderful cushioned seats of the HSTs. I don’t live in the region now, but contemplating a holiday to Devon and looking at these rock-hard seats I’m pretty sure I’ll hire a Volvo and drive down, probably be cheaper for four of us too. Hell, even a National Express coach has to more comfortable?