Rail Review – Great Western Azuma TrainsBack to Forum
I am sitting on a GWR Azuma train from Bath to Paddington in Standard Class as I type this. The Azuma trains came into service in December 2017 and as far as I know, GWR are the only operator though I understand that LNER will also operate it. In that time, I have not seen any reviews of the train and so I thought I would fill that gap with a review of my experiences over the last year or so. Where relevant, I will compare and contrast with the HST 125 trains that most of us will be familiar with.
When they came into service, GWR decided to run two 5-car sets joined together to make 10-car trains. Cross Country sometimes do the same thing with their Voyagers and in both cases there is no way to get from one set to the other set without stepping outside. This can be annoying for passengers who find themselves in the wrong set especially if the train gets split. This often happens at Bristol Temple Meads when I travel from Bath to Weston Super Mare.
In the last few months though, GWR are increasingly running single 9-car sets and I am sat on one at the moment. I really hope that GWR move to this format going forward as it solves the coach labelling issue that GWR keep running into when they run two 5-car sets together. The coaches actually have electronic labels so any coach can be relabelled at will but I have seen many misordered trains due to the first/standard class split.
Currently, a 5-car set consists of 3 std class coaches, a 1st class coach at one end and a mixed std/1st class coach. So a 2×5-car layout results in a 7/3 std/1st split. But whether the 1st class coaches are at the ends or the middle varies from train to train and creates real confusion. GWR does not always relabel coaches as they seem to want 1st class to always coaches A & L even if these are in the middle. The 9-car sets are better as these have 2 1st class and 7 std class coaches in a similar layout to HSTs.
To make matters, at many stations, GWR announce that 1st class will be found in coaches 1, 6, 7, etc i.e. using numbers instead of letters. The coaches never show numbers so why stations do this is beyond me.
There are no buffet cars on Azuma trains unlike the HSTs. In 1st class, the attendant has an area where they can prepare drinks and meals like they have on Voyagers. In std class, a trolley service is provided instead. I must confess I have come to prefer the trolley service and I don’t miss the buffet car.
GWR has the worst wifi service of all train operators. They had to be dragged kicking and screaming into installing it on their trains in the first place and they made sure they selected a slow rubbish system. The Azuma trains gave the chance to do something better and I would say that in general it is better but other operators are still better. The biggest issue is crowded trains when the system usually gives up but at the moment where I am on a half full train, it appears to be OK.
Of course the main difference with the Azumas is that they are hybrids that can run on diesel or electric. So far, most Azumas are now running with electric between Swindon and Paddington but beyond that, they switch to diesel.
With electronic seat labels, in theory GWR can do away with the cardboard seat reservation labels that appear on the HSTs. In practice, the seat reservation system is a disaster and half the time it doesn’t work such as on the train today. Often, the staff resort to using the cardboard system which clearly shows that the system is a shambles. As with wifi, don’t expect GWR to be that bothered about fixing it.
When Azumas first came into service, I wasn’t impressed with the seats at all. They were hard and had an on odd curvature for your back which made it uncomfortable to slouch in your seat. They are also not quite as tall as the GWR HST seats so far a while, I much preferred the HST standard class.
After almost a year with bums on them, I do think the seats are softening and they are more comfortable now. I still prefer the HST seats though for comfort. On the other hand, my perception is that the Azuma seats have slightly more leg room.
The number of 4-seat tables appear to be slightly more than on HSTs and I think the tables are a better shape. Otherwise, all seats have fold down tables which are satisfactory for a tablet or small laptop. Power supply continues to be between the seats but unlike the HST, Azumas, each seat has its own power supply. However, sockets are still 3-pins and I am surprised that USB sockets were not fitted in standard class as well. Some GWR commuter trains now have both types of sockets so this is odd.
One feature I am not sure about is the overhead baggage storage. I like the fact that the rack is mostly clear plastic that allows you to see your coats and bags above you. However, the angle of the rack is rather flat compared to the HSTs and I worry that it is easier for bags to fall if the train rocks violently.
Unlike standard class, First class carriages have both USB and 3-pin sockets. In addition, there are also some airline style seats that you see on Voyagers rather than all seats being around tables that you have on HSTs.
Again I wasn’t over impressed with the seat when it first came out as I thought the leg room with some of the airline seats was not that big. The seats around the tables are still satisfactory but I don’t travel 1st class as much as I used to.
I don’t like the 50:50 1st:std coach split and so I try to get into the 1st class only carriage. This is smaller though than an HST 1st class carriage due to the need for the driver’s carriage and conductor’s office to be at the pointy end.
Otherwise the at seat service is similar to the HSTs and nothing has changed in this regard. In other words, GWR aspire to be the British Airways of train operators!23 Jan 2019
Firstly great review Bath_VIP
And a brilliant point about the trains be joined up, got caught out with this at Newcastle on Cross Country, and found myself heading south again rather than continuing on to Waverley
Almost got caught out with it at Carlisle on a trans Pennine express service as well, fortunately the announcement leading up to the arrival was loud , with clarity and the instructions were simple , plus it was repeated , otherwise I would have annoyingly been off to Glasgow rather than Edinburgh
In the first case, the guard could have been quietly mumbling in Chinese . quite a few fellow Edinburgh passengers traipsed off at Darlington …..very annoying at the end of a long week !! And more annoyingly, they could have let us off at Durham but insisted it was our fault !!23 Jan 2019
Thanks for the train check, Bath_VIP
LNER’s Azuma trainsets have been running up and down the ECML for many months while they undergo certification.
As we reported last October their entry into service has been delayed. LNER still cannot say exactly when they will enter service.23 Jan 2019
It seems that these trains will not be popular with surfers heading west :15 May 2019