Voyager trains on wholly electrified routesBack to Forum
Anonymous14 Jun 2009
One for all you Green Party supporters / environmentalists / credit crunch busters, or just ordinary travellers – why are the Virgin services between Birmingham and Edinburgh / Glasgow, a route electrified the whole way, operated by those dreadful diesel Voyager sets? They’re noisy (the carriages being powered – a confirmed contra-indication for whatever eventually replaces the HSTs on the east coast main line), cramped and congested compared with the Pendolinos operating out of Euston. No doubt VT only has enough Pendolinos for those flagship routes and the Birmingham to Scotland routes are thinner, but I’ll be back on flybe / bmibaby next time – enough said. Electrification is a relative luxury in the UK and there’s nothing worse than seeing diesels running all the way under the wires.
The umbilical cord from Edinburgh to the west coast main line at Carstairs was electrified when the east coast was done in the early 90s, ok primarily to allow east coast electric services to extend to Glasgow, but also the other way round, and eliminating the need for splitting / joining at sunny Carstairs.
The west coast main line south of Preston to Manchester (via Bolton) would seem another obvious candidate for electrification, but why bother with the investment if operators don’t then use electric trains anyway.14 Jun 2009
Virgin Trains must have insufficient Pendolino availability to meet demand. They are intensively used. Virgin ordered 53 sets but lost one in that West Coast derailment at Grayrigg in 2007.
But is Virgin really the worst offender for operating diesel trains “under the wires” when you consider that NXEC operates HSTs over the
400 mile electrified route between London and Edinburgh (the trains later continue to Aberdeen and Inverness).
NXEC also operates HSTs over the 180 mile electrified line linking London with Leeds as it doesn’t have enough electric-powered trains to cover the schedules.15 Jun 2009
Yeah no doubt there’s also a fleet rationalisation issue with VT for training & maintenance etc cf the airlines, where to invest in smaller electric units for the thinner Birmingham to Scotland routes could offset the energy savings of electric traction.
The east coast Aberdeen & Inverness services (same for Hull and ? some other north Yorkshire cities) are less of an issue although as you say they do run 400 miles under the wires – the alternative would be a change at Edinburgh, which many use the direct services for to avoid. [And what happened to CREATE, the campaign to get electrification to Aberdeen?…]. Electric / diesel traction changes en route went with the end of locomotive traction in the 90s onwards – yeah sounding a bit sad now! – for those of you still desperate for such a fix the Aberdeen & Inverness sleeper combines / splits and changes traction at Edinburgh.
At least KX to Leeds on a HST is comparatively quiet in terms of cabin noise, and even the unrefurbished carriages of NXEC are still better than the Voyagers for space. The overhead racks on Voyagers don’t even take your standard hand luggage pullalong that even the budget airlines accept (although flybe’s Q400s and E145s are the same), and unlike HSTs there are no luggage spaces in between some back to back facing table seats, so you either take your chance at the end of the carriage rack (usually already full anyway) or stuff it under your seat and spend the journey in the lithotomy position.15 Jun 2009
The use of particular rolling stock and motive power on individual routes and services is a complex situation which involves the Train Operating Company (TOC), the Rolling Stock Company (RoSCo) and the Department for Transport, along with Network Rail permissions.
Whilst the use of diesel-powered traction ‘under the wires’ appears to defy logic, it is merely a symptom of the lack of commonality of priority and purpose between the parties involved; a direct result of the structure created during the privatisation of British Rail.
From a strategic point-of-view, the greater issue with Voyagers (running under the wires or not) would appear to be that the equipment is simply not fit-for-purpose. They are noisy, cramped, rough-riding and under-capacity. Their on-board facilities are also lacking, especially given the fact that they’re operated on some of the UK’s longest services. They are, at best, appropriate for premium commuter routes of up to 50 miles, however I’d argue that the Class 185 Desiro is still preferable for such services.
However, even these Desiros are now being used on MAN-GLA services, which is again outwith their capabilities; with far too much yaw and pitch at high speed on the WCML.
A glance of the fortnightly ‘RAIL’ magazine is enlightening when it comes to the sheer lunacy of UK railway resourcing and TOC marketing.27 Jun 2009
Thanks. Another issue I’ve noticed on the Voyagers is poor mobile reception, certainly with O2 which is fine on other trains, operators and routes. You generally have to wait until the station stops to get even one bar of signal to send or receive data – seems to be much the same all the way from Scotland to Plymouth, certainly via the WCML, haven’t had the displeasure of a Voyager on the ECML for a while. And of course no wi-fi to compensate. Verdict (a la BT Tried & Tested) – rubbish.27 Jun 2009
JimBannerman1 – you’re quite right re: mobile reception. I understand that this is a result of the unshielded traction motors beneath each carriage floor.
On occasion, you may notice that the engines and motors under the First Class carriage are shut down (selective power management) and the difference in the overall cabin environment is stunning. Lo and behold, mobile reception improves simultaneously.
Orange allegedly sponsored some improvements to reception on board Voyagers some years ago, although I’ve not been party to any comments noting a discernible improvement. Perhaps their improvements were to make my Vodafone reception even worse…..27 Jun 2009