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Railwatch 072 - July 1997

New trains for bus business

The biggest order for new trains since privatisation was announced in May by Stagecoach whose slogan is "buses mean business". The 30 new sliding door trains - costing £90million - will not be used for new services but to replace existing slam-door trains on South West Trains.

The announcement came after Stagecoach-owned SWT provoked angry protests after making so many train drivers redundant that they were unable to run a full service. The service improved enough for the Franchise Director to waive a threatened £1million fine.

"This order is great news for SWT's passengers," said chairman and managing director Brian Cox. "It signals the start of a new era for the railways in Britain. Stagecoach has been the catalyst for this new investment which demonstrates our faith in the long-term future of the railway. The double-glazed air-conditioned trains will be more comfortable and provide a quieter, smoother ride."

The four-car trains will accommodate disabled people and will be built by GEC Alsthom at Birmingham for Porterbrook Leasing which was taken over by Stagecoach last year. SWT is consulting with the Disabled Persons' Travel Advisory Committee about the specification.

SWT says the trains will accommodate "at least two bikes per four-car train". That is not enough. The Cyclists Tourists Club says there should be a minimum of four spaces per train. MP Gary Waller said that new trains should have "adequate" space for cyclists and MP Audrey Wise wants bike space on trains to be made obligatory.

Stagecoach says that "flexible train interiors will be provided, allowing the layout of carriages to be adapted to suit passenger demand, for example providing luggage stacks, partitions or tables. The 100mph trains will be delivered in two to three years time. They may help convince the Franchise Director that Stagecoach's seven-year franchise could be extended to 10 years.

Even with this order SWT will be left with a large number of slam-door trains which the Cannon Street accident inquiry said were less safe than modern trains and should be replaced.

Virgin Trains, which has both the West Coast main line and CrossCountry InterCity franchises, has agreed to build new rolling stock to accommodate not only bicycles, but also tandems and tricycles which are banned by other train operators. It is also seeking to increase speeds on the West Coast beyond what Railtrack and the Franchise Director have agreed. It is expected to annouce an order for tilting trains.

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