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Railwatch 073 - October 1997

Mind the new doors please

By Brian Bell

After a long period with no new trains, there are now over 500 vehicles on order. The new trains, mainly for suburban services, will be based on the standard bodyshells of Adtranz and GEC Alsthom.

Unfortunately the opportunity for a thorough re-think of the design of multiple unit stock has not been taken. The new trains will perpetuate the standard suburban vehicle layout with two sets of bi-parting doors, one-third and two-thirds from the end of the vehicle.

They are thus an evolutionary development from the design which began with the class 313 multiple units of 1976 and continued through with the class 317 Bedpans, 319 Thameslink and Networkers.

This style of vehicle was developed for inner-suburban routes where rapid loading and unloading at stations is called for. The design has inherent drawbacks due to the central location of the doorways which, among other disadvantages, makes it impossible to achieve a satisfactory seating layout and is uncomfortable in winter when cold air comes in at every station.

The comfort was traded-off without gaining effective crowd-handling capability. The doorways are not quite wide enough to allow people to pass through two-abreast and the problem is compounded by the lack of circulation space around the vestibules and the British reluctance to make body contact. Some of the deficiencies of the Bedpans and Thameslinks were remedied in the Networkers, but in one respect, the latter are even worse, due to the awkwardly dimensioned entrance steps. It would have been productive for the train builders to study the evolution of trains in service on the London Underground and other urban rapid-transit systems such as the Paris Metro. Instead the unsatisfactory design was used on routes where comfort is important because passengers may be travelling for two hours or more - longer than many inter-city journeys.

With the possible exception of the trains for the London, Tilbury and Southend line, none of the new trains on order are intended for routes where a high-density crush-loading capability is required. Most will be running on the type of service which is currently operated by trains like the 411 Kent Coast units or the popular and comfortable Brighton line class 421 sets.

The generally unfavourable reaction of regular travellers to the refurbished Thameslink stock used on the premier Brighton line services shows that, despite much ingenuity, substantial expenditure and attractive decor, this vehicle type is totally unsuitable for long-distance, main-line services.

Why, then, are the manufacturers and train operating companies foisting the one third/two third sliding door design on the travelling public? Boarding and alighting times are excessive, there are more door mechanisms than necessary and the type is less than ideal for the leasing companies because of its fundamental inflexibility.

This configuration also poses constructional problems, being ill-suited to a monocoque bodyshell because it places wide door openings just inside the bogie centres - the worst possible location. A new design of end-vestibule type would be better for the rail routes to the South Coast for instance. An end-vestibule plus a centre single-leaf plug door arrangement would be sufficient. This would, in fact, be an updated version of the class 411 stock. On routes where conditions really are like those on the London Underground, the vehicle layout needs three or four doors per side.

There is money to be saved by adopting a more efficient design. On present form, however, all we will get are fresh new trains with pointy-nosed front ends which should look good on posters and leaflets.

If you are used to the class 423 stock, you may find the new trains an improvement. But if, on the other hand, you are comparing the new trains with the mark II inter-city stock as presently used on Gatwick Express, or the class 411 Kent Coast units, you will not be impressed. One further loss on the new trains is the headcode box which helps regular travellers at least identify their trains.


Connex South-East 30: four-car electric units to replace the class 411 Adtranz

Chiltern Trains: Four three-car diesel units Adtranz

Gatwick Express: Eight eight-car electric units to replace mark II coaches GEC Alsthom

Midland Main Line: 13 two-car diesel units Adtranz

LTS: 44 four-car electric units to replace class 310/312 Adtranz

South West Trains: 30 four-car electric units to replace class 423 GEC Alsthom

Total vehicles 518

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