GREAT Western Railway (GWR) has unveiled the first of a fleet of high speed, intercity trains today (Thursday), to mark 175 years since the first train operated between Bristol and London.
GWR says the new Hitachi 800 series, which is manufactured in Britain, is the biggest investment on the railway since Brunel, and boast more seats, greater legroom, free WiFi, and power sockets at each seat, along with LCD seat reservation indicators and extra space in overhead luggage racks.
The trains are scheduled to be introduced into passenger service from next summer (2017) on the Great Western Main Line, and from 2018 on services between London and Devon and Cornwall.
Special guests today (Thursday) will board a high speed train from Bristol to Reading, before travelling through Brunel's Box Tunnel, between Bath and Chippenham which when opened in 1841 was the longest tunnel in the world.
They will then alight in Reading, where the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, will make a short speech, before boarding the brand new Class 800 (800 004) Intercity Express Train for Paddington.
Mr McLoughlin said: "Britain’s railways have a glorious past and even brighter future thanks to the record amounts we are investing to modernise the network, deliver better journeys for passengers and drive economic growth.
Andy Rogers, Projects Director of Hitachi Rail Europe said: "Hitachi Rail Europe is extremely proud to be delivering brand new intercity trains to GWR and to be creating some 730 new jobs at our rail vehicle manufacturing facility at Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, an area with a rich railway history of its own."
Great Western Railway Managing Director, Mark Hopwood, said the special anniversary harked back to a rich industrial heritage and forward to a transformational investment programme: "The unveiling of Great Western Railway’s first state-of-the-art Intercity Express Programme (IEP) train offers a glimpse of the benefits passengers in the South West and Wales will enjoy from 2017. These include more seats, greater comfort, better reliability and faster, more frequent services," he said.
Mark Langman, Route Managing Director for Network Rail, said: "Network Rail’s Greater West programme is delivering the power and signalling which will allow these fantastic new trains to reach their potential. They will help transform journeys and grow local economies across the West."
During the summer of 2017, a fleet of 57 new 800/1 trains are scheduled to operate on services between London and Reading, Oxford, Swindon, Bath, Bristol and South Wales as well as North and South Cotswold lines and on selected routes.
Due in passenger service during 2018, the Class 802 (also known as AT300s) trains have been designed to run between London and Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. They are similar to the Class 800/1 but with larger fuel tanks to cope with the longer journeys and higher rated engine output to tackle the gradients through Devon and Cornwall.
GWR is investing £50m in station upgrades across the rail network, including CCTV, station security, improved retail systems and extra car parking. Free WiFi will be available on trains and in stations.
The company is also introducing a £2.2 million fund to support service and station development in areas of social need, as well as a range of activities to help the long-term unemployed back into work.