Friday, 25 March 2016

Back To The Future & Gatwick Express Class 387 Review

After my afternoon riding Borderbus's E200MMC demonstrator on Monday I had to get down to Kent ready for my hospital appointment Tuesday and Canterbury rendezvous Wednesday. One of the things that had eluded me so far was a ride on the Short Set since the 37's took up the harness and te E200 arriving punctually meant I could start my journey south in Lowestoft, catching the 1548 to Norwich. At 1540 in she rolled in with 37405 at the what would have been technically called the London end when she left Norwich!

37405 pulls into a murky Lowestoft
The sometimes temperamental 37422 was on the other end, but it was having a good day and pulled her and our weight very well on the way to Norwich although it must be said 405 smoked like an old factory chimney.

37422 at Lowestoft
The noise was fantastic, the acceleration impressive and it's no wonder these locos must be paying for themselves from rail tourism alone! It's also worth remembering that the 37's are older than me, and more and more of them are being re-commissioned and relied on in preference to more modern locos. I want another trip with them and soon!

On arrival at Norwich I decided food was essential and settled for the 1730 to London. Hoping it would be the ex Virgin set with the declassified 1st class coach I was in for a disappointment which turned into a smile when I saw the loco on the front. 90034 has been on loan from DB Schenker for a few months but has seen little action in passenger service. However it was out, still in DRS blue, and looking very smart.

90034 at Norwich
At this point I'd like to give a detailed review of the journey to London. But as I snored most of the way there I can only assume it was good. As it turns out impressively good as I managed to have a quick word with the driver when we arrived at Liverpool St, who told me not only was it the first tie he had driven 90034, but also the first time he had done that trip on his own! The loco looked even better under the Liverpool St lights.

90034 unusually on platform 12 at Liverpool St
A quick transfer to St Pancras International later, which for those making the trip is far quicker if you get off the Tube at Farringdon, then catch Thameslink to St Pancras, and my trip through 50 years of rail travel reached the present day with the Southeastern Hitachi Javelins on HS1.

Hitachi Javelin 395 005 Dame Tami Grey Thompson at St Pancras International

From the UK's oldest passenger hauling locos to the UK's newest HST's in 3 hours and 50 years. What a journey, and when it works like that what a railway!

The return journey yesterday wasn't as eventful with one very fortunate exception. Traveling half hour earlier than intended I arrived on the Southbound Thameslink platform at St Pancras just in tie for the Brighton train to pull in, the front 4 coaches of which was one of the new Class 387/2 Electrostars which are replacing the 442's on Gatwick Express. I know everything there is to know about the Electrostars and how they ride as I worked them intensively while a conductor on Southeastern a few years ago before my sight problems started. Quiet, smooth and rather boring! So this was all about the interior and if it was suitable for an airport service.
387 02 attached to a Thameslink 387/1 at St Pancras International
Now here's an idea for you to chew over. If you want a train interior designed to cater for air travellers then get someone to design it who firstly travels by train, and secondly knows what an airport traveller looks like. Most of them come with at least one accessory commonly known as a suitcase. These contraptions need somewhere to sit - just like their owners - on the journey to the airport. This is commonly known as luggage space. If you are dealing exclusively with people going to one of the busiest airports in Europe it is a fair assumption that there will be a fair few number of suitcases to accommodate. Obvious isn't it. Not to the designers of the 387/2's it wasn't as luggage space is minimal to say the least. In fact the Mark 3 coaches I traveled down from Norwich on had more, and the Short Set far, far more. The only difference to a normal class 387 I could see was a little more the other side of the doors to the disabled toilet, but that was full of buggies.

So we have no luggage space. Gatwick Express also charge more to go along the same rails than Southern or Thameslink do so you would expect the seats to be better and more comfortable to reflect the premium they expect customers to pay. Sorry can't oblige there either.
Standard Class seats on the 387/2's
The only seats on a train harder than those on the 387 I have ever sat on are the wooden ones on Volks Electric Railway on Brighton Beach! But what about 1st class I hear you ask. OK look at the seats above and put a tiny antimacassar on the top of the seat and hey presto - 1st class! I kid you not. But hey they are very red on the outside!

Ok red and grey!
So you have arrived at Gatwick after a 10 hour flight. You are charged £35 for an anytime return to London, so a family of 4 pays £105 just to get from the airport to London and back - think about that for a second - and you are faced with a train with rock hard seats and no luggage space. First impression of England!! An Anytime Return on Southern is £31 btw although cheaper deals can be found if booked in advance. So are the 387's any improvement on the original Class 73 hauled Gatwick Express trains that came complete with a luggage coach? I think not. Definitely not. Next time get them designed by someone who is aware what type of passengers will be using them. But then Govia is 65% owned by Go-Ahead. Enough said.

387202 at Farringdon


  1. You're the expert on this one so I'm probably wrong, but I thought the carriage units were still ordered, specified and distributed around the country by the Government in this strange mess of a semi-privatised railway? The DTp always seem to make the "announcements". If so, enough said. If you want a definition of incompetence, look at a Government Agency. Go-Ahead* deserve criticism, but it's not all their fault.

    * insert anything else you like.

  2. Andrew Kleissner26 March 2016 at 17:43

    At least these trains, with wide doors and no vestibules, are easier to get in and out of with luggage than the old ones. The 442s are great trains - but not for GatEx.

    Even if what Smurful says is true, it would surely not have been beyond the wit of man to remove some seats and replace them with luggage stacks.