Tuesday 30 July 2019

A Flirt That Doesn't Tease

Now it has been known, from time to time, for your blogger to be a little on the cynical side. Just a tad, of course, but nonetheless it's there. At least I thought it was. Now I'm not so sure, because on the 29th July 2019 all my moans and groans about new trains not being a patch on those they have replaced have been proved right. The 375/9's and most of the 377's are not a patch on the VEPS they replaced.  The 700's, although fantastic trains, are as comfortable as a bed of nails, and in that respect worse than the 319's they replaced. The same goes for the 717's that are replacing the 313's, the GWR 800's replacing the HST125's, and of course the much heralded Azumas replacing the Class 91 + MkIV's. Despite improvements in train performance, they are all undoubtedly, from a passenger's point of view, not an example of 30 or 40 years progress, and I haven't been slow in saying so.

Today saw the maiden passenger journeys of Greater Anglia's new Class 755 bi-mode Stadler Flirts. They have been floating around on test for a few months now, their debut into service keenly awaited. Despite Greater Anglia's assurances that they were going to be better than any other new train around, that the seats were ergonomically designed to give greater comfort, and we'd all love them, I was on the sceptical side. I mean. no one has ever said "hey, we're getting new trains but you'll hate them"! I have had so many disappointments with new trains in recent times I wasn't going to get excited.

So at 1715, platform 6 at Norwich station 755410 pulled in to form the 1736 to Great Yarmouth. I had read many glowing reports from the morning journeys, had spoken to Martin at Lowestoft Station who assured me I'd like them and was chuffed to bits the very first passenger journey for the 755 had started at his station, yet I still wasn't convinced. To make the challenge even harder the Flirt was replacing my beloved Class 37 thrash monsters, who were ticking over in the sidings just to remind me of their presence. The odds were stacked against the Flirt.

755410 pulls into NOrwich Station
The 37's reminding me what the Flirt was up against
So I walked up to the second coach, boarded, chose one of the raised table seats above the bogie, and took my seat. It was love at first sit. The seats are comfortable. I'll say that again just in case you thought you may have misread. The seats are comfortable. Regardless of what else is on a train if the seats aren't any good the journey is ruined before it's begun. No such problems with the Flirt, so having had my main concern alleviated I looked around, and I was actually awestruck. Quite simply the Flirt is a wonderful place to be. It manages to be open yet intimate at the same time, which is one heck of an achievement. The air conditioning is highly efficient yet they still feel warm, not cold and clinical like the 700's. The amount of thought that has gone into these trains is astonishing.

The raised table above the bogie

View from the raised seat
It's little touches that count - every seat has a plug socket and usb charging point, but the plug socket is upside down, meaning you get the extra inch of cable which isn't double backed round itself. The arm between the seats is padded, and even Julie Berry on the auto announcements has different inflections for the different uses of terminus stations. Not that the auto announcements were behaving themselves today, but I know from when the Electrostars were introduced on Southeastern that there will be constant software upgrades over the next few months until everything is sorted out.

Every door has a "step" negating the gap between train and platform, except where there's a curve in the platform. I use inverted commas as the train is level with the platform in height, so there is no step as such. The wheelchair bays are nice places, both with a table and charging points, and just too small to get a bike in, as bikes have their own designated space.

The gap covering step

Wheelchair bay 1

Wheelchair bay 2

The call point and charging points in the wheelchair bay
I haven't mentioned the ride yet. Well, if I'm honest, the ride isn't perfect, and you know what? That's perfect for me as it still feels like a train. You can clearly hear the wheels go over points and track joints. You will still get rocked to sleep by the motion yet I found typing on my laptop very easy. The WiFi was ok, although my laptop kept dropping out. The engine pod is quiet, and feels like walking through a ship, the sound of the four V8 engines well muffled. And boy do those engines have some power. The acceleration for a diesel train is phenomenal, and the mind boggles just what it will be like under electric power.

The engine pod section
I was on the Flirt for well over 3 hours. It didn't feel like it. No aches, pains or numb buttocks, and when I boarded a 156 to return to Lowestoft the seats didn't feel as good, and that made my day.

In conclusion the 755 is what a new train should be - that is a vast improvement on what it is replacing, in ALL aspects. Abellio should be applauded for not just consulting with many people from numerous walks of life about these trains, but listening to them as well, then acting on feedback. They have proved it CAN be done, and done well. I didn't hear a single negative word about the trains, and the staff clearly love them, which is another good indicator. Quite simply these Flirts put all other new trains I have been on to shame. Absolute shame. I'll finish by saying this - anyone, ANYONE who claims to be impartial, and not have a secret agenda who continues to defend the 700's, or the Azumas, or the GWR IET's clearly isn't as impartial as they claim. When the Intercity versions come out later in the year I predict there will be shockwaves through the industry, as passengers in other areas will rightly demand to know why their new trains are so substandard compared the Flirts.

I thought calling them Flirts was highly risky, and could have so easily backfired. In a way it has, but not how I expected. Because rather than Flirts, which are teases, they should have been called Cupids, as I am totally and utterly smitten. I will still travel many a mile to see a 37, but if I'm lucky, that travelling will be on a Flirt, and I really didn't expect to be saying that.


  1. I too was awestruck as it was my first ever new train! Definitely have to have another go! FLIRT=Fast Light Intercity and Regional Train.

  2. Can anyone spot the mistake :)

  3. Andrew Kleissner1 August 2019 at 07:38

    I'm seriously beginning to wonder if our esteemed blogger is beginning to go a bit soft in the head ... such an unnaturally fulsome review! Perhaps it's that hot sun we had the other week. Seriously it's good to read such a positive report, I'm now regretting my move from East Anglia but comforted by the knowledge that some FLIRTs are on order for south Wales!

    Presumably station dwell times will not be worse than with the slam-door stock - at least folk won't be hanging out of the windows reaching for the handle, nor will station staff/guards be walking up and down platforms checking that every door is closed. The little retractable steps will also help (which we also have on the GWR 800s) - and they are much better than those half-steps on the Networkers which I find positively trip-worthy!

  4. Great blog! glad you enjoyed the ride!

  5. Time. Money. Patience. What has changed in the last 200, 500 or even thousand years? Not our (lack of) ability to learn, apparently.

    But whilst we're handing out plaudits, I will raise a glass to EC in Ipswich. No, not for making the enthusiasts happy; but for something much more important, striving successfully for a commercial inter urban and rural business, without the underpinning of an extensive urban network. Rare, even if not unique. The high risk is always to go the way of First Northampton, and see their business disappear from underneath them.

    It doesn't always work, but they are not afraid to try, nor to take the hard decisions when it doesn't work out. I haven't come across a single bus traveller who delights in being taken round the houses. A commercial network needs passengers and passengers want convenience. So as Eastern Counties chase the passengers instead of the armchair critics, I happily raise my glass to them.

    Perhaps the enthusiasts and the politicians should get together. They both seem to believe that buses are just for those people who have no option. That equates to a failed business. No thanks.

    1. You won't like my next post, then. I've no evidence whatsoever that EC are chasing passengers. None. What. So. Ever.