Published on 8th May 2018
Its hard to believe that it was 17 years ago since the last new trains were introduced in the South West, and even then people were asking how can a four and five car unit do the job of an eight coach High Speed Train.
Since then, and following the complete failure of Virgin Trains much publicized 'Operation Princess' (the operation which was going to bring a clock face timetable and more frequent train services to compensate for reducing the length of the train) the Cross Country route has been stuck with trains which were unsuitable for the job. With minimal luggage space for the long journeys they cover, overhead shelves big enough for little more than a brief case, smelly chemical toilets, and no on board catering, electronic reservation systems which often didn't work, the Voyagers have hardly helped the travelling public enjoy the journey, unless of course you travel off peak when they are empty. The 'super' tilting Voyager was also paraded as an innovation to speed up journey times by allowing train to tilt into the curves at faster speeds. In reality the system has only ever operated on the West Coast Mainline leaving 22 examples of the Class with the system isolated never having been used in the South West. The equipment however was all paid for as part of the original new train order. Arriva (part of Deutsche Bahn) and who won the Cross Country franchise after Virgin, have done little more than rebrand the service, and add a few more seats by removing the Virgin Shop. While some of the interiors may have been refreshed over time, the ambiance is principally the same as those which were delivered some 17 years ago. The Voyagers are beginning to showing their age with their outdates decor. At least the Voyagers do have padded seats, which are a comparative luxury on a long journey compared to the Class 800s which are being introduced by GWR. Perhaps the biggest flaw of the Voyager Fleet (and one which still dogs the fleet) is their dislike a salt water which resulted in several high profile failures and rescues on the sea Walls section. Sadly this fault has never been solved and now results in the complete cancellation of services south of Exeter St Davids during high seas or rough weather along the sea wall section between Dawlish and Teignmouth. Such an acceptance of service cancellation for a train which isn't up to the job of being hit by waves on the sea wall isn't acceptable in the modern age, but sadly this has become the normal course of action for Cross Country services during inclement conditions.
The invitation to tender for the Cross Country Franchise starts in October 2018 with the contract to be awarded by the Government in August 2019.Transport Focus.are looking into Key Issues surrounding the Cross Country Franchise and are working with the DFT to make sure the passengers voice is heard by those in Whitehall. The future of the Cross Country network and trains will soon begin to be mapped out once again, will it lead to an add on Class 800 IET order from Japan, a new train order with a specification fit for the Cross Country network, or a revamp of existing trains possibly reformed into longer sets. In just over a year the picture will begin to appear.
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