Step off the train at London Liverpool Street and you’ll find yourself in one of the busiest stations in the UK. Explore the Greater Anglia network further and you’ll discover idyllic countryside from the Norfolk Broads to Constable Country.
The sheer breadth and diversity of train operator Greater Anglia’s network is both a joy and a challenge, encompassing major cities, market towns, key transport hubs and rural halts across the East of England.
Covering one of the largest and most complex networks of any UK train operator, over 81 million passenger journeys are made on Greater Anglia’s trains each year – but changes are afoot.
Managing Director Jamie Burles stands at the helm of the company that provides 1,300 train services a day to 133 stations across Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and in London. In this issue, Jamie speaks to Ellen Rossiter about the changes underway and how they’re accomplishing something no train operator has achieved before.
“The investment in the Greater Anglia network totals around £1.4bn, meaning our train services will be transformed on a scale rarely seen in the industry. What we are about to deliver is a once in a career moment and it’s a tremendous project of which to be a part.
“Our new franchise began on 16 October 2016 and it proved a watershed moment for the region. Up to that point, the railway in the East of England had lacked investment when compared to other parts of the country, but this is changing. The longer franchise we received means there’s more opportunity for capital investment.
“The Anglia region has had some of the oldest trains operating on the UK rail network. Over the years, our customers have travelled on trains that are clearly not state of the art, including 40 year old diesel trains that have travelled millions of miles during their working life – but soon this won’t be the case.
“In the single biggest full fleet replacement in the history of rail franchises since rail franchises began, we will replace all of our trains. Our current eight different types of electric and diesel trains will be replaced by three types, which will prove more versatile and make maintenance more straightforward. More than 1,000 new carriages have been ordered, with the first new trains already out and about being tested on the network.
“In just over a year, we’ll be operating an entirely new fleet of trains. Our customers will benefit from more reliable trains, greater capacity, a more comfortable travelling environment and better facilities. Every single train will have air conditioning, plug and USB points, fast free wifi and better passenger information screens.
“The quality of our trains will go from the bottom of the league table to amongst the best on the UK network. No one has achieved this on such a great scale before,” explains Jamie. “Every single service on every route we serve will benefit from new trains, whether they are on the east or west of our patch, on a mainline or a rural branch line.
“On the Great Eastern mainline, the May timetable change will see four services introduced running between Norwich and London in 90 minutes, a long-held aspiration and a substantial cut in the journey time. As more new trains are brought into service, we’ll introduce more of these quicker journeys in subsequent timetable changes.
“The ‘Norwich in 90’ campaign was supported by the business community, stakeholders around the region and underpinned by the work of the Great Eastern task force. The improvement in journey times will make London a more feasible commute from Norwich.
“On our rural branch lines, customers will go from travelling on one or two carriage trains to intercity style trains – this is the scale of the change that’s taking place. The growth in passenger numbers on our rural routes has been particularly strong and I’m pleased we’ll be revolutionising our customers’ experience.
“We’re also going to have some of the best trains in the country serving our seaside towns in support of the region’s tourism. All in all, the new trains on our network will be good for our customers and good for the growth of the East Anglian economy too.”
“Almost two thirds of the new trains will be manufactured in the UK at the Bombardier factory in Derby, supporting many UK jobs. These longer, better trains will serve key commuter towns on our network, with the aim that everyone that travels with us will have a seat.
“Whilst around one third of the new trains will come from Swiss-manufacturer Stadler, including longer intercity electric trains, plus state of the art bi-mode trains, capable of switching from electric to diesel power as the need arises.
“The improvements are not restricted to the new trains, for in order to facilitate operating longer trains our Crown Point Depot is being remodelled. Station platforms are being lengthened and Network Rail is hard at work making improvements to the track, signalling and wires that make up the railway infrastructure.
“In addition, we’ve been focusing our efforts on improving the reliability of our existing train fleet with a £20m investment programme for which we recently received a Golden Whistle Award for ‘Best Performance’ for our intercity services.”
The Institution of Railway Operators measured all UK train services which arrived within 59 seconds of their scheduled time, including at all intermediate stations on the journey rather than just at the destination station, for a year up to 8 December 2018. Their findings showed that Greater Anglia’s intercity services achieved the best punctuality score of all the intercity services across the country.
“We’re improving the customer experience in other ways too,” explains Jamie. “By making claiming compensation for delays easier and reducing the threshold for compensation to 15 minutes. Whilst we’re replacing all of the customer information screens at our stations, providing better, clearer journey information.
“In addition, our ‘always listening survey’ brings together customer feedback from different streams in real time, so we know how customers feel about our services, every minute of every day. We can see the touch points that need improvement almost immediately, so we can take action promptly.
“Every year the retail price index announced by the chancellor in June is used by the government to set the majority of fares and as a train operator, we are contractually obliged to introduce price rises in line with this inflationary rise. In East Anglia, our customers know their fares are being reinvested in better train services because they can see the huge amount of physical improvements that are going on around the region.
“Running 1,300 passenger train services a day, necessitates having a finely tuned logistical operation in place which is all the more complex given our trains start their journeys at multiple locations across our network and are maintained at a number of facilities around the region.
“Our entire operations are overseen by our control centre, of which visitors are often surprised by the sheer scale – you can see every inch of the rail network and the position of every train. It is the beating heart that keeps our trains running through the day and much of the night.”
Jamie Burles – Managing Director, Greater Anglia