Greater Anglia’s new Aventra is a train built with capacity in mind. Bombardier is manufacturing four variations of the electric multiple unit (EMU) platform for four different customers but, according to project director Alan Fravolini, the Class 720 is one of the most densely populated vehicles they have designed.
The 665 carriages – 89 five-carriage and 22 10-carriage trains – are designed to carry as many people as possible, which was at the core of parent company Abellio’s bid to retain the East Anglia franchise from 2016 to 2025, and is in anticipation of the franchise’s future passenger demands. The Aventra trains will individually carry between 22 and 45 pre cent more than the current fleet.
Leased by Angel Trains – which partnered with Bank of Australia to finance the order – the £900 million Bombardier Aventras are not the only new train class joining Greater Anglia’s (GA) fleet. The operator has ordered 383 bi-mode carriages from Stadler to run on its intercity, Stansted Express and regional services, completing the replacement of its entire fleet in the New East Anglia Trains (NEAT) programme. The Aventras – which are replacing the Class 317, 321, 360 and 379s – and the Stadler Flirts will be in service by 2020.
In September, Bombardier gave media representatives the first chance to inspect and interrogate a life-size, plywood mock-up of a Class 720 interior.
The walkthrough Aventra carriages will have 3+2 and 2+2 seating configurations, as well as fold down chairs and areas for wheelchair users. A five-car Class 720/5 will have a total capacity of 540, compared to 1,146 in the 10-car Class 720/1 – the latter will shuttle large groups of commuters during peak hours.
GA will be able to increase capacity while reducing the number of cars per train. The Aventra carriages are slightly longer than the current fleet – 24m instead of 20m – making the 10-car variant comparable in size to a 12-car Class 321.
Innovative passenger information systems will display graphical data which will show where space is available within a train in addition to whether toilets are available, route progression and related updates.
Using a cantilever seat design, Bombardier has created more space for baggage and installed under floor heating to remove the need for intrusive wall-hugging heaters. One radical move, for which GA is still considering alternative options, is the removal of first class seating, but modern train design – and the need to add capacity – is about compromise, explains Greater Anglia’s vice managing director, Mike Kean. ‘The real heart of our franchise was providing enough capacity for the full nine years that we operate it, and also maximising the efficiency of that operation. And we do that really through the Bombardier fleet,’ said Mike, who is also the train operating company’s franchise and programmes director. ‘The Bombardier train really forms the backbone of the franchise, it provides the main commuting stock and it carries the most amount of people in our franchise.’
But the Aventra trains are not all about capacity. The carriages will be air conditioned, they will have dual USB ports and plug sockets between seats, and passengers will be able to enjoy improved, free Wi-Fi connectivity thanks to GA’s work with BT to improve the trackside and on-train infrastructure.
They will also feature at least one standard and one disabled toilet on each train and four cycle spaces. The trains’ new Flexx Eco bogies provide a 30 per cent reduction in bogie mass and, as a result, consume less energy.
Bombardier’s first Aventra, for flagship customer TfL Rail, entered passenger operation in June this year and will become part of the Elizabeth line fleet. It forms part of a 630-carriage contract for the route.
The rolling stock manufacturer is also making 180 Aventra vehicles for London Overground and 750 for South Western Railway, in addition to the order with GA.
It also has an order with Great Western Railway for Electrostar trains, all of which will come out of its Derby site. That’s 2,225 vehicles in total from the Aventra family, a brand that Bombardier anticipates will become a mainstay of the UK’s regional fleet for the next 20 years.
GA’s new fleet is reaching the beginning of the end of its design stage, with Bombardier soon to start cutting metal.
In November 2017, Bombardier will reach the ‘design freeze’ stage and from February 2019 the five-car trains will begin to enter service. From December 2019, the 10-car units will enter service with GA Aventras running between Liverpool Street and Cambridge, Hertford East, Southend Victoria, Southminster, Braintree, Colchester, Clacton, Walton and Ipswich. Bombardier will then provide ongoing maintenance support to the fleet from Ilford and a new depot near to Manningtree.
Kean says that Bombardier succeeded in the bid process because of its strength throughout and flexibility on vehicle length. Talking about the train’s benefits, he continues, ‘[Bombardier] are still designing it, so you cannot get any more modern than that,’ describing the new train’s layout as modern and sleek. ‘I think Anglia has an average fleet age of around 20 years and when these trains are introduced it will absolutely be at the top of the leaderboard for UK franchises.’