UK trains: the next generation

The Department of Transport has announced the shortlist for the flagship InterCity Express Programme, the country’s most significant investment in rolling stock for more than 30 years. It’s planning to spend a possible £1bn on producing trains that are faster and able to carry ‘significantly more passengers’ than the old InterCity 125 and 225 services, as well as being more environmentally friendly.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

However, little was said about whether the new trains will be able to cope with keeping water hot in the buffet car for an entire London-Manchester journey, or preventing the on-board toilets going into melt-down under the passenger strain. 

The three shortlisted parties are Alstom-Barclays, Hitachi Europe, and the Express Rail Alliance, a consortium comprising Bombardier, Siemens, Angel Trains and Babcock & Brown. The winner will get to design, construct and maintain between 500 and 2,000 carriages, estimated to cost around £1m each, and will be expected to have the first trains operating in 2012, with a full service up by 2015. This seems like an ominously tight deadline for a job of this scale. One only has to look back to last month, and London Underground’s MetroNet debacle, to see how far from the stated aims such collaborations between the public and private sectors can veer.

The government is proudly touting the positive environmental impact of these trains, which will be able to run under either diesel power or electricity. It’s an admirable ambition, but we can’t help feeling it ignores a sad reality – encouraging people to travel where and when they want, while simultaneously trying to protect the environment, is becoming a very difficult conundrum indeed.

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