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Sunday, 20 April 2014

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New fleet of electric trains for Cumbria

A new era for Cumbrian rail passengers has dawned with the arrival of the first of a new fleet of electric trains.

First TransPennine Express has ordered 10 four-coach trains from Siemens, worth £60m in total, for its service between Manchester, Carlisle and Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The first of the Class 350 Desiro units entered service on Monday and was greeted by a piper on its arrival at Glasgow Central station.

When all 10 are delivered by Easter, replacing older diesel trains, they should greatly increase seating capacity and ease problems of chronic overcrowding.

Passenger numbers have soared since First took over the route from Virgin in December 2007.

Nick Donovan, managing director of First TransPennine Express, was on the first Class 350 train through Carlisle.

He said: “This is a big day for us. They are quieter than our diesel trains, and they accelerate a little bit faster, but the main thing customers will notice is the extra space.

“When our timetable changes in May, there will be an 80 per cent increase in seating capacity between Manchester and Scotland through longer and more frequent trains.”

The May timetable will provide an hourly service from Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadilly to either Glasgow or Edinburgh. All trains will call at Carlisle and many at Penrith.

Early departures should allow passengers from Cumbria to arrive in Glasgow or Edinburgh before 9am, approximately an hour earlier than is possible now.

The German-built trains have four carriages and 210 seats – 19 in first class – and many will run in pairs to provide eight coaches and 420 seats. Existing Class 185 diesel trains have only three coaches.

The new trains also have 25 per cent more luggage space and have bike storage, wheelchair access, three toilets and CCTV passenger-information systems.

Their top speed is 110mph, compared with 99mph for the older diesel trains.

Mr Donovan said: “We hope to provide slightly faster journey times.

“From the middle of 2014 we hope to get approval to run at 110mph and that should allow us to shave a few minutes off when the timetable changes again in December.”

First TransPennine Express also promises greater availability of cheap Advance tickets to help fill the extra seats. Advance tickets are sold in limited numbers to passengers who book ahead. The cheapest TransPennine Advance fare from Carlisle to Glasgow or Edinburgh is £8, and to Manchester £12.

Chris Nutton, programme director, said: “We have frozen Advance fares and will be pricing aggressively from Carlisle to Glasgow and Edinburgh. When customers book their tickets they will be able to specify forward-facing or rear-facing seats, which they haven’t been able to do before.”

The Manchester-Scotland route has been diverted to run via Wigan, between Manchester and Preston, in readiness for the electric trains.

The Wigan line has the necessary overhead wires while the old route via Bolton and Chorley does not.

However, work to electrify the Bolton line should be completed by December 2016.

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