8 Jun 2011
Second thoughts on the Javelins
Hitachi's new Javelin trains give an impression of quality. But the first thing most people do when they step onto a train is to look for a seat by a window, and if they having any luggage with them, somewhere to put it, close to where they are sitting.
This is where the Hitachi trains are a big let-down. Few of the seats are well aligned with windows to give an unobstructed view out of the train. Most of the seats are unidirectional, leaving no space for luggage between the backs of the seats. Luggage shelves have been provided near the doorways, which is not secure. Unidirectional seating also means that people travelling an a group cannot sit together so they congregate in the gangway like the teenagers in the photograph.
A few of the seats are in facing pairs but most of these are at the ends of the vehicles. If one chooses to sit in one, another problem becomes surprisingly evident - the ride quality. On ordinary track at around 55 mph between Ashford and Canterbury, the ride at the end of the vehicle was bumpy - nowhere near as smooth and steady even as a Mark One with a B5 bogie. Sitting in the middle of the vehicle, however, the ride between Dover and Ashford was very much better, but something clearly needs attention.
Bicycle space, if provided, does not appear to be sufficiently well labelled - these two cycles were parked in the gangway.
HOW DID THE DESIGN END UP LIKE THIS?
The key mistake with the Javelin design is the window spacing, which appears to be around 1.4 metres. With this dimension, unless the seating is arranged unidirectionally and very generously spaced, it is inevitable that many seats will be misaligned in relation to the windows.
The mistake was compounded by moving the doors from the end-vestibule location, as in the standard Japanese version of this train, to a position about 4 metres in from the ends. This was a requirement imposed by the Department for Transport, which oversaw the procurement of the trains. Supposedly, it reduces station dwell times.
The result is to divide the carriages into two small compartments with room for 16 seats, and a large saloon seating 34, two seats being lost to the luggage shelves. This loss of seats is itself something of a mystery since the equivalent, slightly shorter Mark One vehicle had 72 seats, quite generously spaced.
From which it can be concluded that the way to design a railway passenger vehicle is to take between 1.2 and 2 metres from each end for the entrances, another 1.2 metres from one end for the toilet, and divide the remaining space into equal sized bays of between 1.8 and 2.0 metres, depending on the standard of comfort to be provided. As long as the bay dimension is in this range, most of the seats will align. Not difficult, but neither Hitachi nor the DfT mandarins who commissioned the trains seem to have grasped the point.
AND THE INTER CITY EXPRESS?
And DfT mandarins bring us to the Inter City Express Project, which is one of their brainchilds. The winning bid, from Hitachi is presumably based one of the company's standard products. As a commuter train, the Javelin does the job reasonably well, though it is less appealing to the occasional travellers who use it for their leisure journeys. But illustrations released for the Hitachi IEP train show what appears to be the same bay spacing, which is definitely not good for an inter-city train. If the order goes ahead for the train in its present form, this will not enhance the experience of rail travel in British. Passengers will have to live with this mistake for the next few decades. And it is not as if these trains are cheap.