GWR's IEP 800 electro-diesel train

While checking on the timetables of steam train visits to our area I came across the occasional unusual train in the schedules. I had seen these trains near London but realise that the company running the passenger services here, GWR, have started testing the new replacement for the Intercity 125 trains.

The mainlines from Paddington to the west of England and Wales are under intense electrification by installing overhead power supplies. The original idea was for a major investment in the whole of the line to Swansea and Bristol, but guess what? There have been cutbacks. Now only bits of the programme will actually be built.

Instead the programme has been 'adjusted' so that the new trains called Inter City Express (or IEP) 800s will have two types of power units, in case the electrification runs out! The Class 800 units will be electro-diesel multiple units, able to draw power from electrified overhead lines where available and power themselves via underfloor diesel generators outside the electrified network. The train specification requires that this changeover can occur at line speed, (ie so that they don't have to stop to switch the power supplies). The trains can be converted to electric-only operation by removal of the diesel engines. This means that the engines are heavier and may well have less space because they have to incorporate all the different technologies. 

Today the very first unit which was delivered to Britain fully-formed from Hitachi in Japan, with both power units installed, arrived at Stroud station for testing. In fact they are now being used most days on this line but never with passengers. Our line was never intended for electrification as it is not a main line route, although it is important as an alternative route to the main line to south Wales, via Gloucester, and used whenever they have to do engineering works, such as installing electrical supply systems.

The new trains will replace the long out-of-date Inter City 125s and I think they do look purposeful, stylish and sleek. This train was very dirty suggesting it is being used very hard to test it to the limit. Future trains will be assembled in the north of England where the power units will be installed into the trains carriages that will be imported from Japan. Hmmm. Sustainability once again not being to the fore.

I was interested to see that cab I have photographed is named after Isambard Kingdon Brunel, who designed the whole network, including this very station, in what are now regarded as the classic look of the western region, and the Cotswolds in particular since local stone was used. Just a few yards behind me lies the Brunel Goods Shed, which was the last project that Stroud Preservation Trust completed, bringing it back from near dereliction into use as an arts centre. It was the first of the trust's projects that I was involved with and is a unique building being virtually as Brunel designed it back in the 1840s.

This train stayed for about ten minutes and then rushed off at quite a lick, and quietly, which bodes well for the local residents. The red light indicates that it is the rear of the train. I will be interested to ride on it eventually. I've been waiting for improved British trains ever since I went on the first of the TGV trains in France decades ago now and saw the future!

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