Newest Review: ... take it. I commute Sheffield to Manchester and back every day. Problems include: There is always a scramble to get a seat, as TP only put o... more
Fast, frequent and uglier than Barbie's wardrobe
First Transpennine Express
Member Name: jamesontheroad
First Transpennine Express
Advantages: Finally, a reliable clockface timetable of interurban trains for northern cities
Disadvantages: Very uncomfortable new trains, 3 cars is better than 2, but still not enough
What sensory overload the privatised railway has brought the long suffering travellers of Britain. Back in the day, you could have any train you wanted, as long as it was painted in some generally dull variant of the British Rail colours. Now we have discordant symphonies of hideous colours across the country: multi-coloured tin cans filled with commuting sardines trundling from A to B (provided there aren't any leaves or collapsed electricity wires on the line).
Right across the north of England and the central belt of Scotland, the colours of the railway are livened up with a particularly hideous combo: the purple and pink Barbie style of First TransPennine Express.
Let's look beyond the nauseous brand. Or let's try anyway, because if you happen to live on one of their busier routes you might find yourself watching that acrid purple and pink train leave without you - overcrowding continues to be a problem on these popular routes.
The multinational transport group First and their co-partners Keolis have won the franchise to run the TransPennine Express franchise until 2012, with an option dependant on performance until 2017. The concept of express services across the north of England, connecting some of the biggest cities in the country, emerged after privatisation when the first privatised train operating companies started to distinguish their "express" services from the locals. This lead to a new franchise, and it is this that we see today. There are three main corridors of train services, allowing for multiple hourly departures on the busiest routes.
TransPennine South connects Manchester Airport and Cleethorpes via Manchester Piccadilly, Stockport, Sheffield, Doncaster and Scunthorpe.
TransPennine North connects (amongst other smaller stations) Newcastle, Durham, Darlington, Scarborough, York, Hull, Leeds and Huddersfield on the east of the Pennines with Manchester and Liverpool to the west.
TransPennine NorthWest connects Manchester Airport & Piccadilly with Blackpool; Manchester Airport & Piccadilly and Preston, Barrow-in-Furness and Windermere; Manchester Airport & Piccadilly with Preston, Carlisle, and Glasgow/Edinburgh.
Services are fast and frequent; TransPennine Express is one of the few train companies to offer 24hr service on some routes, primarily because the natural extension of Manchester terminating services to Manchester Airport has seen phenomenal growth in the number of passengers taking the train direct to the airport terminal throughout the day and early hours.
Fares are in line with the rest of the country (i.e. getting more and more unreasonable with every year) although some cheaper advance purchase single tickets can be found if you book online and in advance. Check http://www.tpexpress.co.uk/ for details of current offers and be flexible if you are travelling on a budget.
With the exception of the Manchester - Hull route, the vast majority of services are operated by modern German-built class 185 trains. These have three carriages, 2+2 seating in second class (with a good ratio of tables to airline style seats) and 2+1 seating in the moderately more comfortable first class. The additional carriage and wider doors located 1/3 and 2/3 down the carriages provide faster entry and egress and more room for standing passengers than the smaller trains they replaced in 2006/7. Unfortunately there are some drawbacks with these trains. The family of trains from which the 185 come are interurban / commuter vehicles, so on the longer Manchester - Scotland routes passengers are liable to find the hard non-sprung seats quite uncomfortable. Overcrowding continues to be a problem and consequently a greater proportion of rush hour passengers now have to stand. And while the Department for Transport has, in late 2008, approved the commissioning 200 extra carriages to join the TransPennine Express fleet, the four train manufacturers who made it through the long-winded bidding process to the tender shortlist do not include Siemens, who built the current fleet. Extra coaches for these trains will not be built, entirely new and likely incompatible trains will join them.
So, on the upside: a modern fleet of larger trains is now in full and reliable service, connecting Britain's biggest regional cities and the popular airport at Manchester. Trains run at regular clockface intervals throughout the day and skeleton services at night make most early morning flights from Manchester reachable by train, and most nights out in other cities accessible.
On the downside: the new trains may be brighter, cleaner and more suitable for busy commuter routes, but they are most definitely not comfortable, and certainly not up to the long distance intercity routes to Scotland (of around four hours). And despite years of sensible investment in a standardised modern fleet with specially constructed maintenance centres, the government's incompetent Department for Transport has decided that instead of simply ordering more coaches for these trains to be lengthened, a whole new fleet of untested trains will be ordered to work alongside them.
And they're still ugly. Just shockingly hideous. Shoot the branding gurus. Before they do it again.
Summary: To Blackpool, to Blackpool, to buy some paint to cover up this pink!
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