It's been a torrid three years on the Gospel Oak to Barking line. The line closed for months for an electrification upgrade, which failed, forcing another year of intermittent rail replacement buses. Then new trains ordered to take advantage of electrification couldn't be put into operation because the software wasn't ready, then the existing trains disappeared because they'd been promised to other operators. Since March replacement stock has been running at half frequency and rail replacement buses have been running again, exasperating locals.
Finally yesterday, eighteen months later than originally planned, the first Class 710 train entered public service. The 11:36 from Gospel Oak to Barking set off packed with TfL staff, Overground personnel, Men Who Like Trains and accidental ordinary passengers. And about time. [photos][video]
The new trains have four carriages rather than two, which is a big win. Inside is space for 700 passengers, but most of this is standing room, continuing the trend towards TfL interiors being mostly open space. Seats are longitudinal, like on the original orange Overground trains, but the doors and information systems are much more reminiscent of new purple Crossrail stock, from the buttons you press to the displays telling you what the next station is.
The moquette is orange and brown with a flash of green - the green to symbolise the train's energy saving credentials. It has 'intelligent aircon', which probably just means a thermostat, but the ambient temperature was more than welcome in yesterday's warm weather. The lighting's also cleverer than usual, brightening noticeably when we entered the tunnel east of Gospel Oak and dimming again after.
One significant innovation is that a significant number of the poster spaces above the seats are filled by electronic screens. These were circulating between public service information about the train's new facilities and a rather splendid roundel overlaid with date and time. How impressively eye-catching, I thought... before worrying that TfL's ultimate intention might be to show us video adverts while we travel, a future onboard dystopia which begins here.
Another first is the provision of USB charging points. These are located in the walls at the ends of the carriages, in pairs, making these the seats to aim for if your battery's low. USB charging may be new for Londoners, but let's not forget passengers aboard double decker buses shuttling between Midlands towns have been able to do this for years, so we're actually a long way behind.
Some of the maps above the doors show line diagrams, with zones printed in an uncharacteristically unobtrusive grey. As well as the 'Gospel Oak to Barking route', the other map is for the 'Watford Junction to Euston route' which will be the next to receive new trains. After that it'll be the Overground out of Liverpool Street, whose ageing trains desperately need replacement, but best not place any bets on exactly when.
Eight Class 710s are required to operate the Goblin, that's six in service and two spares, but currently only two are running. The stumbling block is driver training - a lengthy course which only a third of the line's drivers have so far completed, repeatedly delayed by the software taking so long to perfect. But two new trains is enough to plug several of the half hour gaps in the timetable, and eventually things will be back to a proper 15 minute frequency.
So hurrah, the Goblin is finally returning to a new improved normal, its capacity much increased and boasting the very newest trains on the network. This doesn't make up for years as the cursed child of the Overground empire, but TfL hope a month's free travel in September will ease the pain somewhat... so maybe come back then.