£200million train cab where drivers can’t see out the window: Station signals obscured from the seat and views blocked by a wall housing the safety ladder put passengers in danger
- Customers are suffering in the wake of a row and faced with overcrowding
- Rail chiefs boasted they would ‘transform’ journeys for passengers
- Conservative MP Grant Shapps branded the situation as a ‘national disgrace’
- Engineering chiefs say ‘safety is our top priority’ as they work to sort the row
A £240 million fleet of new trains is ‘gathering dust’ because a design flaw means drivers cannot fully see out of the front window.
Union chiefs claim it makes the Class 717 trains unsafe – but while they wrangle with operator Great Northern over how to solve the problem, commuters on one of Britain’s most overcrowded lines are crammed on to unreliable trains that are up to 43 years old.
Drivers say the position of seats in the cab prevents them from seeing signals as they wait to depart some stations. They also complain of a blindspot that obscures their view of a section of platform to the front of the train.
As a short-term fix, train bosses want to position a guard on the platform who will wave a baton when it is safe for the train to leave. However, it is understood there is now disagreement over exactly where the guard should stand.
Hitting the buffers: A £240 million fleet of trains has been brought to a halt due to a design flaw
Signal block: Drivers are unable to see red or green lights from their windows
Out of sight: The driver struggles to see due to their chair being positioned further back from the window
Tory MP Grant Shapps, whose constituents have endured months of overcrowding and delays while they wait for the new trains, last night condemned the situation as a ‘national disgrace’.
The first of 25 new trains for the Great Northern network between Welwyn Garden City, Hertford and Stevenage and Moorgate in the City of London were unveiled last October. Rail chiefs boasted they would ‘transform’ journeys for passengers, some of whom pay almost £4,000 for an annual season ticket.
The six-carriage German-built trains will replace Class 313s – Britain’s oldest trains – and increase capacity by 27 per cent. Timetabled services were due to start in January but only two or three test runs are currently taking place.
The problem centres on the position of the driver’s seat on the left-hand side of the cab. Due to a larger safety feature known as a crumple zone, it is further back from the front window than in older trains.
The 717s also have a control panel down the middle of the cab behind which is a safety ladder used for emergency evacuation.
Design problems: A central control panel is also causing problems for drivers trying to look out the right of the train
Safety issues: A safety ladder hidden behind the control panel is usually used in emergencies
Waving a flag: Guards will be expected to wave a baton to help drivers in the short term
The configuration means drivers are unable to see the signals on platforms at London stations Drayton Park, Highbury & Islington, Essex Road and Old Street unless they get out of their seat, which is deemed unsafe.
To avoid that, they need to stop the train short of the signals, but that creates a blindspot on the platform.
Drivers say that risks safety because they cannot see passengers sprinting towards the train before the doors close.
The 717s were designed to accommodate a new signalling system that allows drivers to see signals on display panels within their cabs – but that won’t be ready until the end of next year.
Mr Shapps, MP for Welwyn, said: ‘While we suffer from the oldest, least reliable trains on Britain’s rail network, millions of pounds of new trains sit gathering dust in the railway sidings. What started out as a few days, then weeks, of delay has turned into a national disgrace.’
Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers’ union Aslef, said officials were working to find a solution with Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs Great Northern, but that ‘safety should be the paramount concern’.
Gerry McFadden, GTR’s engineering director, said: ‘Safety is our top priority and we are introducing revised operating procedures to enable us to run the old trains and the new fleet at the same time for a limited period.’