forestga - That Class 745 breakdown....

You’d think our railways couldn’t get any worse! Whilst a certain You Tuber was extolling the virtues of the new Greater Anglia 745’s, their biggest reputation at that very moment was the ability to breakdown for more than five hours, blocking a major railway route in to London! It seemed Greater Anglia had little inkling what to do in terms of a workable rescue operation. Their performance has been way below par in terms of the new trains, resulting in temporary withdrawal of the sister Class 755’s due to power issues & probs with track circuits.

As you will probably realise, this is a much fuller report on the Greater Anglia Class 745 breakdown than anything that’s been written so far!

I took a look at the actual site where the Class 745 breakdown occurred and did some pictures from a passing TfL train and the end of the platforms at Forest Gate station. The reason I did that was because I realised how near the event had occurred to the station, and simply wanted to point out this fact. Had things gone better the station could have been used and the evacuation procured much quicker…. but unfortunately it was not to be! People were stuck on that train for almost six hours!

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The spot at which the train broke down and where the passenger transfer took place – just to the west of Forest Gate station – and easily identifiable by the AWS ramp.

On the morning of 28th January 2020 the 07.40 from Norwich broke down just 200 metres from the end of the platforms at Forest Gate. The unit involved was 745 010. The time the breakdown occurred was approximately 09.15am according to this tweet.

One aspect of the incident which was most definitely not reported was the fact the train was within sight of Forest Gate station, indeed a mere couple of minutes’ walk off the platforms. One wonders why they didn’t evacuate the passengers via another train – and then reversing it the very short distance to the station. Things would have happened faster!

It depressingly turned out to be yet another of those instances of a train being stranded for hours within sight of a station. We’ve had loads of these cases in recent years where trains have sat in full view of adjacent stations without the unfortunate passengers being able to reach the platforms safely.

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In this picture I took of an empty twelve car combo heading westwards, its obvious the first eight carriages ahead (eg a pair of 321s) would have easily reached the stricken 745 from the end of the platform at Forest Gate. The rear of the set was 321429.

Yes there was the danger of passengers straying on to the slow (electric) lines had they decided to disembark of their own accord because these other tracks were being used to divert all the trains that should have been on the fast lines. However in terms of mobilising the passengers another option would be that they could have easily reached the station by way of walking escorted alongside a rescue train consisting of a paired set of 321s that would be stationed behind the failed 745.

The general consensus regarding this fiasco was Greater Anglia simply hadn’t been prepared for such an eventuality and its procedures were woeful. One wonders also at the maintenance regime as it turns out the 745 had damaged couplings at both ends, thus preventing earlier attempts to haul it away.

Timeline of the events 28th January 2020

The failed train consisted of 745 010, one of a pair of new Stadler trains running on the Norwich-London services (the other being unit 007.) The units are all based at Crown Point depot. 745 010 was formed to work the 07.40 ex Norwich, which runs non-stop from Ipswich and is timed to arrive at Liverpool Street 09.24am. No doubt passengers were looking forward to arriving in the capital on time for work or to attend important conferences, and there too was a distinguished Bishop looking forward to being present at an important ceremony in London.

It seems the train was running perhaps just a few minutes late. Its reported it broke down at approx 09.15am. The 745’s crew tried to reboot the train. This was announced to the passengers at around 09.30am, and the plan didn’t work. Another Thameslink scenario no doubt. A stricken train with little chance of mobilising it!! By 10.00 am the train crew had admitted defeat. “We are unable to start the train and I have no information as to how long we will be here.”

Update 30 Jan: Just a question… WHY did the train break down? Apparently an alarm went off in the toilets. The alarm alerts the crew to a fire. There wasn’t anyone in the toilets and it was undoubtedly a faulty alarm. Nevertheless it caused the train to shut down and the crew didn’t have any idea how to reset it. Its alleged training had not been given to staff to cope with various problems such as this on the brand new 745 trains. I don’t know if that is the case. It could well have a been a glitch caused by the alarm and training or not, no-one would have been any wiser. (See this tweet re the train’s alarms.)

At 10.28am Greater Anglia informed the passengers a rescue train was on the way. (This would be the Class 37 Thunderbird no doubt.) When asked where they would be taken Greater Anglia’s response was Shenfield. The reply from one of the passengers retorted thus: ‘So 20 odd miles BACKWARDS?! What time do you think we will make Liv St?’

Surely people don’t want to go back to Shenfield. Whatever for? I can only think Greater Anglia didn’t want a diesel going into Liverpool Street now it was an all electric terminus…. it didn’t sit well with the passengers, they must have felt Greater Anglia simply couldn’t care less.

Update 30 Jan: Picture of the Thunderbird with 745010 whilst 745007 passes on the slow lines – the picture was taken from the end of the platforms at Forest Gate. Judging by the picture, it looks as if the broken down 745 was even nearer Forest Gate station than I had thought.

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745007 passing the stricken 745010 on the morning of 28th January 2020. 37611 Thunderbird in attendance. Also visible is the 321 which was the initial rescue train until Greater Anglia were told they were not qualified to use the planks method. Its clear from the picture 37611 was in attendance most of the time. Source: Twitter

The first rescue attempt involved Rail Ops Group’s Class 37 Thunderbird based at Colchester where it came from that morning. Despite the locomotive (37611) not seemingly having had any previous problems with coupling up to the Anglia Stadlers, this particular attempt didn’t work and it locked down the 745 totally. Apparently the couplers at both ends of the train were faulty, even had broken air seals.

The problem with the Thunderbird was briefly summarised in this tweet which explained: ‘Rescue loco sent from Colchester. First coupler has air leak and second not compatible. Universal coupler could not be used to rescue 745010 as the star couplers on both ends of the 745 were damaged. Pass transferred to another unit. Delay minutes circa 8000.’

Seeing the 745 wouldn’t even budge a different modus operandi had to be sought. That involved an EMU and the plan was to bring it alongside and the passengers to transfer directly from the 745 onto the EMU. That plan was soon aborted because Greater Anglia did not have the necessary qualification to conduct the procedure which included the use of boarding planks.

This tweet from the Bishop of Norwich, on his way to an important consecration at Southwark Cathedral (for which very unfortunately he missed the ceremony) tells us what happened….

The time taken in waiting so long at Forest Gate was because this second EMU too had to make its way from Colchester depot. On top of that there would have been the organisation of this such as sourcing a spare driver and then bringing it down to Forest Gate, en route gathering the personnel to be employed (including Network Rail and Greater Anglia staff, the British Transport Police etc) and instigating a line possession procedure (even though the line is bi directional a track occupation order no doubt had to be instigated.) The EMU (a Class 321) was brought alongside the stricken 745. The passengers were then rescued off the train using ladders and escorted across the tracks to the other train.

The rescue train was a single unit (four coaches.) Someone wryly said it would be very crowded once everyone had got off the twelve coach 745! It seems it was sometime before 13.20 hours when the first passengers were evacuated from the stricken train. The process took an awful long time, it seems well more than an hour and a half was expended on this using just the one ladder to allow passengers to reach rail level and then use one of two sets of ladders up into the waiting rescue train.

The following pictures are from some of those who were on the stricken train. The AWS ramp which I showed in my picture at the top of the page, can clearly be seen. It can also be seen in the video above.

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Being helped down the ladder! Source: Twitter

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Passengers being helped across the tracks by Network Rail staff and the BTP. This is about 14.00hrs. Source: Twitter

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Passengers alighting from the 745 onto the rescue 321. The front end of the Stadler can clearly be seen. Source: Twitter

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View looking in the other direction towards Forest Gate station. Source: Twitter

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Rescued passengers waiting on the Class 321 whilst everyone else yet to get off the 745 boards this train – before it makes its way to Liverpool Street. Source: Twitter

Everyone arrived at Liverpool Street at roughly 15.30pm as this tweet from the now considerably delayed Bishop of Norwich confirms. Almost straight on the heels of the rescue train was the failed 745! It was towed away perhaps ten minutes after the 321 had left for Liverpool Street! Clearly the 321 stopped at Stratford en route for anyone who may have wanted to take the tube. One of the guys who had been stranded on the 745 managed to take a picture of the offending train as it arrived at Stratford. Quelle surprise!

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The train arrives at Stratford approx 15.40pm. Source: Twitter

The stricken Class 745, having been towed to Stratford, was placed in platform nine (the platform generally used for up express trains that needed to stop here) where it remained for the rest of the day. This continued to cause delays across the region especially in and out of Liverpool Street. It meant all the trains (both semi fasts and expresses) had to share platform ten in both directions. As a result of this some were cancelled or diverted to the local platforms, which in turn caused the TfL services to run with a reduced frequency. The train was left in platform nine until well after the evening peak – which meant the important transport interchange had to juggle its entire train service pattern around the blockade. TfL announced a modified service with reduced numbers of trains in order to accommodate the chaos surrounding the parked Class 745.

I do not know what happened to the 745. Presumably it was hauled back to Crown Point later that evening. A search on Real Time Trains revealed nothing re the train’s later movements.

Others were saying a ‘745’ had broken down the day before too. Actually it was a 755! The train in question had been working a Ingatestone bound service (due to engineering works onward) when it failed at Manningtree. The picture below shows it leaving Colchester on Monday 27 January. It was later pictured passing Stowmarket. Clearly on that occasion the same Thunderbird (37611) had no problems coupling up to one of the new Stadlers. It had rescued it at Manningtree on the Sunday and brought it to Colchester, where it was stabled overnight, before being returned (also by the 37) to Crown Point.

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Stricken 755 (bi-mode Stadler) with Class 37 at Colchester the day before, en route to Crown Point. Source: Twitter

It was rumoured Stadler were sent over from Switzerland specially to sort the stricken train. They did fly over specially but not for that purpose. Rather they were sent on the heels of these particular breakdowns in order to give Greater Anglia assistance with its ongoing train reliability problems.

Update 8 Feb 2020: It seems passengers are being offered peanuts in terms of Delay & Repay. This example is £6.80 for a more than six hour delay – which was the broken down 745 in question!

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