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Crossrail (aka the Elizabeth Line) has achieved a new milestone. Its Heathrow services are now populated by Class 345s as well as the ubiquitous 360s. This long aspired stage of the ‘new’ railway (I say that because none of the track being operated on is new – apart from the extra Stockley flyover) is also a significant step forward in terms of on board train control/signalling and the four different interfaces (three in due course) the trains will have to use throughout the Elizabeth Line when it finally opens. There’s been so little on this – indeed finding out when the trains ran was also a problem and trying to ensure they did run was another problem too because none of the real time train websites showed the 345s to T5 (they were still classed as 360 that’s why!)

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345004 at Paddington before its journey to Heathrow on 13th August 2020. Note the destination T4 which was wrong. The other 345s correctly displayed it as T5.

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Brief statement from Crossrail on 30th July re the use of 345s to Heathrow.

The first Class 345s to Heathrow began on July 30th. The train involved was 345004. It worked several diagrams that day until problems were encountered with switching over to TPWS and it was taken out of service and sent back to Old Oak. I presume this was one of those instances where it was stuck at Airport Junction whilst attempts were made to switch the interface – as it generally has to be done whilst on the move or at least before the train reaches the junction with the GWML.

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Yes! This really is a 345 to Heathrow!

There had been a number of occasions when it was understood the new Bombardier trains would begin service onward from Hayes and down into the tunnels to Heathrow, the first of these being touted as late May. That didn’t come off though. The first 345s ventured to the airport during 2019 on test, thus it has been a good two years wait before they entered public service.

The new services aren’t that frequent they’re actually every ninety minutes from Paddington. What this means is it gives one 345 unit enough time to do a full out and back trip to Heathrow before beginning the cycle all over again. There’s very little in terms of recovery time at Paddington thus any time that needs to be regained has to be achieved at Terminal Five where, if its on time, there’s a good eighteen minutes before the train makes its way back.

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345059 at Heathrow Central and just above to leave for Terminal Five.

The services stop at each station en route – Acton Main Line, Ealing Broadway, West Ealing, Hanwell, Southall, Hayes, Heathrow Central and Terminal Five and the 345s are invariably the nine car length units which have had the most up to date mods and software installed. A few seven car units are still running but these cannot be used on the ECTS thus are barred from Heathrow Airport.

Another first in terms of Crossrail/Elizabeth Line is this is now a section of line that can be travelled underground on a Class 345 even though its not the core section between Paddington/Plumstead/Pudding Mill Lane proper! In a way one could say this additional bit is a kind of taster for the real bit of Crossrail we’ve all been waiting for since 2018!

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345004 at Heathrow Terminal 5.

The unusual aspect of all this is whilst Crossrail/Elizabeth Line is advertised as serving the station at Terminal Four, its trains are currently having to use Terminal Five because Four is closed – mainly due to COVID-19. It means the 345s will continue to take this out of way route for sometime to come – and its another unusual set of circumstances because both 345s and 332s share the same termini at either end of the line.

That wont last long though. Its been said the classic Heathrow Expresss trains would be withdrawn this summer (and replaced by rebranded 387s.) There’s currently some doubt about this (due to the availability of 387s) thus its clearly most unusual to see this mix of 332s, 345s and 360s working to Heathrow and all using the same termini. There may well even come a point where one will be able to see all four different units (including the 387s) all working together.

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Either/Or? HEX is the premier service but wont be for much longer. Even with the 387s there still wont be an interoperability of tickets/services which means one can only use one or the other.

I bet people will be really pissed off when they find their luxurious 332s replaced by off the shelf 387s with their ironboard seating!) Even I cant see the merits of the 387s as being an upgrade from the 332s. Thats not to denigrate these newer units, its just that they’re standard off the peg stock with a few downsides – those for Heathrow will of course have some alterations but still it wont be the same as the 332s. Its a bit like Gatwick Express all over again and its claimed on one rail forum that Heathrow Express are sure to lose custom.

(Yes I know the 332s need replacing and their depot has to be knocked down for HS2 etc – and the contract for the airport express services has been given to GWR.)

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The 345 announces its arrival at Heathrow Terminal Five.

Terminal Five is essentially a Heathrow Express destination and that for the Piccadilly Line too, fortunately it has two platforms for main line services thus an extra service can be squeezed in without too much hassle at current frequencies. Bombardier had told me it was hoped a second Class 345 will be introduced on the service soon, but I am not sure if this means an additional train every other hour…

The pathways for a half hourly service are indeed available because these are used by the 360s, however in light of the continuing problems with the 345s (some of which I highlight below) I think management must be a little nervous of doing too much because the interface between the 345s and the airport’s own train systems (as well as Network Rail’s signalling between Paddington and Heathrow T5) is still quite fragile. I’m certain they don’t want to drop too much into the mix at the moment until its certain there’s 100% resilience with the differing systems.

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345004 at Terminal 5.

A tight fit at Hanwell!

Hanwell station is Grade II listed, built circa 1875, and a reason why the nine car TfL trains cannot stop fully here (and a reason why the seven car 345s have almost never stopped here.) The platforms are much shorter and the track layout’s difficult too, being sandwiched in between the extremities of West Ealing sidings, an overbridge and the Wharncliffe viaduct. Not only that special dispensation had to be given in order to permit lifts to be built here for the Elizabeth Line. Hanwell is too one of those stations where the tracks fan out to accommodate the centre platform and what that means is the layout is curved, similar to Taplow. It means accessibility isn’t as ideal as it could (besides the problem of train floor/platform height) – and these are issues that would have been resolved only with wholesale reconstruction of the station.

The most pressing problem at Hanwell in terms of passenger conviviality is the trains are far too long to stop here! It means one has to just absolutely ensure they are in the right section of train from which they can alight. If one’s been on the Circle/Hammersmith Lines through Baker Street and been astounded by the amount of ‘stop’ the train manages here (nearly two carriages that do not make it onto the platforms because on the eastbound the front carriage has to be locked out too) well that at Hanwell’s even more jaw dropping! Remember the S stock carriages are much shorter whilst the class 345s are longer and in order to serve Hanwell almost three of the train’s carriages have to be locked out!

And its the very last set of doors in the third carriage which just barely makes it onto the platform section proper in either direction!

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Plenty of train trailing behind! Nearly three whole carriages stuck out from the end of the Hanwell platforms. This was unit 345065.

What it means is eight sets of doors are locked out and its just the leading ninth set of doors in the leading end of the third carriage that manages to make it onto the platforms – only just! The location inside the locked out carriages is such that the sense one’s somehow stuck in the middle of nowhere becomes most apparent. There are warning signs and announcements that are made as the train leaves the stations on either side of Hanwell (West Ealing or Southall) to ensure passengers are aware of the fact a good bit of the train will not be able to give access to the station platforms.

No doubt Hanwell is going to be the most difficult station on the whole of the Elizabeth Line because of this. In a way its probably good it’s never seen the amount of patronage that is evident at the other stations. The problem is if the Elizabeth Line does live up to its promises Hanwell could see a huge boost in passenger numbers which means additional services might have to stop here and some fine tuning of the stopping patterns would be needed as well as extra awareness of the difficulties of trains having to stop here.

Bombardier’s role

Having discussed the new services in general we now come to the question of ensuring the trains do operate properly – this being down to the software that is used to talk to the different train operating systems. Its been said elsewhere that specialist engineers from Bombardier – the company who built the 345s – were riding some of the trains to ensure there were no issues. I find this is not the case when these other sources claim its some trains.

In fact as I have found, every single train has an engineer or it. Sometimes its two, sometimes its more. I think there’s at least three shifts being undertaken. Bombardier’s engineers informed me they ride the trains from the moment these leave Old Oak depot to the moment they return to the depot. The changes in shifts and reliefs for meal breaks were being undertaken at Paddington.

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Two of the Bombardier engineers working hard to keep the 345s on the road to the airport.

In those first few days some trains spent a good amount of time at Airport Junction trying to switch from ECTS to TPWS! The most notable case is 345004 which refused to budge on the very first day and was taken back to Old Oak – with a 360 substituted for the rest of the day.

Remember its not just signalling, its also platform cameras and interface with the Heathrow Express Control Room (based within the Heathrow Central area) which are yet another set of circumstances besides the ECTS system.

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The Bombardier guys at work sorting out an inconsistency with the Heathrow train indicators whilst our train was at Terminal Five.

Everyday there is some problem. Sometimes its just a quick technical fix, sometimes its a complicated one. It shows the running of the new Heathrow services is much more than just driving the trains. When problems arise discussions have to be conducted with Network Rail, Heathrow Express Control, and Romford Control Centre as to how best the issues can be solved. The engineers often write in tweaks to the software and this is uploaded to Romford who then analyse this and see how best to ensure greater resilience is built into it.

I havent seen any major failures, however there has been a couple of occasions where the system just didn’t work or was presenting some sort of problem. One one occasion the train (this was 345004) had problems with the interface to the Heathrow stations – namely the cameras the drivers utilise to be able to see along the platforms. The driver couldn’t see any of the cameras on his console because of some mismatch and the engineers had to sort that out. Fortunately the train was able to proceed with the aid of Heathrow platform staff which meant its progress wasn’t overtly delayed.

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Bombardier guy coming to the rescue! Our train just wouldn’t boot up. All the screens and DM indicators were blank. (See text below.)

On another the train (again 345004) had arrived at Heathrow T5 with no issues apparent. But when the driver switched ends for the journey back to Paddington, the software just wouldn’t interface with anything. Screens remained blank. The engineers, being on hand, were able to call up a new temporary interface which gave the train’s computers the notion it was travelling to a new destination. As soon as that system was booted the train screens very briefly flashed up the message “New Destination – Paddington.” The difference between this and the usual (in terms of what the passenger sees on the information screens) was the detail was more basic – for example no time displays of any sort was seen. It however allowed the train to at least proceed on its journey several minutes late and I imagine in the meantime the engineers investigated the issue with the main program in readiness for it to be available for the return journey to T5.

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How the platform displays at the airport should look with number of carriages for each train shown.

On yet another trip there was some kind of interface problem being due to how the displays and the trains talk together. Actually the train screens at Heathrow now display the length of the trains in pictures (for all sets, 322s, 345s and 360s) but our train wasn’t providing the information to Heathrow Express Control Centre for some reason.

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Some of the Bombardier guys chose to ride in the passenger carriages (more comfortable) whilst others preferred the rear cab of the train (more privacy.)

One thing I did observe was how the train was at one point required to take a detour at Southall via the fast lines in order to get round a points failure. The 345 is of course manually driven at that point however it was then switched back to the normal down slow before Hayes. What surprised me is it didn’t even continue along the fast tracks through Hayes (stopping there briefly of course) and then straight onto the HEX track in order to gain the Heathrow line. I say that because the Reading bound TfL trains were observed doing this (we had one speed below us through airport junction while our train was running across the Stockley flyover) and of course these Reading trains continued straight towards West Drayton as they were on TPWS. The 345 heading to T5 was switched back to its original route at the earliest opportunity which was just before Hayes – after all it could have continued on the fast lines thence to Heathrow – but maybe TfL didn’t want them giving up the ghost at Airport junction due to some hassle with the ECTS and ultimately blocking the fast lines!

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345059 seen on the fast down at Southall Friday 14th August when a points failure ensued in the Hayes area.

On one service from Paddington the display systems absolutely insisted the next stop was Ealing Broadway! Even when we arrived at Acton Main Line the displays were still telling us it was Ealing and just as the train was about to leave, Acton Main Line flashed up once and very briefly!

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At Acton Main Line – 345004 being the train that couldn’t make up its mind whether this was Ealing Broadway or not! And yes it wants T4 not T5!

The trains I rode were 345004, 345006, 345059 and 345065.

Below is a picture of 345004 on its first day at Heathrow.

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The first day of TfL/Bombardier 345s to Heathrow on 30th July 2020. Source: Twitter

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