As my loyal readers are aware I am in the UK at the moment. Yesterday I decided to take the much ballyhooed "high speed" train to Ashford International operated by the Southeastern Railway Company. The company is using Class 395 electric multiple unit trains built by Hitachi specifically for this service and charges a premium for using it. The shortest timetabled run from London St. Pancras to Ashford International is 36 minutes, with one stop at Stratford International.
Technically this is not a high speed train. The UIC (International Union of Railways) defines high speed as a minimum of 250 km/h or 155 miles an hour. The Class 395 (Javelin) is designed for a maximum of 140 mph. So even at it's maximum it is really not a "high speed" train. But I shall not quibble about that.
The Class 395 is capable of running on third rail, 750 Volt DC and on 25 kV 50 HZ catenary. Unfortunately the speed is really nothing to crow about. One blogger tags the average speed at a little under 97 mph between Stratford and Ashford. It is really no faster than the original Kent service, it just does not stop as often.
I rode the Class 395 shortly after the inauguration of this service. The ride was rough, even on the than relatively new track. Apparently there was a problem with "truck hunting" on the new Class 395 units. Hitachi did reportedly solve the problem with a modification/redesign of the trucks (bogies). During yesterdays ride I sat right on top of the leading truck of the east pointing cab unit. The ride was nice and relatively smooth. If I would have sat right in the middle of the vehicle, it would most likely have been a perfect run. Certainly a much better ride than anything AMTRAK's Northeast Corridor has to offer.
The train interior is ok. Nothing much to write home about. Only Standard Class is available. Seating is a bit cramped and not particularly comfortabel. Frankly there is not that much difference in passenger comfort between the Class 395 and the Class 375 EMUs which ply the "regular" commuter routes. But then it is suppose to be a commuter train, fast, but still a commuter train. All in all not a bad train. I am just not sure that it is worth the premium on the fare. Between London and Ashford the cheapest fare on the high speed service is £30, the cheapest regular fare is £25. But then if one's time is valuable...