A Look at Greater Anglia's New Class 720s

A Look at Greater Anglia's New Class 720s
Class 720s are now operating Greater Anglia's services between London Liverpool Street and Braintree. Photo: To The Trains.

Greater Anglia's class 720s are now rolling out across the network, so I have come to Witham to take a trip down the Braintree branch line on one of these trains. Here is everything you need to know about the new rolling stock.

In their bid for the East Anglia rail franchise, Abellio, the parent company of Greater Anglia, announced their intention to replace the entirety of the current fleet. This saw the roll-out of the class 745 for intercity and Stansted Express services, the class 755 for regional routes, and now the class 720 for West Anglia and Great Eastern routes.

The class 720 'Aventra' (the name of a family of electric multiple units including the class 710 and class 345) was designed and constructed by Bombardier Transportation, now owned by Alstom, at their Derby Litchurch Lane Works in the UK. Greater Anglia originally ordered 89 five-car /5 units and a further 22 ten-car /1 units. However, the order was later amended with the latter /1s swapped for an additional 44 /5 units.

This was a move to increase flexibility. For example, an out-of-service ten-car set means a lot more seats and potential revenue lost than a five-car set would lose. Numerous services will run with double sets (i.e., two five-car sets coupled together), but these can be shorted to five-car trains if necessary.

A class 360 train departs Witham with its blue livery and white doors. The rear of the train is painted yellow. It is a summer day with a clear, blue sky.
The class 360 will be replaced by the class 720 on Great Eastern services. Photo: To The Trains.

Greater Anglia's new fleet of Aventras will be replacing the class 317s and class 379s that operated West Anglia services, as well as the class 321s and class 360s that operated Great Eastern services. This cuts the train operating company's rolling stock variety significantly, but will also simplify operation, management, and maintenance.

Testing commenced on 17 March 2020, but the units were planned to be introduced to passenger service a year before. The delay arose from software issues with the Train Control Management System (TCMS) that is used on-board. Testing and production was further impacted by the pandemic.

Nonetheless, the first two units finally entered passenger service in November 2020. Since then, the class 720s have rolled out across Braintree and Southminster services, and more recently, Clacton, Colchester Town, and Ipswich services.

A class 720 sits at Witham station. Its livery is white and grey with red doors. Trees with sparse foliage are visible in the background, alongside a brick bridge that sits above the railway lines.
A class 720 approaches Witham en route to Braintree. Photo: To The Trains.


These trains have clearly been designed with capacity in mind; each /5 unit has 540 seats with room for another 145 standing. There is a considerably compact 3+2 seating arrangement with a mix of airplane-style, facing, and tip-up seats. Small tables are provided on the backs of the airplane-style seats, though their surface area is quite limited.

The seats look upright and thin but were surprisingly comfortable for a high-volume commuter train. They should be appropriate for most journeys on the class 720s, and they look great with the Greater Anglia moquette. It should be noted that there are no table sets, nor is there first-class seating available.

Sets of two seats are seen on the left and sets of three seats are seen on the right, leaving a narrow path between them. On the seats are grey grab handles.
The 3+2 seating arrangement leaves only a narrow walkway. Photo: To The Trains.

Accessibility has been somewhat factored into into the design of these units. There is a large accessible area which includes an accessible toilet. 'Call for aid' buttons are provided to allow for communication with the driver.

But why only 'somewhat'? These Aventras are lacking the automatic ramps and level boarding seen on the Stadler-built class 745s and 755s. Additionally, the accessible area on the rear unit did not fit on the shorter platforms with a double set towards Braintree. Clear announcements that tell passengers to move up the train are good, except the narrow walkway (a result of the 3+2 seating configuration) is not suitable for wheelchairs and other mobility aids.

On the left are buttons to open and close the accessible toilet door, with a speaker above them. On the right are tip-up seats.
A large accessible toilet can be found in each five-car set. Photo: To The Trains.

Digital displays show route information, alongside connections and service statuses for London Underground lines. Priority seating is also available throughout the train to those who need it. Further down the train there is space to store bikes, as well as a smaller toilet nearby.

Plug sockets have been provided for every pair of seats and these include two USB type-A ports for charging. There is plenty of space both above and below seats for storing luggage, and leg room is adequate for most seats. Although it is partially obstructed for window seats, because of the vents near the floor of the train.

At the top is a display that shows the current location of the train and the upcoming stops. There are luggage racks made partially from glass above the seats, which are below and arranged in a 3+2 configuration.
Carriages are connected seamlessly, and digital passenger information displays are dotted throughout the train. Photo: To The Trains.

Free Wi-Fi is provided and offers online connectivity. Even so, your mileage will vary, depending on the number of passengers accessing it and the available bandwidth. It should be sufficient for light browsing, like reading articles, but not for streaming video.

In addition to all this, there is air conditioning, adaptive LED lighting (i.e., the colour temperature and brightness is co-ordinated with the conditions outside), and even underfloor heating (a first for trains in the UK). All things considered, the class 720s make for convenient and comfortable trips.

All the Aventras

Greater Anglia is not the only TOC to order Aventras. The Alstom Aventra (formerly sold as the Bombardier Aventra), successor to the Electrostar, is featuring across the UK rail network in its many variations.

TfL Rail, soon to become the Elizabeth line, operate 345s, South Western Railways have ordered 710s, Greater Anglia and c2c operate and have ordered 720s, and 730s will be making their way to West Midlands Railway and London Northwestern Railway services.

That's a lot of Aventras...