Government seeks Midland Main Line HST upgrade update

Government has confirmed it expects an update from East Midlands Trains in April regarding modifications of its High Speed Train fleet so that it meets disability regulations that come into force on January 1.

The HSTs are owned by Angel Trains (AT) and Porterbrook. While AT owns three sets, Porterbrook owns eight. These were due to be replaced by electric multiple units under original plans to electrify the Midland Main Line, however that was scrapped when Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling cancelled electrification north of Kettering and Corby in July 2017.

The HSTs must have retention tanks and accessible toilets although a letter from EMT Managing Director Jake Kelly to Nottingham South MP Lilian Greenwood states that sliding doors are not a requirement.

A Department for Transport spokesman told RAIL: “We are committed to making our railways accessible to everyone and removing any barriers faced by disabled people.

“East Midlands Trains have made good progress on improving accessibility, and the future operator will be fully aware of the PRM compliance requirement for their trains.”

  • For the FULL story, read RAIL 876, published on April 10, and available digitally on Android, iPad and Kindle from April 6.

  • For the latest development on this story, read RAIL 875, published on March 27, and available digitally on Android, iPad and Kindle NOW.

Haines looks to bi-mode and battery options

Network Rail Chief Executive Andrew Haines has poured cold water on the prospect of a renaissance in electrification schemes across the network during Control Period 6 (April 2019-March 2024).

His intervention comes despite the recent publication of a report by the Rail Industry Association (RIA) that says electrification costs could be cut by as much as 50%, while also urging government to review and renew its electrification programme.

Speaking at a RIA event in Telford on March 19, Haines acknowledged that NR had made huge strides in its delivery of electrification schemes since the beginning of GWEP in 2009.

But he did not expect government to sanction many new schemes, due to the abundance of alternative options available – including bi-mode trains, and emerging hydrogen and battery technology.

While not ruling out any new schemes completely, Haines believed that battery trains in particular presented an exciting opportunity to replace diesel traction on short, isolated sections of track with no overhead or third-rail power supply.

He said: “What I’ve seen already in my time at Network Rail is that we’ve secured lots of cost reductions in electrification – particularly in Scotland – because we have clarity in standards, learned lessons and developed the supply chain. So, I think there’s a place for it, but with caveats.”

  • For the FULL story, read RAIL 875, published on March 27, and available digitally on Android, iPad and Kindle NOW.

  • For the FULL story on the RIA report, read RAIL 875, published on March 27, and available digitally on Android, iPad and Kindle NOW.

  • For an in-depth analysis of the RIA report, read RAIL 876, published on April 10, and available digitally on Android, iPad and Kindle from April 6.

Great Northern Class 717s finally enter passenger service

Great Northern Class 717s entered passenger traffic on March 25, several months later than planned.

Built by Siemens in Krefeld, Germany, the six-car dual-voltage electric multiple units (EMU) will replace 43-year old Class 313s on services from Moorgate.

The first two sets in traffic were 717005 and 717006, with invited guests travelling on the latter.

They were due in traffic from last autumn but issues with signal sighting for drivers has delayed their introduction (RAIL 875) until now.

Govia Thameslink Railway Chief Operating Officer Steve White told RAIL that the plan was for five trains to be in traffic by the end of April, after which the operator would evaluate performance and work on putting the rest of the trains into traffic. He said he expects all 25 will be in traffic by late-summer.

Gerry McFadden, Engineering Director at GTR, said: “We are transforming our passengers’ journeys by replacing their cramped, outdated 40-year-old trains, which are the oldest EMUs in mainland Britain, with fully-accessible, spacious, modern air-conditioned units with the latest in passenger information, onboard Wi-Fi and power points at every pair of seats.”

William Wilson, Managing Director for Rolling Stock at Siemens Mobility Limited, said: “Siemens has built these trains with one goal in mind – to transform passenger journeys to and from London by ensuring that services are reliable and offer as much space as possible.”

The Class 717s are financed by Rock Rail Moorgate, a joint venture between Rock Rail and Aberdeen Standard Investments. Rock Rail Chief Executive Mark Swindell said: “These trains are designed to deliver a vastly improved passenger experience and represent the first time in the UK that a fleet has been financed with direct long-term investment from pension and insurance companies.”

  • For the FULL story, read RAIL 876, published on April 10, and available digitally on Android, iPad and Kindle from April 6.

ScotRail takes three more ‘classic’ HSTs

Three more ‘Classic’ High Speed Trains (HST) will be leased by ScotRail to combat poor performance as part of the operator’s Remedial Plan agreed with the Scottish Government.

The operator will also recruit an extra 55 drivers and 30 conductors as part of the plan to raise performance. It will also seek to complete training on the Hitachi Class 385s and HSTs as soon as possible.

Transport Scotland ordered SR to deliver a Plan on December 24 last year, with a deadline of February 18.

Other plans as part of an agreed £18 million investment include spending £500,000 every year on its Performance Improvement Fund (PIF) that will enable local managers to identify and implement changes, upgrade customer information screens at 16 stations and create a role with the SR operations team that will ensure the delivery of a new three-year traincrew plan.

“Improving the service our customers receive is the priority for everyone at ScotRail, working with Network Rail and key suppliers. I am confident that this plan will deliver significant improvements on Scotland’s Railway,” said ScotRail Alliance Managing Director Alex Hynes.

“We have worked hard to identify specific areas to focus our efforts where they will have the most impact. The funds we have invested in this plan is a demonstration of our commitment to delivering the service our customers expect and deserve,” he added.

  • For the FULL story, read RAIL 876, published on April 10, and available digitally on Android, iPad and Kindle from April 6.

Greater Anglia charity tour marks end of ‘37s’ on May 18

To mark the end of Class 37-hauled trains in East Anglia, a third charity railtour is being run by Greater Anglia (GA) for East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH) on May 18.

The train will feature top-and-tail Direct Rail Services (DRS) locomotives and five coaches and will visit destinations in the region synonymous with the class, which first entered traffic in the region in 1960.

GA is due to dispense with the Class 37s and Mk 2s it hires from DRS once the new Stadler Class 755 bi-modes enter traffic this summer. As a result, while this tour celebrates the end of the veteran locomotives, it is expected they will stay in traffic for a few weeks beyond the tour. GA Head of Corporate Affairs Jonathan Denby explained that the date chosen was the best available as it was before the summer timetable and that Norwich City were not at home, so there would be less crowds.

The train will run from Norwich-Ely-Kings Lynn-London Liverpool Street (via Cambridge)-Norwich (via the Great Eastern Main Line). Tickets cost £80 and all profits from the event are being donated to EACH.

Approximate timings are for a 1020 departure from Norwich, arriving at Ely at 1125, at Kings Lynn at 1207 before departing the Norfolk terminus at 1214 and arriving in the capital at 1439. The tour leaves Liverpool Street at 1627 and should arrived at Norwich at 1819.

GA is also auctioning a cab ride between Norwich and Ely, and anyone on the tour can bid for this. The participant with the highest bid received by end of May 12 will win the ride, with the money donated to EACH.

Denby added: “Taking in routes which have been synonymous with Class 37 locomotives in the past, we hope the trip will be very popular and generate an impressive contribution to EACH funds. It promises to be a great day out for all involved.”

Elaine John, Head of Major Supporters for EACH said: “This will be a wonderful opportunity for rail enthusiasts to travel behind these locomotives before they leave East Anglia whilst also supporting children, young people and their families across the region.”

Bookings can only be made online via, clicking on the Special Trains/Events tab and choosing the Greater Anglia Specials option.

Anyone with any queries about the event can ring 0345 600 7245 and choose option 3, followed by option 2 to find out more details.

First orders AT300s for ECML open access operation

Five five-car Hitachi AT300s have been ordered by FirstGroup for new open access services between London and Edinburgh that will begin in Autumn 2021.

The new trains will be financed by Beacon Rail, with the deal worth some £100 million.

FirstGroup has secured access rights for the open access service and claims it wants to attract passengers from the air onto the rails. It says two-thirds of journeys between the capitals are made by plane.

The open access operator plans to offer an average fare of less than £25 and the new trains will offer free WiFi and on-board catering. There will be one ‘high quality’ class of travel.

The trains will be electric sets as per the LNER Class 801s, but unlike those units, they will have batteries to keep on-board services running in the event of a failure or de-wirement. The batteries cannot power the train and there will be no diesel engines to provide ‘last mile’ or rescue capability.

“There’s a real gap in the market for truly affordable rail travel between the two capitals,” said Steve Montgomery, First Rail’s Managing Director.

  • For the FULL story, read RAIL 876, published on April 10, and available digitally on Android, iPad and Kindle from April 6.

Thurston issues rallying cry for HS2 benefits

The chief executive of HS2 has firmly rejected suggestions that the line should be renamed in an effort to secure greater Parliamentary and public support for the £56 billion project.

Mark Thurston told industry leaders that while more could be done to communicate the line’s wider benefits to its sceptics, adopting an alternative name such as North South Rail would be seen as ‘spin’ and a ‘cynical move’ to shift public opinion.

It follows claims made by former HS2 Chairman Sir Terry Morgan in January that the project had been misnamed, because the strongest arguments to build it are more about adding capacity and enhanced connectivity to the network.  

But at the Railway Industry Association’s Innovation Conference in Telford on March 19, Thurston defended the project’s current branding by telling delegates that faster journey times would “transform where people work and how they live their lives”.

He added: “The speed is really important. We haven’t built a new railway north of London for over a hundred years, and if we’re going to build a new one then it has to be a fast one.

“People in this room, in their advocacy of the project, must remind people that it’s not just about speed, however, but also capacity and connectivity.

“We could , but I think we’re beyond that now and it would be seen as spin and a cynical move to move the arguments. We want to concentrate on what is important.”

  • For the FULL story, read RAIL 876, published on April 10, and available digitally on Android, iPad and Kindle from April 6.

MPs query Northern Powerhouse Rail’s impact on towns

Northern MPs have criticised the Northern Powerhouse Rail project for focusing too much on enhancing city-to-city connectivity, rather than looking at increasing transport links between smaller settlements in the region.

Responding to a presentation made at an All-Party Parliamentary Rail Group meeting by Tim Wood, Northern Powerhouse Rail Director at Transport for the North, Great Grimsby MP Melanie Onn raised concerns that the new schemes are not going to help improve the economies of towns.

She said: “The plan is very city-focused, and there remains an issue around how we can improve economies outside the cities – and that means looking at towns slightly further out because those are the areas that are continuing to struggle. I am interested to know how we are we going to improve the situation for towns.”

Wood countered that the long-term plan is to “amplify the number of trains”, stating that Hull-Leeds services would increase from one train per hour to two trains per hour. But he warned that the infrastructure needs to be in place first, in order to accommodate both longer and more trains.

  • For the FULL story, read RAIL 875, published on March 27, and available digitally on Android, iPad and Kindle from March 23.

New GBRf services arm to support stock movements

GB Railfreight has launched a dedicated rail services sector business that will support the train manufacturing and rolling stock operators.

Already contracts have been won with Bombardier to move Class 720s between Derby Litchurch Lane and Old Dalby for testing, and then to Ilford for delivery.

Three Class 47/7s bought from Colas Railfreight at the end of 2017 (47727/739/749) will be used by the new sector, with two recently modified at Eastleigh Works by Arlington Fleet Services (47739/749). They have been fitted with Dellner couplings to allow them to haul the new-build trains. GBRf will base the ‘47s’ at UK Rail Leasing’s Leicester facility, where the third (47727) will be modified.

Speaking at the unveiling of two Class 50s painted in GBRf livery at Eastleigh on March 20, GBRf General Manager, Rail Services, Paul Taylor said: “These locomotives are being readied for deliveries of new trains to London and the South East starting shortly, and we expect them to be very busy and in demand.  

“We’ve also trained and recruited many additional staff – having locomotives to pull trains needs Train Managers to drive them! We’re putting around 70 new drivers through the school this year – not only that, but a number of new ground-staff members too, to ‘backfill’ where staff have been promoted to the footplate. We’re keen on having that progression.”

  • For the FULL story, read RAIL 875, published on March 27, and available digitally on Android, iPad and Kindle from March 23. 

Evidence paper compares UK network with others

One of the evidence papers released on March 19 compared the UK network with others in Europe and beyond, in a bid to understand different models of ownership and operation.

The paper reveals that among the major European rail networks, the UK’s is the second busiest when measured as the number of train-kilometres operated per kilometre of route (behind the Netherlands). It adds that the level of utilisation in the UK is already high and expected to increase in response to rising demand.

It also points out that while the UK network is used less intensively than the Netherlands and Switzerland, it is far more intensively used than any other major network – including Germany, France and Italy.

Growth in passenger-kilometres was higher in the UK between 1997 and 2016 than any other major European network – at 89% compared with 84% for Sweden and 74% in Switzerland. Growth rates of the other European networks examined ranged between 20% and 47%, and in Japan it was just 9%, although the paper acknowledges that could reflect the already high modal share of rail there.

  • For the FULL story, read RAIL 875, published on March 27, and available digitally on Android, iPad and Kindle from March 23.