The Anonymous Widower

New Trains From Old

In my view, when they write the history of railways in perhaps two or three hundred years time, when they talk about long-dead diesel trains, one iconic train will still hold the speed record for a diesel train and that will be praised as the ultimate diesel train.

The train is the InterCity 125 or High Speed Train, whose one blot on its copybook is the marketing association with the odious Jimmy Saville in the 1970s.

I have a soft spot for these trains, as I’ve had so many good journeys in them to the North East, Scotland, Wales and the West Country, including one memorable trip from Edinburgh to Inverness in the cab and another whilst enjoying the best gluten-free meal on a train anywhere.

I suspect that removing the InterCity 125 from front-line service, will be almost impossible, as both passengers and train companies have a strong affection for the train. Even now, Abellio ScotRail has plans for High Speed Trains in its new franchise. Wikipedia says this.

It will also introduce 27 refurbished (Likely British Rail Class 43 leased from Angel trains)H igh Speed Trains by December 2018 on longer distance services between Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness.

They are also committed to providing ‘Great Scottish Scenic Railway’ trains on the West Highland, Far North, Kyle, Borders Railway and Glasgow South Western lines, so could this need some more High Speed Trains? Perhaps the trains would be shortened, but with the seating returned to the 1970s original layout of four seats round a table at each window in the Mark 3 coaches.

Imagine services on the scenic Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh Line being run by say two or three, five-car-plus-buffet High Speed Trains, that replaced the totally inadequate service I rode some years ago. Those big windows would come into their own and I think the only problem they would have would be the same as that of the London Overground, where demand keeps exceeding supply. Even the power cars, with their big luggage space would come into their own for bicycles and large cases. Terry Miller and all of the team that designed this iconic train must be laughing like drains wherever they are, at the success of their stop-gap creation.

Usually old trains, cars and buses have a maintenance problem, but it is generally believed that as the High Speed Trains are so well known by the engineers, they can be kept in front line services until 2035. I think that will be pessimistic, especially if instead of thundering up and down the East Coast Main Line with eight coaches at 125 mph, they are running at lower speeds in shortened form on less demanding lines at slower speed.

I doubt for instance, that we’ll ever see them eliminated from Devon and Cornwall, as just as in Scotland, they could become part of the experience for visitors.

But could we see them on other routes like Liverpool and Manchester to East Anglia and on scenic routes in Wales?

Remember that there are nearly a hundred of the trains, which means there could be enough for all worthwhile ideas.

The Mark 3 Coach

The Class 43 power cars of the High Speed Train get all of the attention, but in some ways the real stars of the train are the 1960s-designed Mark 3 coaches in the middle.

Today most of the Mark 3 coaches on the UK rail network have been fitted with high-density seating, but on Chiltern Railways Main Line service between London and Birmingham, the coaches have been refurbished with four seats to a table by the window and automatic sliding doors.

Will remaining High Speed Trains get a similar treatment?

If they did because of their ultra-smooth air-suspended ride, they would become an unrivalled passenger experience, that met all modern safety and accessibility standards.

The Mark 3 coach is no lightweight aluminium vehicle, but is built out of steel. There were worries about the structural integrity, so a prestigious university was asked to do a full finite-element analysis of a Mark 3 coach. The findings showed that despite being designed in the 1960s without any computer help, that the structure would last a few more decades with the correct maintenance.

A Class 455 train, which is based on Mark 3 coaches, was involved in a unique incident, that tested the structural integrity of the Mark 3 coach to the limit. In the Oxshott incident, a fully-loaded cement mixer lorry weighing 24 tonnes fell onto a Class 455. There was injuries but no-one was killed.

I wouldn’t like to be in a modern aluminium train, when someone drops a similar weight on top of it.

Chiltern, Greater Anglia And Charter Operators

These days rakes of Mark 3 coaches are only used in three places on the UK rail network.

1. Chiltern Railways use them on their Main Line Service between London and Birmingham.

2. Greater Anglia use them on the Great Eastern Main Line between London, Ipswich and Norwich.

3. Some charter operators use them to provide services.

It is likely that within ten or twenty years, both Chiltern and Greater Anglia will convert to electrical multiple units to create faster services.

The Chiltern Line will need electrification and Greater Anglia will need to replace their Class 90 locomotives anyway.

But no plans have been made and no orders have been placed.

I think it is likely that in a few years, the only use for Mark 3 coaches will be in High Speed Trains and by charter operators.

Multiple Units Based On Mark 3 Coaches

Many of the successful classes of both diesel and electric multiple units are based on the Mark 3 coach design, as was the Class 319 that I rodeyesterday.

These will now be looked at in detail.

Class 150 Diesel Multiple Unit

The Class 150 train, is the only one of the Mark 3 coach-based diesel multiple units, that was produced in large numbers.

Their quality is a bit variable and I’ve ridden some immaculate ones like this one on the St. Ives branch and some terrible ones elsewhere.

The one yesterday in Liverpool, that I rode after a refurbished Class 319, could have benefited from the same sort of upgrading that the electric train had received.

I suspect that many of the hundred and thirty or so in this class could do with a good maintenance, a repaint, new seat covers and an uprated information display. They’d certainly be a lot better than Pacers.

Class 317 Electric Multiple Unit

There are seventy-two Class 317 trains working various lines around East London and some are in pretty good condition like this one I encountered between Romford and Upminster.

There is a plan to upgrade these trains described here in Wikipedia. The upgrade could cover a range of options from new efficient traction equipment and regenerative braking to new interiors.

Some may be available for cascade to other operators, as both London Overground and Thameslink could be buying replacement trains in the next few years.

Class 318 Electric Multiple Unit

The Class 318 trains are Glasgow’s version of London’s Class 317 trains.

These trains are undergoing an upgrade, which is described here in Wikipedia.

Class 319 Electric Multiple Unit

There are eighty-six Class 319 trains, that were originally built for Thameslink.

Twenty of these are being refurbished for use on the North West electrified lines and I rode one yesterday. The train had scrubbed up well!

Others may be moved to the Great Western Main Line to work electrified services to Oxford and Newbury.

Class 320 Electric Multiple Unit

There are twenty-two Class 320 trains, which are a Scottish version of the Class 321 trains.

All have had an upgrade, which is described here in Wikipedia.

Class 321 Electric Multiple Unit

There are a hundred and seventeen Class 321 trains, which are fairly numerous on the lines out of Liverpool Street.

Greater Anglia are developing a demonstrator, which is described like this in Wikipedia.

Abellio Greater Anglia in conjunction with Eversholt Rail Group has refitted a 321/4 as a demonstrator to show what Abellio planned to do with their Class 321 fleet. The unit number is 321448, which features a new paint job, completely re-fitted interior including two examples of sitting arrangements including 2+2 and 2+3 and a new First Class area. The demonstrator also features air conditioning, previously unseen on Class 321 trains, fixed panel windows to replace opening windows and an overhauled traction system. The ultimate plan is to introduce other Class 321 trains in a similar configuration rather than replace them, to save money on purchasing brand new trains.

This demonstrator illustrates that refurbished old trains could be a better and more cost-effective solution than new trains.

They would certainly be welcomed by me, as the current interiors are rather tired. Especially, when compared to the Class 319 yesterday.

Class 322 Electric Multiple Unit

The five Class 322 trains are another variant of the Class 321 trains, which were built for the Stansted Express and are now running in the Leeds area.

No plans for an upgrade are mentioned in Wikipedia.

Class 442 Electric Multiple Unit

There are twenty-four Class 442 trains, that currently work the Gatwick Express, although they are being replaced on this task.

They are probably a bit surplus to requirements and will need to be converted to overhead electrics to find any further use.

But at least as they are Mark 3 coach-derived, there is a lot of solutions available from other members of the family.

Class 455 Electric Multiple Unit

There are a hundred and thirty-seven Class 455 trains, which generally work the suburban lines into Waterloo.

They have all been given a high quality upgrade, which is detailed here.


We’ll be seeing Mark 3-derived trains on the UK rail network for some years and because there are so many techniques and tricks available to the train companies, builders and remanufacturers, they will all be of a high quality.

March 20, 2015 - Posted by | Transport | , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.