The Anonymous Widower

Who Will Be First To Order Vivarail D-Trains?

This is pure speculation on my part, but I suspect that before the end of the year, one train company or another will give the Class 230 or Vivarail D-train a serious trial, prior to a possible order.

I shall list some of the reasons why a train company might use Vivarail D-trains.

Pacer Replacement

The main market for the D-train must be to help drive the Pacer trains to the scrapyard.

There are five classes and they all suffer from the same problems, explorerd in detail in this section on Wikipedia.

  • They look and feel like thirty year old buses.
  • They don’t meet the current access and disability regulations.
  • Doubts have been raise about their safety in an accident.

But I do think for the average passenger and train company, their biggest problem is their reputation, which drives passengers away and makes it difficult to attract new ones.

They certainly need replacement, but whether the D-train is the solution in all cases is open to question.

Comparing a D-train with a Pacer can be summarised as follows.

  • The ride quality of a D-train on conical rubber springs, proper bogies and a chassis and body designed to be strong enough to accept London’s punishment is what you would want from any train built in the last twenty years, whereas the Pacer with its two axles and bus-style construction, feels like a bus you’d ride in the Third World.
  • The D-train will have the sort of interior and passenger facilities in a new train, whereas the Pacer interior is pure 1980s bus design. London’s oldest buses built in the early years of this century, make Pacer design look appalling.
  • . Ride a D78 Stock at the Upminster end of the District Line and you can get a feeling how when the trains are carrying a reasonable load of passengers, the trains have a light and airy they feel because of the large areas of glass. Pacers are nothing but claustrophobic.
  • The D-train will meet all access and disability regulations, whereas the Pacer does not.
  • The D78 Stock on which the D-train is based was designed for quick and easy loading and unloading, whereas for many getting into and out of a Pacer is challenging.
  • Will the D-train have an integral ramp for wheelchairs and refreshment trolleys, as is fitted to all buses in London? It would make loading and unloading wheelchair passengers so much faster and thus improve time-keeping and overall train speed.
  • The D-train has wi-fi, which everybody expects these days. A Pacer with wi-fi would be a waste, as the trains ride so badly, you can’t really use a mobile device.
  • I’ve read that passengers will be able to use the wi-fi to order drinks from a server and that train information will be easily available, but my computer system designing mind, says that these are just a small part of what could be done.
  • Many Pacers are overworked on lines that need probably more trains, so I doubt we’ll see many one-to-one replacements.
  • The Pacer is faster at 75 mph, than the D-train at sixty, but then the D-train will handle stops faster and have better acceleration.
  • The Pacers were designed in an era, where bicycles, wheelchairs and buggies were not so common on trains. The D-train will be designed according to the profile of a typical passenger load.

Class 153 Train Replacement

The Class 153 train is a single coach, diesel train built in the 1980s, with a capacity of 75 passengers and a couple of bikes. There are seventy of them and they have a top speed of 75 mph and typically work rural and branch lines throughout the UK.

A lot of what applies to Pacers applies to the Class 153, although they are better trains.

They are not bad trains, but they do have a few problems.

  • Seventy-five passengers is not a large enough capacity on many of the routes they serve.
  • Many Class 153s serve seaside resorts or leisure areas, where there is a large need for bike and buggy capacity.
  • The toilets and other on-board facilities on some need upgrading.
  • Loading and unloading can often be a slow process.

From personal experience, I suspect that some of these trains have reliability problems.

I think that if a lot of these trains, especially those working branch lines like Ipswich  to Felixstowe, could be replaced by D-trains. On some routes like Peterborough to Lincoln, the slower speed (60 mph) of the D-train, may mean that replacement is not feasible.

I also think that on some lines with lots of stops, the D-train’s speed of loading and unloading may be an advantage.

One advantage of releasing a few Class 153 trains, would be that the remaining units could be refurbished and coupled together in pairs to increase capacity on some of the routes they serve, where D-trains would not be acceptable.

D-Train Variants

But perhaps the biggest difference between D-trains and Pacers and the later Sprinters like the Class 153 trains, is that the older trains were designed as a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of providing local trains. D-trains will be a fully-engineered train rebuilt to modern standards, but of a size and capability designed for the route on which it will be intended to run. Vivarail have talked of different versions and looking at where Pacers and other old trains that need replacing are used, you can come up with some ideas.

These will be discussed in the next few sections.

The Commuter Train

Vivarail are promoting the D-train as a commuter train. Many of these routes have frequent stops going into and out of a city, so the stop-at-a-station performance is more important than pure speed. Recent research has shown that more stations may actually be more important for commuting time, than the point-to-point performance of the train.

The Luxury Commuter Train

If you look at some of the latest commuter trains in London like the Class 377 train, much of the seating is at tables, where passengers sit four to a window, giving an experience far removed from any services fifteen years ago.

Also, some cities like Reading and Cambridge now use buses with leather seats and wi-fi on commuter routes into the city.

Over the next few years passengers will demand higher standards on their commute into major centres and train companies will have to provide them to coax commuters out of their cars.

A luxury commuter train could be designed around the D-train with leather seats, space to work, wi-fi, refreshments and a place to store their bicycle.

I would argue that most D-train commuting variants would be furnished internally to a high standard.

The Leisure Train

Quite a few Pacers and Class 153 trains run on scenic lines, often with lots of stations, or a branch to a resort.

They are totally unsuited for this role, as there is not enough provision for large luggage, bicycles and buggies.

The performance of a D-train would be totally adequate for this role and it could be fitted out with perhaps a hundred seats arranged round tables in the windows, so passengers could admire the view, with a large area for the baggage, that these trains attract.

The affordability and availability of the D-train, may mean that a seaside branch would be run by two trains, if the track allowed, so there could be a doubling of services on many lines, at not too great a cost.

The Special Events Train

A couple of years ago, I was travelling in the West Country, at the time of the Glastonbury Festival. It was a nightmare and I’ve never seen rural trains so crowded.

In Is This Rail Project Going Nowhere?, I talked about the problems of getting passengers to and from the new Coventry Arena station on match days.

A special events version of the D-train, could be used to shuttle visitors and spectators to major events like these and the many others that happen around the country.

In its simplest form, it might just be two standard commuter D-trains coupled together to make a four- or six-car train.

I have assumed that D-trains can be run in pairs, as D78 Stock does on the District Line.

If there were a couple of spare D-trains available, they would also be useful to bypass line closures perhaps using non-electrified lines.

Recently, Network Rail have been improving the lines between London and Norwich and regularly, I have endured Rail Replacement Buses to get to and from football at Ipswich. It would have been much easier for passengers, if say a six-coach D-train had been used to ferry everybody between Ipswich and Norwich and Cambridge to catch fast trains to connect to and from London.

The Longer Distance Trundler

There are some important remote lines in the UK, like the Far North Line in Scotland, the Heart of Wales Line in Wales and the Cumbrian Coast Line in England.

Lines like this are very important to the local community, are scenic and often get a rather irregular service with basic trains, that doesn’t encourage use by either locals or visitors.

They must also present problems to train operators, when perhaps a train fails or the line is blocked because of adverse weather or a train hitting stray animals.

The right concept of D-train and operating strategy, either with D-trains working alone or in conjunction with faster trains on these lines, could be the key to providing the first class service that the areas they serve need, at an acceptable cost.

Anything innovative can’t be tried at the moment, as there aren’t any spare trains.

The Creation Of A Spare Train Philosophy

Typically to provide any service or get a job done, you must have adequate resources.

It’s the same, when providing a train service.

As an example, the Victoria Line in London has a fleet of 47 2009 Stock trains. At peak hours there should be 43 trains in service.

So there are a few spare trains either in maintenance or perhaps sitting ready to come into service, should a train fail.

This provision of spare trains is typical of well-managed train networks, as it means that running a full service is a lot easier.

But I suspect most local networks running Pacers and Sprinters have access to very few spare trains. And there just isn’t available to lease!

So could we see the likes of Abellio Greater Anglia, Northern Rail and First Great Western, investing in D-trains, as a sort of insurance, against the sort of problems they face?

A Flexible Train

The beauty of the D-train concept is that the train can be configured to what it will be doing.

We’ve always relied on a standard train and moulded the services and passengers to fit what it offers. That is an outmoded concept.

When you buy a new car, you at least get to choose the colour, whether it is a saloon, estate or hatchback and often the level of luxury you want!

So why can’t train operators buy or lease a train that fits their routes and passengers?

So who might give the D-train a trial?

East Anglia

According to this article on Global Rail News, the Department of Transport has just invited operators to bid for the franchise with the new operator taking over from October 2016, after the winner is announced in the summer.

One of the requirements of the new franchise, would be to introduce 180 new services every week. That is a very demanding requirement, as surely it will need more trains to do this.

So where do they get extra trains?

On the flagship service between Norwich and London via Ipswich, the Class 90 locomotive hauled Mark 3 coaches will be replaced with electric multiple units like Class 801 trains at some time in the future. In the mean-time, the Mark 3 coaches could be updated with automatic doors and retention toilets, just as Chiltern have done. This would meet one condition of the franchise, which is to fix the toilets.

If they needed more trains to run the flagship service, they could always add a few more suitably refurbished Mark 3 coaches, that are currently in store. But there isn’t any suitable electric locomotives in the UK or even on order. One solution would be to use some of the electro-diesel Class 88 locomotives on order from Vossloh for delivery in 2016. These could also be used on new services like.

  • Liverpool Street and Great Yarmouth, via Cambridge, the new Cambridge Science Park station and Norwich.
  • Liverpool Street and Peterborough via Colchester, Ipswich, Bury St. Edmunds and Ely.
  • Liverpool Street to Lowestoft via Colchester and Ipswich.

The first service would also add much-needed extra capacity between Norwich and Cambridge.

Most of the rest of the East Anglian franchise is an intense electric network into Stratford and Liverpool Street.

To improve and increase services, there may be a few electric trains to be scrounged from somewhere, but they would need probably need extensive refurbishment, like many of the trains like Class 321 trains running currently. There might be some Class 319 trains from Thameslink available, but they would need work to be done.

As to new trains, the question has to be asked if any train-maker has the capacity to build them quickly? I can’t see any new trains being delivered before 2020.

There is also the various diesel trains, connecting Cambridge, Ipswich and Norwich and running the branch lines out of Ipswich and Norwich. Most are tired, except for a dozen Class 170 trains running the main routes, and all trains lack capacity and especially space for bicycles.

As the franchising documents mention innovative new trains, surely the branches are places where Vivarail D-trains might be used! They have these advantages.

  • They can be appropriately configured for the routes, with plenty of space for bicycles and buggies, that seaside and country services attract.
  • More trains could be ordered, so that service frequencies could be increased.
  • The trains would be available in the near future.
  • They would release some better diesel multiple units to augment services like Ipswich to Cambridge.

East Anglia also has a big problem with irregular but predictable leisure use of trains.

It has two major football clubs and an important racecourse, that are all served by nearby train stations.  It also has several seaside resorts, where if the weather is fine, there will be a large increase in traffic. There are also several festivals and other events  like the Lowestoft Air Show.

So could two-car D-trains coupled together as a four-or six-car train, be used to shift the extra passengers on busy days? I can’t find anything on the web about whether this is possible, but there must be lots of uses for a four-car or longer event special. Often the solution today, is to bring in a few coaches top and tailed with two diesel locomotives. Surely, two D-trains is a better solution.

The big disadvantage of the D-train, which is its low top speed of 60 mph, would probably not matter on East Anglia’s branch lines, as I doubt trains currently go much faster anyway.

But it would probably preclude using the trains from Cambridge to Ipswich and Norwich, except when there were problems on the main line!

According to this article on the BBC, the new franchisee will have to fulfil certain conditions. I like this.

The establishment of a £9.5m Customer and Communities Improvement Fund to benefit passengers and local residents is required.

Does it mean that the government will expect some new and improved stations?

I think it highly likely, that the three bidders for the new East Anglian franchise, will have a serious look at the prototype D-train.

Possible Requirement – 3 to replace inadequate Class 153s

London Midland

London Midland has a few lack of capacity problems..

The well-publicised one is that between Coventry and Nuneaton, which I talked about in Is This Rail Project Going Nowhere? Coventry councillors have already looked at the D-train for a shuttle from Coventry to the new station at Coventry Arena station.

To serve Coventry Arena, the original plan was to have a six-car shuttle between the station and Coventry.

So could the Coventry to Nuneaton Line and the related Coventry to Leamington Line, via the new Kenilworth station be run using three-car D-trains? Two could be coupled together on match days to provide the six-car shuttle for the stadium.

London Midland has a total of eight Class 153 trains, most of which work local routes, except for Birmingham to Shrewsbury.

Replacing just one Class 153 with a D-train on a short route that needs more capacity, would release a train to work as a pair with another Class 153 elsewhere.

Birmingham is a mass of rail lines, many of which still have freight traffic, some of which the local authorities want to reopen.

Consider the following.

So if London Midland had a few spare D-trains could they be used to reopen these lines. Especially, if they reduced the cost of reopening.

In some ways using ex-London Underground D78 Stock in Birmingham would be rather ironic. The trains would truly be coming home.

I can’t believe that London Midland are not taking a serious look at the D-train.

Possible Requirement – 4 to replace inadequate Class 153s, 2 for the Coventry Arena shuttle

East Midland Trains

East Midland Trains has seventeen Class 153 trains. As with franchises discussed previously, I suspect that some of the routes might be better served with a two-coach D-train.

Depending on the performance of the D-train some of the other routes may well be very suited to D-trains.

  • The Robin Hood Line to Worksop will need some extra trains for its proposed extension to Ollerton and a possible link to the Erewash Valley Line.
  • The Derwent Valley Line to Matlock, is a scenic branch, that would probably benefit from more capacity.
  • Several of the routes from Nottingham run Class 153 trains, so perhaps these are possibilities. Tram-trains keep being mentioned, but there are new stations like Ilkeston and routes to serve.

As East Midland Trains have just been awarded a franchise extension to March 2018, I suspect they’ll check out if the D-train can make them money.

Possible Requirement – 8 to replace inadequate Class 153s, 2 for Robin Hood

Great Western Railway

In the Wikipedia entry for Class 230 trains, which is the proper name for a D-train, there is a section called Potential Customers. This is said.

Under a recent franchise agreement, FirstGroup (owner of the Great Western Railway franchise) has agreed to carry out a study on the use of overhauled Vivarail D-Trains on branch lines by the end of the year, possibly leading to a trial of the units.

Certainly Great Western Railway has a lot of branch lines, where D-trains could possibly replace Pacers or Class 153 to provide better trains and larger capacity.

Their small fleet of Class 143 Pacer trains are all based in the Exeter area, serving the following lines.

If Great Western Railway decided to run D-trains here, there shouldn’t be any operational problems as the longest line is only just under forty miles. If they were all stabled together, it must ease servicing and cut the risk of introducing new trains.

Vivarail would certainly be pleased, as they’d get iconic pictures of D-trains running along the sea at Dawlish.

I think we’ll be seeing D-trains on that sea wall by next summer.

Should Great Western Railway go for an all D-train fleet for these three Exeter lines, it would release some Class 150 and Class 153 trains for use elsewhere.

Possible Requirement – 8 to replace Class 143 Pacers


In the Potential Customers section of the Wikipedia entry for Class 230 trains, this is said.

In May 2015, it was claimed Arriva Trains Wales are to open talks with Vivarail over taking on converted D78s.


I got positive vibes from Vivarail D-trains And The Heart Of Wales Line, but this is not the only place where D-trains could be used.

Wales is developing the Cardiff Valley Lines extensively and when you ride them, you get the impression, that they could do more with a few more decent trains. Especially, as electrification is running late and they need to improve things now.

So could D-Trains be used to extend and improve services in South Wales?

There is also the problem of fifteen Class 142 Pacer trains and fifteen Class 143 Pacer trains that need replacement because of the access and disability legislation by 2019/20, unless the Cardiff Valley Lines are electrified.

Possible Requirement – 30 to replace inadequate Class 142 and Class 143 Pacers, 2 for Heart of Wales Line


Scotland doesn’t have any Pacers or Class 153 trains, although I do feel in the absence of anything better, D-Trains would be ideal to improve the service on the Far North Line.

Northern Rail

Northern Rail has the real Pacer problem in that they have 79 Class 142 Pacers and 23 Class 144 Pacers.

I suspect that the company is desperately looking for ways to cut the number of Pacers. But some factors are working in their favour.

  • When Manchester to Preston is electrified in December 2016 and this line can be run using Class 319 trains, how many Pacers will this remove and how many Class 150 and Class 156 trains will be released for use elsewhere?
  • Preston to Blackpool electrification is supposed to be finished in 2017 and as it is a top priority, this target should be met, so that Class 319 trains can give the Order of the Boot to a few more Pacers and release perhaps a few more Class 150 and Class 156 trains.
  • Pacers often run in pairs, so how often would a three-car D-train replace a pair of Pacers.
  • There is also a Porterbrook project to create the Class 144e train, which is a Class 144 Pacer, that meets all of the regulations.

If all the Class 144s get upgraded, there’s still probably about sixty Class 142 Pacers to replace. But at least there is probably a dozen or so Class 150 and Class 156 trains to help.

Possible Requirement – 50 to replace inadequate Class 142 Pacers


The possible requirement could be higher than the number of D-Trains available.

So the Vivarail D-Train had better work, as it looks like that if Pacers are going to be eliminated by 2020, UK railways are going to need every one of them.


What is needed is a good source of quality diesel multiple units. But there are possibilities.

  • If the electrification of the Great Western can be completed as far as Swindon and Newbury, this might release some of the 36, two- and three-car Class 165 trains or the 21, three-car Class 166 trains. But everybody will want them!
  • The eight Class 172 trains on the Gospel Oak to Barking Line will be released when that line is electrified.
  • If Bombardier can get their production line for Aventra trains going at full speed and also create some battery packs to enable some trains to run as the IPEMU variant, these might displace a few diesel trains on branch lines off electrified lines.
  • Class 144 Pacers are converted to Class 144e.
  • All of the Class 150, Class 153 and Class 156 trains must be refurbished to a high standard, as given the pace of electrification, they will be needed for a long time.

As a last resort, it might be necessary to convert the Class 142 Pacers to meet the access and advisability regulations.


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

1 Comment »

  1. […] In Who Will Be First To Order Vivarail D-Trains?, I came to the conclusion that as the various Pacers need to be replaced, that we’re going to have to work hard to fill the enormous gap. […]

    Pingback by Have We Got Enough Trains? « The Anonymous Widower | September 21, 2015 | Reply

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