The Anonymous Widower

Sudbury To Cambridge – D-Train, IPEMU Or Tram-Train?

In D-Trains For East Anglia? I reported on how possible Anglia franchisees, were looking at using Vivarail D-Trains between Marks Tey and Sudbury on the Gainsborough Line.

So as someone, who lived by the disused line from Sudbury to Cambridge Line via Haverhill  for nearly twenty years, I have views on whether this route should be opened.

The Case For Reopening

After my stroke, for a year, I lived just North of Haverhill, in the middle of nowhere. The only way to get to say Cambridge, Ipswich or London, was to get a taxi to either Newmarket and get a train or Haverhill and get a bus.

As with many people, a station in Haverhill would have given me an alternative route, using a cheaper taxi!

But for many who live along the Stour Valley getting to Cambridge and its employment opportunities means the car or a bus.

Haverhill is now a town of 30,000 souls and when the line closed, the population was under a quarter of that figure.

So although the case for closure of the Stour Valley Railway in 1967, was strong, there is probably just as strong a case to provide a high-quality public transport system between Sudbury and Cambridge via Cavendish, Clare and Haverhill.

The Route Today

Much of the route is still there, although in places it has been built upon.

But I believe, as do others, that a single-track railway with passing places could be built between the West Anglia Main Line, just South of Shelford station to Sudbury station on the Gainsborough Line thst connects to the Great Eastern Main Line at Marks Tey station.

If the line is built mainly single-track, this would be more appropriate for an area of outstanding natural beauty and it would make it easier to squeeze the line into difficult places like the station at Sudbury, which is shown in this Google Map.

Sudbury Station

Sudbury Station

The route of the overgrown disused rail line, goes out towards the South-West.

The route of the line is still visible in the other major town on the line; Haverhill. It is shown on this Google Map.

The Railway Through Haverhill

The Railway Through Haverhill

The railway goes across the town from North-West to South-East. It does split with one branch going South over a massive brick viaduct and the other going East towards Clare, Cavendish and Long Melford.

Much of the line now is a footpath through the town, which I suspect could share the route with a single-track railway or tramway. Tesco’s probably wouldn’t mind if the station was just to the North of their massive car-park.

I suspect that all stations would be designed to be as simple as possible.

Several of those on the new Borders Railway like EskbankGalashiels,  Gorebridge and Newtongrange are well-designed single platforms and some have no means to cross the railway.

Stations like these would be practical and unobtrusive.

Possible Rolling Stock

Because of the limited nature of the track, which as I pointed out could possibly be mainly single track, I think that some types of rolling stock can be ruled out.

If say, the line was to be run using something like two or three-car Class 168 trains, there could be capacity, vibration and noise problems.

So I think we’re left with the following.

  • D-train or Class 230 trains
  • IPEMUs
  • Class 399 tram-trains

I shall now look at each in detail.

Class 230 Trains

Class 230 trains or D-trains have been talked about as possibilities for the Gainsborough Line and these conversions from London Underground D78 Stock could certainly travel easily between Marks Tey and Shelford, before going on to Cambridge.

Other than possible hostility to their origin and second-hand provenance, I can see other problems with these trains.

  • When running between Shelford and Cambridge, would they get in the way of faster trains to and from London and Stansted.
  • Would they have a noise and vibration problem, as they trundled through quiet villages?
  • Extending the service at either end to perhaps Colchester and Cambridge North might be difficult.
  • They would have a shorter life-span than the other options.

But we haven’t seen a Class 230 train in service yet.


IPEMUs or battery-powered trains have only been seen briefly on UK railways and that was at Manningtree, where Bombardier and Network Rail ran the prototype in a successful trial in public service.

They are full size four-car electric trains and could run from Marks Tey to Shelford on batteries, charging up on the electrified main lines.

In addition they would have the following other advantages.

  • They have a high-capacity, with all the facilities that all types of passengers could want or need.
  • There could be no need to put up any overhead wires between Marks Tey and Shelford.
  • They would probably have a very low intrusion factor into the environment.
  • When they are on the main lines, they become normal trains, so there would be no disruption to other traffic.
  • They could also extend the service to between say Colchester and Cambridge North.

Perhaps the only disadvantage of IPEMUs, is that being full-sized trains, the railway might have to be fully-protected with fences.

Class 399 Tram-Trains

Class 399 tram-trains are the unusual one of the three. But in some ways they are the most versatile.

They are a three-car high-capacity 100% low-floor tram, very similar to those you see in Blackpool, Birmingham, Croydon or Nottingham. But in addition to being able to run using a tram 750 VDC overhead supply, they can also run as a train using the standard 25kVAC supply of the main line railway.

They combine the best characteristics of both means of transport.

In the next couple of years they will be trialled in Sheffield on an extension of the Sheffield Supertram to Rotherham.

For those that worry about the technology, several German cities have large systems of mixed trams, trains and tram-trains, so it is not by any means untried. Especially, as a Class 399 tram-train is a German standard tram-train, modified for our overhead voltage, which incidentally is much more standard, than the German’s 15kVAC.

The tram-train would start at Cambridge or Cambridge North stations and run as a tram to Shelford station, where it would become a tram running on the route of the Stour Valley Railway all the way to Sudbury, where it would continue along the Gainsborough Line to Marks Tey, where it could use the overhead wiring to go to Colchester if required.

A Class 399 tram-train would have advantages and disadvantages compared to say the IPEMU.

I’ll deal with the disadvantages first.

  • It is a three-car tram of slightly smaller capacity than the four-car IPEMU.
  • It would need to have a track electrified to 750 VDC using a simple overhead catenary.
  • They have tram interiors and no toilets.
  • They are slightly slower on train sections, than the IPEMU.

But it does have advantages too.

  • They are 100% low-floor vehicles, so have comprehensive step-free access.
  • Stops can be a very simple design without any expensive foot-bridges, lifts or long disabled ramps. Just like Croydon for example!
  • They are good sight-seeing vehicles for a beautiful part of the country
  • When the line allows it, they can get up to speeds of nearly 70 mph on a main line railway.
  • Tram-trains have all the flexibility and manoeuvrability of trams, so they can go off for a meander rather than a direct route, if necessary.
  • If used between Cambridge and Marks Tey,instead of going direct from Cambridge to Shelford, they could take a loop around the Addenbrooke’s site.
  • Or perhaps if they turned at Cambridge North, they could perhaps do a tour of the Science Park rather than a simple reverse.

It is a terrible pity that the Cambridge Guided Busway was designed before tram-trains became a viable alternative.


It is very much a case of who pays the money makes the choice.

  • The Class 230 train is a remanufactured train that doesn’t need any expensive electrification, but may have noise, vibration and performance issues.
  • The IPEMU is a brand-new train that doesn’t need any expensive electrification and has all the performance, comfort and facilities of any modern full-size electric train.
  • The Class 399 tram-train is also brand new, needs only simple electrification and infrastructure and has all the performance and flexibility of a tram coupled with many features of a full-size electric train.

If the choice was down to me, I would discount the Class 230 train, but only because the other two solutions are new and not remanufactured old ones, which will have to be replaced at some time.

So why not have the new IPEMUs or Class 399 tram-trains, both of which would probably give first-class service for a large number of years?

Both the new trains are types of trains, that will be common on the UK rail network, so as the knowledge base increases we’ll probably find ways of using them both to create very high-class public transport systems.

Choosing between the two new solutions is extremely difficult.

As neither has run in extended service on the UK rail network, I feel that for the moment I’ll duck that difficult choice.

As an aside, this analysis has proved to me, that the Cambridge Guided Busway may have been a good decision at the time based on the knowledge available, but with the arrival of IPEMUs and tram-trains, it is very much a technology that few will choose in the future.


October 26, 2015 - Posted by | Transport | , , , , ,


  1. […] In Sudbury To Cambridge – D-Train, IPEMU Or Tram-Train?, I looked at the various options for reopening the whole line to create a new route from Ipswich and Colchester to Cambridge via Marks Tey, Sudbury and Haverhill. […]

    Pingback by Marks Tey Station And The Sudbury Branch « The Anonymous Widower | July 10, 2016 | Reply

  2. […] In Sudbury To Cambridge – D-Train, IPEMU Or Tram-Train?, I basked what would be the ideal rolling stock on a reopened Stour Valley Railway. […]

    Pingback by An Affordable Reinstatement Of The Stour Valley Railway « The Anonymous Widower | August 13, 2017 | Reply

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