The Anonymous Widower

Are The TOCs Arguing Over The Class 387 Trains?

The April 2015 Edition of Modern Railways has an article entitled Operators Vying For Class 387s.

Before discussing the article, I’ll describe the trains involved.

Class 387 Trains

At present there are twenty-nine new four-car Class 387 trains running Thameslink services for Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR).

  • These are dual-voltage 175 kph (110 mph) versions of Electrostars.
  • They can run on probably most of the electrified routes in the UK.
  • They are about to be replaced by brand-new Siemens Class 700 trains, as these are delivered.
  • They are closely related to the Class 379 trains, which were used for the IPEMU prototype in early 2015.

As they become available, they are supposed to go to the Great Western Railway (GWR).

But GWR only have the working electrification from Paddington to Hayes and Harlington station on which to run the trains. As I showed in Hayes and Harlington Station – 28th February 2016, work is progressing at the station and an extended bay platform is being created.

The finish of platform works at the station, will mean a service can be started between Paddington and Hayes and Harlington.

  • It will replace the main-line portion of the service between Paddington and Greenford, which is soon to be discontinued.
  • It can be used by GWR for driver training.
  • Class 387 trains working in GWR livery will be good publicity.

But I can’t see this service needing more than a couple of Class 387 trains.

This picture shows the colour scheme of a Class 387 train, currently working on Thameslink.

Class 387 Train

The colour of those doors looks suspiciously like GWR green to me! So perhaps the transfer of operator would not require anything more than downloading new software for the passenger information screens and changing the adverts and notices.

In addition to the current twenty-nine trains on Thameslink, Bombardier have three further orders for Class 387 trains.

  • Twenty-seven four-car Class 387/2 trains are being delivered for Gatwick Express.
  • Eight four-car trains for GWR.
  • Twenty four-car trains have been ordered by Porterbrook.

Bombardier are reported to be on the verge of finishing the Gatwick Express order and starting manufacture of more Class 387/1 trains.

Class 442 Trains

The Class 442 trains, which are being replaced on Gatwick Express by Class 387/2 trains are not the most loved trains in the UK’s train fleet.

It is very likely that despite being the fastest third-rail trains in the world, that they will go to the scrapyard as they are replaced.

The only reason some might be retained on Gatwick Express, is so that some Class 387/2 trains could work Thameslink to release a few of the Class 387 trains for other operators.

Class 700 Trains

The Class 700 trains, being built in Germany by Siemens, are replacing the last Class 319 trains and the new Class 387 trains on Thameslink.

So introduction of these trains is important to release Class 387 trains for other operators.

But these trains are only due to be introduced on the 16th April 2016 and there are inevitable questions.

  • What is the introduction into service schedule?
  • As with all new trains or car, bus or truck for that matter, will there be any teething problems?
  • Will they replace the Class 319 or 387 trains first?
  • Will the passengers like them?

The last question is the most important and expect lots of moaning about the lack of free wi-fi!

Class 360 Trains

The Class 360 trains, used on Heathrow Connect, have a peripheral role in the argument, as c2c were trying to sublease two of these trains to sort out their capacity problems.

But the well-documented problems of Heathrow Express, have probably meant that these trains are no longer available.

Summarising The Article

The first paragraph of the Modern Railways article entitled Operators Vying For Class 387s,  says that several operators are vying for the Class 387/1 trains currently working on Thameslink.

To summarise.

  • c2c, who are big Electrostar operators, are still looking for trains after failing to procure Class 360 trains.
  • GWR is anxious to get 387s to start driver training.
  • GTR wants to retain them, as there is problems with the new Class 700 trains.
  • GWR have apparently suggested that GTR retain the Class 442 trains and use the new Class 387/2 Gatwick Expresses on Thameslink.
  • GWR wants to start services to Maindenhead earlier than thought.

It looks like there’s a serious argument going on.

The final paragraph offers a solution.

It could be that the quest to find additional short term capacity at c2c may be solved by early delivery of the next batch of 387s, construction of which is to begin shortly at Bombardier’s Derby factory.

Perhaps, building some of Porterbrook’s trains before those destined for GWR, where they have nowhere to run, could happen!

Bombardier are probably being a bit bullish, as after all one of the reasons for the problems would appear to be the new Class 700 trains from Siemens.

Adding An IPEMU Capabilty To Class 387 Trains

Could it also be, that until this argument is settled, we will not be seeing any Class 387 trains converted into IPEMUs?

I believe that a proportion of trains with on-board energy storage could help some of our electrification problems.

Bombardier have stated that all their new Aventra trains will be wired to accept on-board energy storage if the operator desires it be added. This article in Global Rail News gives full details.

In the meantime, the only train that is available that can be given an IPEMU capability is the Class 387 train.

Electric Services To Maidenhead And Reading

The article says this about electrification to Maidenhead.

Whilst the completion date for wiring to Maidenhead is shown in the re-plan of Network Rail’s Enhancements Programme by Sir Peter Hendy as being June 2017, Modern Railways understands that work is ahead of the new schedule and this section may be completed by the end of 2016.

As electrification to Reading is Crossrail’s problem, this might help too, as different structures are being used.

In Rumours Of Battery Trains, I discussed an article in the September 2015 Edition of Modern Railways entitled Class 387s Could Be Battery Powered, which said that GWR’s eight additional Class 387 trains could be battery powered. This was said in Modern Railways.

Delivery as IPEMUs would allow EMUs to make use of as much wiring as is available (and batteries beyond) while electrification pushes ahead under the delayed scheme, and in the longer term would allow units to run on sections not yet authorised for electrification, such as Newbury to Bedwyn. The use of IPEMUs might also hasten the cascade of Class 16x units to the west of the franchise.

But thinking about electrification to Maidenhead in a practical manner, would a train operator want Maidenhead as the terminus of a new electric service.

Remember that the Class 387 trains are required to increase capacity and bring a whole new level of electric traction and modern comfort to services from Paddington to Bedwyn, Newbury, Oxford, Reading and other places in the Thames Valley, so having to change from your old diesel train to a new electric one at Maidenhead is something that will bring out the worst out of passengers.

If you look at train times between Maidenhead and Paddington, some services take up to thirty-six minutes, but the fastest scheduled journey I can find is probably by an InterCity 125 in nineteen. So you can understand, why GWR would like 110 mph Class 387 trains on the route. They could probably do the journey in a few minutes over twenty.

With Chiltern starting an Oxford to Marylebone in December 2016, GWR are probably preparing to lose a lot of their Oxford business. I know which service I’d choose.

But the Class 387 IPEMU would offer a viable alternative.

  • Hayes and Harlington station is fully electrified to Paddington and is just under eleven miles from Paddington.
  • Reading station is not electrified and is thirty-six miles from Paddington.
  • A Class 387 IPEMU has a range of upwards of fifty miles on batteries.

The Class 387 IPEMU would seem to have been designed to handle Paddington to Reading. But I suspect that electric services will not be offered until the wires reach Maidenhead.

So when will GWR be offering an electric local service between Paddington and Reading?

  • Trains would use overhead power to the end of the wires and batteries beyond.
  • Enough Class 387 trains will have to be converted to IPEMUs
  • Enough platforms at Paddington would have be able to accept electric trains.

Could this be why GWR appear to be so keen to take deliveries of Class 387 trains?

From Reading diesel shuttles would work the lines to Bedwyn and Oxford.

So how does this fit in with Modern Railways assertion, that electrification to Maidenhead will be complete before the end of the year?

If GWR take the IPEMU route to provide services between Paddington and Reading, it just means that the train will be less reliant on the batteries, as Maidenhead to Reading is only twelve miles.

To go to anywhere past Reading is probably difficult, as suitable places like Bedwyn, Didcot and Newbury are more than twenty-five miles from Maidenhead, which probably means the range is too much for an IPEMU, as it has to go both ways on battery power.

On the other hand, every extra mile of usable electrification would extend the reach from Paddington.

But there are three places, where Class 387 IPEMUs could operate without major additional electrification; the three branch lines.

  • Henley is 11.5 miles from Maidenhead.
  • Marlow is 5 miles from Maidenhead.
  • Windsor is 2.5 miles from Slough.

There would probably need to be some short lengths of electrification where the branches join the main line, signalling upgrades and platform lengthening. But not electrifying the branches and using IPEMUs would probably be welcomed by Network Rail, as it would sidestep any legal challenges to the electrification on aesthetic and heritage grounds.

In the peaks there are direct services between Bourne End station on the Marlow Branch and London, which seem to take fifty-four minutes. I suspect that a Class 387 IPEMU could do the journey about twenty minutes faster, with electrification between Paddington and Maindenhead.

Onward To Oxford

Electrification to Maidenhead would not give advantages in providing electric services from Reading to Bedwyn, Newbury and Oxford.  It’s just too far for a train powered by batteries.

Commercial common sense, would indicate that with Chiltern scheduled to serve Oxford station in December 2016, if there was one destination, where new electric trains must go, it is Oxford.

And by the end of 2016!

It sounds like an impossible dream!

Roger Ford in an article in the April 2016 Edition of Modern Railways, which is entitled GWEP Target Dates And Costs, says this about testing the Class 800 trains.

GWEP’s 16-mile ‘test track’is between Reading and Didcot; It was originally due to have been energised in September last year.

Energisation for test running is now scheduled for September this year.

He also indicated, and I can confirm it, that substantial amounts of the overhead structures have been installed. So I think we can assume that by September, the test track will probably be working.

As an aside here, I wonder if the test track will electrify and use one of the west-facing bay platforms at Reading station.

If we assume that the test track provides a fully-functioning electrified route between Reading and Didcot, it could surely be used by Class 387 IPEMUs to get to Didcot.

  • They would use overhead electrification from Paddington to Maidenhead or the end of the wires.
  • They would go to Reading on battery power.
  • Reading to Didcot would be using the overhead wires put up for the test track.
  • Batteries would be charged on both electrified sections.

Oxford is less than twenty miles from Didcot, so reaching Oxford with an electric service is possible before December 2016.

Onward To Bedwyn

Bedwyn is forty-two miles from Maidenhead and thirty from Reading, so it would appear to be another impossible dream, even if there was electrification all the way to Maidenhead from Paddington.

I do think that unless the Great Western Main Line is electrified to Maidenhead, that getting Class 387 IPEMUs to Bedwyn is impossible.

But there are three possibilities to get to Bedwyn from Paddington, if Maidenhead is electrified.

  • A bigger battery to give a longer range.
  • As the train stops at Reading, it could stop in an electrified platform and charge the battery.
  • Electrifying the junction and a short length of the Reading to Taunton Line, perhaps as far as Reading West station.

I’m sure Bombardier, Network Rail and GWR are working on a solution.

It should also be noted that there are two west facing bay platforms used for services to Basingstoke, Bedwyn and Newbury. These could be electrified and Bedwyn could be served by a shuttle.

Onward To Basingstoke

Another possibility would be to use the Class 387 IPEMUs to provide a service along the Reading to Basingstoke Line, which is currently run using diesel multiple units.

It could be charged at Reading by electrifying the two west-facing bay platforms or even at Basingstoke using  third-rail electrification in the bay platform.



I believe that all the Thames Valley services out of Paddington could be run by a fleet of Class 387 trains, some or all of which would be IPEMUs, It would be necessary to do the following.

  • Electrify between Airport Junction and Maidenhead.
  • Allow the use of the test track between Reading and Didcot by Class 387 services travelling past Didcot.
  • Electrify selected platforms at Reading station.

The new trains would provide an increase in capacity, faster services and possibly extra routes.

I also believe that it would be possible to serve Oxford using Class 387 IPEMUs by the end of the year. This might persuade passengers not to desert to Chiltern.

Does this all explain GWR’s reluctance to lose the Class 387 trains, that have been earmarked for transfer from Thameslink?

But with other train companies looking jealously at the GWR’s Class 387 trains, it’s no wonder there’s an argument.




March 26, 2016 - Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , ,


  1. […] I was writing Are The TOCs Arguing Over The Class 387 Trains?, I kept coming across the Oxford end of the East West Rail Link, so I got to thinking how IPEMUs […]

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  2. […] On the other hand, their may be more important uses for the Class 387 trains, as I wrote about in Are The TOCs Arguing Over The Class 387 Trains? […]

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  4. […] I don’t think it will happen like that, as I can’t see Bedford to Corby being electrified in time. There’s also the problem of the arguments about who gets the Class 387 trains, that I wrote about in Are The TOCs Arguing Over The Class 387 Trains? […]

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