The Anonymous Widower

Porterbrook Launch A Tri-Mode Train

In Bi-Mode Ate My Electrification, I asked this question.

Could We See A Tri-Mode Train?

Little did I suspect that just a few hours later, one would arrive.

This article on Global Rail News is entitled Northern and Porterbrook to convert electric trains to bi-mode.

This is the opening paragraph.

Leasing company Porterbrook is developing a bi-mode variant of Northern’s Class 319 EMU.

But that is not all, as this is said later.

Porterbrook said the design requires minimal modifications to the train. Additional batteries could also be fitted to improve performance on non-electrified sections.

So Northern will have a Class 319 Flex train that can run from electric, diesel or battery power.

That sounds like tri-mode to me.

Is It A Quad-Mode?

Some might even think it a quad-mode, as it could also run using 750 VDC third-rail electrification. It would help the trains charge the batteries at SouthportOrmskirk and Kirkby stations, which are terminals of Merseyrail’s third-rail network.

Will A Class 319 Flex Work Like A Hybrid Bus?

Several types of hybrid buses work, by driving the wheels using electric motors powered from a battery, that is charged from a small diesel engine.

When the battery is full, the engine is switched off.

So could, the Class 319 Flex be using hybrid bus methods to power the train?

The power-packs would keep the battery charged and the train would be driven from the battery or the external electrification.

One advantage of doing this, is that say on arrival at Blackpool with batteries without much power, the power-packs could charge the batteries before the train left for Preston and the overhead wires.

The driver would drive the train as an electric train, using electrification or battery automatically. The control system would cut the power-packs in to charge the batteries as necessary.

If they do go this route, could they be raiding the parts bin of the UK’s hybrid-bus manufacturers?

The 4.5 litre diesel engine and a 75 kW-hour battery, used by London’s Routemaster would surely be certified for use in a rail application and their performance and reliability will be well-documented.

Why Convert A Class 319 Train?

Who’d have thought that they’d convert a Class 319 train.


  • The class was built in the late-1980s.
  • They are not the most stylish of trains, with all the panache of a house built by a Local Authority in the 1950s.

But over the last year or so, Northern have been refurbishing the trains and have probably found that under the skin, there are no serious problems and they have solutions for the minor ones.

They also scrub up pretty well and I suspect that if a bit more was spent on the interior, they could probably be better.

In my travels to Liverpool over the last year, I have talked to several drivers of Class 319 trains.

  • Generally, they seem to like them.
  • One told me, that on the West Coast Main Line, they will still hold 100 mph, so they are no suburban trundler!
  • I have heard lavish praise for the brakes.

The only complaint, was that because of the softish suspension, the first few trains didn’t  ride too well over Chat Moss.

They also have other things in their favour.

  • There are 86 of the four-car trains, of which Northern has 32.
  • The creation of a prototype, shouldn’t be a long process, unless Network Rail take forever to certify the train.

It should also be noted, that some of the similar Class 321 trains are having their traction equipment updated. So there may be some lessons from each program that can be applied to the other, especially as Wabtec are involved in both projects.

Will The Class 319 Flex Have Regenerative Braking?

The one problem with the Class 319 is that the trains don’t have regenerative braking.

If they did and they had onboard energy storage then the braking energy could be stored when a train stops at a station and recycled to get the train started after passengers have left and joined the train.

This would improve the energy efficiency and extend the range of the train, when running on lines without electrification.

How Will A Class 319 Flex Perform On Inclines?

Some of Northern’s routes like the Ribble Valley Line, climb into the hills.

Will the performance of the trains be sufficient to work these lines?

How Much Automation Will There Be On A Class 319 Flex?

The trains aren’t particularly complex, but with at least three power sources, it would probably help the driver, if changeover from one system to another was an automatically controlled.

It would also probably help if pantograph raising and lowering was automatic and could be at line speed.

Could A Class 319 Flex Be Able To Run Under Tram Rules?

In Zwickau in Germany, diesel multiple units, run through the town at slow speed under rules similar to those used by trams.

Arrival At Zwickau Zentrum Tram/Train Stop

A DMU at the train stop in the centre of Zwickau


From Zwickau HbF to the Zwickau Zentrum stop, the diesel multiple units run on a line designed to the following rules.

  • Slow tram-like maximum speed.
  • A track with electrification just for the trams with which the trains share the line.
  • Rail signalling.
  • Simple stations, designed to fit the trams and trains working the line.
  • Passengers can walk across the lines, as they can on any tramway.
  • There’s even a couple of level crossings.

Zwickau’s system is more complicated than would be needed in the UK, as the trams and trains are of different gauges, so there is an unusual three-rail track, to accommodate standard- and metre-gauge vehicles.

Note that the system in Zwickau does not use a purpose-built tram-train, as the trains are standard Deutsche Bahn diesel multiple units, which were built by Stadler. They are very much like Class 172 trains. They just behave like trams away from the main line.

They are best described as Train-trams!

Will a Class 319 Flex be certified to do the same?

In a simple example, a Class 319 Flex could go through the buffers at Blackpool South station and continue through the car parks to a stop by the football ground.

Where Will Northern Use A Class 319 Flex?

Windermere To Manchester

When the franchise responsible for Windermere station changed from TransPennine to Northern, there was talk of electrifying the Windermere Branch Line , so that it could have an electric train service to Manchester or Manchester Airport.

But Network Rail’s electrification performance, stopped that, so passengers between Windermere and Manchester have to change at somewhere like Oxenholme Lake District station.

From Windermere, there is one direct train per day to Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport, which takes two and a half hours and an hourly shuttle to Oxenholme.

I’m sure that Windermere to Manchester is the sort of route that Northern would like to cover with a direct hourly electric train. From December 2017 if Network Rail perform, the only part of the route from Windermere to Manchester Airport, that will not be electrified will be the ten miles of the Windermere Branch Line.

If Network Rail haven’t performed, the trains could use the electrified route via Nreton-le-Willows and the West Coast Main Line.

As it will take something like five hours to go from Windermere to Manchester Airport and back, it will need five trains yo provide an hourly service all day. Alternative power sources would only be used on the Windermere Branch.

Blackpool To Manchester And Liverpool

I would suspect that an early objective of the design of the Class 319 Flex, would be the ability to do a return trip between Preston and Blackpool, as this would enable services between Blackpool and Crewe, Liverpool, Manchester and Warrington.

The Blackpool Branch has the following characteristics.

  • It is without electrification.
  • It is only about fifteen miles long.
  • It is has two current termini in Blackpool North and Blackpool South stations.
  • There have been proposals in the last few years to reinstate services on the Fleetwood Branch Line to a new Fleetwood station.

The return trip would be about 30 miles on to each terminus, but trains could use their power-packs if needed to charge their on-board energy storage before returning to Preston.

Blackpool North to Liverpool Lime Street would only need a Class 319 Flex train to be delivered.

Blackpool to Manchester Victoria, Piccadilly or Airport, would need the Preston to Manchester electrification to be completed, unless they could sneak down the West Coast Main Line.

It looks to my simple mind, that as regards Liverpool, Manchester and Prestojn to Windermere and Blackpool, the Class 319 Flex is a very workable solution, whether Network Rail finish the electrification of Manchester to Preston or not!

As the residents and visitors of Blackpool should understand trams, I could see Class 319 Flex trains running to Blackpool South and Fleetwood through simplified stations without any electrification, under rules similar to trams.

If the Germans can do it in Zwickau, then surely Lancastraians can do it in Blackpool.

Being able to run four-car Class 319 Flex trains to Blackpool South would also help to increase services to the area, if the Open Championship were to be held at Royal Lytham. A simple station could even be built adjacent to the course.

Blackpool South To Colne

The East Lancashire Line spans the Preston between Blackpool South and Colne stations.

After a long chat with an off-duty conductor on a crowded train  in Summer 2016 on this line, I’ve thought it was a line , that could do with an improved level of service and more capacity.

Since then I’ve experienced severe overcrowding after Ipswich played at Blackburn on the same day that Blackpool played at Accrington.


  • Blackpool South to Preston is about fifteen miles.
  • Preston station is electrified.
  • Blackburn station has recently been rebuilt.
  • Trains going between the Manchester to Preston Line and the East Lancashire Line can bypass Preston station.
  • Blackburn station has a West-facing bay platform.
  • Preston to Blackburn is about ten miles.
  • Preston to Burnley is about twenty-five miles
  • Preston to Colne is about thirty miles.

It would certainly appear that the following services would be possible using Class 319 Flex trains.

  • Blackburn to Blackpool South
  • Blackburn to Blackpool North
  • Blackburn to Manchester via Bolton
  • Blackburn to Manchester via the West Coast Main Line
  • Blackburn to Liverpool.

This opens up all sorts of possibilities for integrated services centred on Preston.

If Blackburn to Preston were to be electrified, this would probably bring Colne and Burnley into the operational range of Class 319 Flex trains.

Northern could have tremendous fun planning those services!

Colne To Skipton

This missing link in Northern’s network could be a worthwhile line to reinstate.

So why not create a single-track line without electrification between Colne and Skipton stations?


  • The missing track between the two stations is just 11.5 miles.
  • The reinstatement would probably only need one expensive bridge, that would be North of Colne station.
  • The line could be a valuable piece of tourist infrastructure.
  • A Leeds to Blackpool service via Burnley and Blackburn through the Pennines would be possible.

It could be designed to be easily worked by Class 319 Flex trains.

I somehow like the concept of 1980s British Rail electric multiple units, built to bring commuters to and from London, being redeveloped as a tourist train, through some of the most beautiful parts of The North.

The Ribble Valley Line

The Ribble Valley Line could be an interesting challenge to run using Class 319 Flex trains.


  • The Southern section of the line is twelve miles between a hopefully electrified Bolton station and Blackburn.
  • The Northern section is ten miles between Blackburn and Clitheroe stations.
  • The Northern section is a climb into the hills.
  • The Ribble Valley and East Lancashire Lines share tracks sround Blackburn station.

I think that if Preston to Blackburn were to be electrified, Class 319 Flex trains, might be able to reach Clitheroe.


In the January 2017 Edition of Modern Railways, there is an article entitled Extra Platforms At Piccadilly Abandoned?.

In this article it suggests that electrification between Manchester Victoria and |Stalybridge might be late. This is also said.

However, any delay in wiring the section crates problems for Northern in that its plans for the move to additional electric services sees them terminating at Stalybridge rather than at Manchester Victoria, freeing up -platform capacity.

But Stalybridge is under nine miles to the East of Manchester Victoria, so a Class 319 Flex could be used to bridge the gap.

So do we have the bizarre result of obtaining some bi-mode trains freeing up platform space?

Manchester Victoria To Huddersfield

Once Network Rail get Manchester Victoria to Stalybridge electrified, Huddersfield is only another twenty miles, so could be in reach of a Class 319 Flex.

Southport And Kirkby To Manchester

North of Liverpool, there are two routes, which go between Wigan Wallgate station and Southport and Kirkby stations.

There are also three routes from Wigan Wallgate to Manchester.

The line between Bolton and Wigan Wallgate was supposed to be electrified by December 2017, but no work appears to be ongoing yet.

But when Manchester to Preston and Wigan to Bolton are electrified, there will be an electric route to Manchester Victoria, Piccadilly and Airport stations from Wigan Wallgate.

So could Wigan Wallgate to Southport (20 miles) and Wigan Wallgate to Kirkby (16m iles) be bridged by a Class 319 Flex?

One great advantage at Southport and Kirkby is that 750 CDC third-rail electrification is available. So could the batteries be charged using this electrification, whilst the train is turned back..

A Train Designed For A Specific Route

It seems that one of the great features of the Class 319 Flex trains, is that the number of different power sources will mean that trains can be designed for a particular route.

So if say on a route, like the Ribble Valley Line to Clitheroe, more power might be needed, then an extra battery might be added, as has been stated in some of the various Press Releases for the train.

Routes In The East

I have only looked at the routes I know in the West of the Northern franchise.

But as it is an extensive franchise providing services over a wide area, there could be routes in the East, where the Class 319 Flex could provide an increase in capacity and quality of service.


I must say something about Porterbrook’s involvement in this development.

Porterbrook are a leasing company and they are not participating in this venture out of charity.

By financing the increase in the capabilities of this train, they are doing themselves a big favour by turning a Class 319 train of limited use and value into a more desirable asset for a train operating company, that they can lease for a higher price.

  • Northern get a train they need to increase capacity and expand electric services.
  • Passengers travel in a refurbished faster four-car electric train instead of a two-car diesel train of possibly dubious quality.
  • Hopefully, the better train service will create economic activity and jobs.

Porterbrook will of course expect to make a return on their investment.

Other Customers

This article on the European Railway Review is entitled Porterbrook and Northern to jointly develop bi-mode Class 319 Flex trains. It says the following.

The first Bi-mode Class 319 Flex trains will be in Northern passenger service by 2018. The units will then become available to operators who wish to make full use of electrically powered rolling stock on partially electrified routes.

It will be interesting to see, who leases the trains.


I am drawn to the following conclusions.

  • Nothing about the technicalities of the Class 319 Train is difficult and with my limited experience of project management in railway engineering , if Wabtec give a delivery date, it will likely be achieved.
  • There are lots of ways to run these trains, especially if modes can be switched automatically.
  • The trains would be more efficient and have a longer range, if they had regenerative braking.
  • The trains will be incredibly useful in providing electric services across the Northern franchise.
  • I believe that used on a line like Harrogate Line, they will also show whether a line should be electrified.

I think the concept is very sound and good for Porterbrook, Northern and their passengers. It will also create economic ctivity and jobs.

If the Class 319 Flex proves to be a success, I feel that other trains will be upgraded in this way.





December 23, 2016 - Posted by | Transport | , , , ,


  1. I suspect Adrian Shooter’s now investigating scrap prices for D Stock cars. If this works out, Vivarail are dead in the water.

    Comment by jeff | December 23, 2016 | Reply

    • It’s certainly a practical idea. It’s just a pity that the Class 319s don’t have regenerative braking.

      You can’t rule out, the possibility of Adrian Shooter’s team designing and building the power units for the 319s,.

      One of the great advantages of these trains, is that they are a bi-mode that can cruise at 100 mph on an electrifieed main line.

      Comment by AnonW | December 23, 2016 | Reply

  2. […] I like this concept and I wrote about the Class 319 Flex in Porterbrook Launch A Tri-Mode Train. […]

    Pingback by Modern Trains From Old « The Anonymous Widower | January 26, 2017 | Reply

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