The Anonymous Widower

The Four-Car Bi-Mode Train

The Class 319 Flex train is an affordable four-car bi-mode or electro-diesel train, promoted by Porterbrook and to be used by Northern.

  • The train is affordable, as it is based on a refurbished Class 319 train, which was built thirty years ago.
  • The train is a dual-voltage unit and can be powered by either 25 KVAC overhead or 750 VDC third-rail electrification.
  • Each unit also has two rail-proven MAN diesel engines, for powering the train on lines without electrification.

If there is a drawback, it is that with their interiors so far, Northern have opted for a no-frills interior with no wi-fi.

Compare this with the interior of a Class 455 train.

The trains were originally built within a couple of years, but the updated interior specified by South West Trains is much more impressive and passenger-friendly than that used by Northern.

Both trains are four-car units and are based on the Mark  3 coach, so underneath the skin, they probably have a lot in common.

There are a large number of four-car trains on UK railways so it must be a train length that is convenient for operators.

But strangely until now there has not been a four-car bi-mode train.

But then bi-mode trains are not that common, with the only UK train of that type; the Class 800 train, yet to enter service.

But the Class 800 train is for the long distance market and is a five-car or nine-car 125 mph train.

I do wonder, if the reason we have no four-car bi-mode trains, is that no-one has bothered to design one so no-one has wanted one.

But Porterbrook own 86 of these Class 319 trains, which are reliable 100 mph trains, that drivers tell me they like, because of their performance and excellent brakes.

Because of their age, they’re probably not worth a great deal more than scrap value, but because of the depth of knowledge of what can be done with Mark 3 coaches, they can be turned into a useful train by quality engineering.

Porterbrook have seen a gap in the market with Northern for a train specifically designed to be able to handle their toughest route, which is Manchester Piccadilly to Buxtonup the very steep Buxton Line. But the train is no one-trick pony and can run on virtually any of Northern’s routes, whether they are electrified or not.

So Northern can use the train for a variety of purposes.

  • Running services on routes, that are not fully electrified.
  • New route development.
  • Extension of existing electrified routes.
  • Replacement of a failed unit, which could be electric or diesel

Northern will have two versions of the Class 319 train; electric and bi-mode, just like other train operating companies will have electric and bi-mode versions of the Class 800 train.

I suspect that to passengers and all train staff except the driver, there will not be many obvious differences between the two versions.

Some routes will probably be able to be served by both versions.

The Bombardier Aventra

I feel very much that the Aventra will have one or more independently-powered versions.

The Aventra has a slightly unusual and innovative electrical layout.

This article in Global Rail News from 2011, which is entitled Bombardier’s AVENTRA – A new era in train performance, gives some details of the Aventra’s electrical systems. This is said.

AVENTRA can run on both 25kV AC and 750V DC power – the high-efficiency transformers being another area where a heavier component was chosen because, in the long term, it’s cheaper to run. Pairs of cars will run off a common power bus with a converter on one car powering both. The other car can be fitted with power storage devices such as super-capacitors or Lithium-Iron batteries if required.

This was published six years ago, so I suspect Bombardier have improved the concept.

Perhaps instead of a power storage device, they could squeeze in a small diesel engine and an alternator.

I’ve believed for a long time, that the Class 710 train being built by Bombardier for the London Overground, has onboard energy storage and that I wouldn’t be surprised if it used the storage to capture energy from regenerative braking, just as a lot of hybrid vehicles, like a London Routemaster and a Toyota Prius.

It won’t be a high-power bi-mode like the Class 319 Flex train, but it could have a useful range on the stored energy.

But it will be an all-electric train and probably more energy-efficient.

Other Four-Car Bi-Modes

I can’t believe that other train manufacturers are not looking at various forms of bi-mode trains.

Hitachi make the Class 800 trains at Newton Aycliffe, where they also make the four-car Class 385 train for ScotRail.

And what about Alstom, CAF, Siemens and Stadler?

What About Five Cars?

Four-car trains mean that operators can run eight and twelve car trains, when they are convenient. But other companies prefer five-car and ten-car trains.

We have the Class 800 trains, which are a 125 mph bi-mode, but we don’t have a five-car bi-mode suburban trundler. A few would surely be useful for Southern to handle Uckfield and the Marshlink Line.

I also believe that Greater Anglia’s five-car Aventras could have the limited independent capacity given by onboard energy storage.

I suspect that what the train operators need, the train operators will get!


We will see a complete spectrum of bi-mode four-car trains. And a few fuve-cars too!

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March 13, 2017 - Posted by | Travel | , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Lovely!

    Any news about 4 car c710?

    On 13 Mar 2017 7:42 p.m., “The Anonymous Widower” wrote:

    > AnonW posted: “The Class 319 Flex train is an affordable four-car bi-mode > or electro-diesel train, promoted by Porterbrook and to be used by > Northern. The train is affordable, as it is based on a refurbished Class > 319 train, which was built thirty years ago. The” >

    Comment by Russ Hurley | March 13, 2017 | Reply

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