Friday, 22 June 2018

RailLive Special - Class 769 Flex by Porterbrook

This third in a series of "RailLive special" posts features yet more recycling or what could be more accurately described as upcycling, as Vivarail is not the only company to have seen the benefits of converting redundant electric trains to run on other forms of power.

Porterbrook has been developing its own bi-mode (or in fact tri-mode) units for a number of years and last year it was announced that Arriva Rail North (Northern) had ordered 8 of what were branded "Flex" trains, which now have a TOPS classification of 769

The Flex units are being converted from class 319s all which have been sent off lease from Thameslink and Southern. Some 319s  were sent north to operate on recently electrified lines between Manchester, Liverpool and Preston, with the first refurbished 319 entering service between Liverpool and Manchester in 2015. However the majority of the 319s are now surplus to requirements.

769 000 already painted in Northern colours 

The Flex units are being described as "Tri-mode" as they will be able to draw power from 750v DC third rail and 25kV overhead lines whilst also being able to operate under their own power on non-electrified lines.

Each 4 car train will have 2 6 cylinder diesel engines provided by MAN placed underneath each driving vehicle, the engines will be used to generate electricity to power traction motors. Each horizontal 6 cylinder engine will produce 390kw and will comply with the latest EU Stage IIIB emission standards.

The horizontal 6 cylinder 13 Litre engine provided by MAN

Since the initial order of 8 units for Northern was confirmed a further 24 units have been ordered, 19 for Great Western Railway and 5 for Arriva Trains Wales. The 5 units originally ordered by ATW were destined for South Wales and despite the announcement that KeolisAmey will take over the Wales and Borders franchise the current plans do not seem to have changed. 

It is understood that GWR will use 769s on Reading - Gatwick Airport and Reading - Oxford routes. This will allow GWR to re-deploy class 165/166s to the Bristol area.

5 years ago it was thought that demand for diesel multiple units (DMUs) would decrease rapidly and that the routes on which the class 796s will operate would be electrified. But with cancellations and delays to electrification schemes the rail industry found itself with a potential shortage of rolling stock and crucially DMUs.

Whilst it is true to say that train operating companies have suffered from a shortage of DMUs for a number of years, the problems facing the rail industry over the next 1 to 3 year could have been much worse. With public pressure to remove Pacers from service completely, electrification woes and new disability standards which mean many DMUs will have to be modified by 2020 to comply with PRM TSI standards all having an affect on the availability of units. 


That is if companies such as Porterbrook and Vivarail hadn't spotted the potential problems facing the industry and decided to take a risk and invest in developing solutions which could be deployed relatively quickly and were cost-effective in the short to medium term. 

The class 769s and 230s will allow class 15Xs to be sent off lease to be modified to comply with PRM TSI standards and will fill a gap left by the delays and cancellation of electrification schemes. Both trains will be able to operate on electrified and non-electrified lines so no services will have to terminate where electrification ends or mean that DMUs are running for long periods along sections of railway that have been electrified. 

It is hoped that passengers will see the benefits of these new units within the next 12 months and I'm fairly certain they will not notice that they will be riding on upcycled trains. 



There was a huge amount to see at year's RailLive organised by Rail magazine so I have a number of posts planned covering innovation and technology. This year in particular there seemed to be a lot of innovative products on display and brand new never before seen technology. So if you follow Engineering Focus on social media or click the "subscribe by e-mail" link you won't miss out on any of the latest content over the next week. 


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Thursday, 21 June 2018

RailLive special - A busy year for Vivarail (part 2)

Battery trains

In part one I wrote about the class 230 trains which have been ordered for the Wales and Borders franchise and for West Midlands Railway. But that's not all that has been happening at Vivarail over the past year. The engineering team has also been busy developing a battery-powered variant which has already carried its first passengers, all be it on a short run at Long Marston.

I was lucky enough to be amongst those to ride the train at RailLive 2018 along the 200 metres or so of track used to demonstrate the unit. The ride was smooth and quiet as you would expect from an all-electric vehicle, but with such a short section of track I wasn't able to get a feeling of performance. However what I could appreciate was how advanced the development was, this wasn't an unfinished prototype, it felt like a train that could already be working passenger services.


Vivarail engineers have developed a modular system which uses rafts to house the batteries similar to the system used for the diesel engines, they can be swapped relatively easily and a number of rafts can be installed under each carriage.  The 2 car test train has 4 rafts each providing 106kwh, but more rafts can be added.

It will be possible to charge the batteries through existing infrastructure such as overhead lines, 3rd rail or with static battery banks on non-electrified lines. In each case the train will be charged via a patented automatic charging point.


The image above shows one of the battery rafts which as well as providing power for the train can also be used to provide static charging points. Rather than relying on local services, a raft or number of rafts could be placed at railway stations to provide additional charging further increasing the range of the train. 

Vivarail hasn't released any figures on range yet, however it is thought that a 3 car battery unit could achieve a range of 80 miles and with new battery technology this will improve still further.


Hybrid trains 

The battery technology that has been developed isn't just being used to power all-electric units, the technology will also be used on the class 230 diesel-electric units destined for Wales and Borders. Hybrid technology will be used to further improve the environmental credentials and reduce operating cost of the diesel units by saving fuel.

Each class 230 will be fitted with 4 battery rafts, 2 underneath each of the driving cars, the diesel engines will be placed underneath the middle carriage and will be used to charge the batteries. This system will provide quicker acceleration whilst improving fuel economy through the use of regenerative braking and GPS controlled engine management. 

The engines will be controlled by a GPS system which will be able to switch the engines off when they are not required, or at stations where there may be environmental concerns. This system combined with regenerative breaking promises to deliver a 20% fuel saving compared to a unit powered by diesel engines alone. 

I have uploaded a short clip to Youtube of the battery train in action.

Apologies about the sound, it was a windy day in Warwickshire



I hope to provide further updates on the development of the battery train and deployment of the units that have been ordered in the not too distant future.





Wednesday, 20 June 2018

RailLive special - A busy year for Vivarail (part 1)

Wales and Borders

I have made no secret of my support for Vivarail and the D-train project and have followed its development closely since 2015 when I made the first brief reference to a Vivarail display at Railtex 2015. Since then I have had the pleasure of riding on the first test unit 230 001 at RailLive last year and have written extensively about the development.

So it was with some excitement that I read that Vivarail had been chosen by KeolisAmey to supply 5 class 230s for the Wales and Borders franchise. In particular they will operate on the line which serves the town in which I live. I can't claim to have played any part in this, however I have supported and lobbied for the introduction of the class 230 on the Wrexham to Bidston line for a number of years.

image courtesy of Vivarail



Some background:

I and others had thought that the Wrexham to Bidston line would be a perfect line on which to deploy class 230s units. The service is in desperate need of improvement; the line is somewhat isolated and there are no servicing facilities close by. This is where the class 230's unique design comes into its own.

The units will be upcycled from now redundant D78 stock from the London Underground, this means that they will be less expensive to introduce than new trains and will perhaps, be cheaper to operate than the class 150s that currently operate on the line. This is important as current passenger numbers on the Wrexham to Bidston line are comparatively low. This fact combined with the zero growth basis on which the outgoing Arriva Trains Wales franchise was based, has meant that there was no incentive to invest in improving the service beyond trying to improve reliability.

What is really needed on the Wrexham to Bidston line is a half hourly service which would provide good connectivity with services to Liverpool, Chester, North Wales, Manchester and further afield. This connectivity can only be achieved with the introduction of a reliable half hourly service connecting at Bidston for Merseyrail services to Liverpool and at Shotton for services to Chester, Manchester and North Wales.

A new half-hourly service will require an increase from 2 units which currently serve on the line, to 4 with 1 unit available at short notice on standby should one fail. This increase will require additional investment by Transport for Wales, so the lower cost of the class 230 will help improve the business case.

Another fact which favors the class 230 is the modular design of the power packs. Each engine sits within a raft which is slung underneath the carriage, this means each powerpack can be removed and replaced relatively easily without the need for specialist equipment or train lift. This should mean that the units would not need to travel to Cardiff for repairs and that they can be stabled locally.

The 60mph top speed of the units should provide no issue in the case of the Wrexham to Bidston line as the frequent stops and low track speed means that trains rarely if at all ever reach 60mph. However the class 230 could potentially outperform the current class 150s. This is due to the increased power (whilst complying with strict environmental regulations), the lightweight aluminium body shells and the fact that the units have a greater number powered axles, 2 per powered car for a class 150, versus 4 per driving car for the class 230.

Unit service and design:

The first of 5 class 230s to enter service should do so in the summer of 2019 and will be used on the Wrexham to Bidston, Conwy Valley and Chester to Crewe services. This will allow class 150s to be taken south to enable the withdrawal of Pacers. Once new CAF built trains begin to arrive entire fleet of class 230s will be released in time for the introduction of a half hourly service on the Wrexham Bidston line in December 2021.

The design for the 3-car trains which will feature universal access toilet, WiFi, air conditioning, USB ports and 3-pin sockets is well underway and it is expected that the units will move to Wales for final testing and commissioning in early 2019. The class 230s will be fitted with a range of seating layouts and there will be plenty of space for bikes and luggage.

CGI image of the proposed layout for the new W&B units
image courtesy of Vivarail


Marston Vale line

At the start of the year I reported on the announcement that Vivarail was chosen to supply 3 class 230s for West Midlands Trains to operate on the Marston Vale line. Work to build the trains is well underway and they are expected to enter sercice in December this year (2018)


Image captured in May 2018 shows of one of the units featuring MWT livery ready to be fitted out 
image courtesy of Vivarail

The units will enter service between Bedford and Bletchley and be the first trains to be introduced within the new West Midlands Trains franchise.

The first 2 confirmed orders are exciting news, but that is not all that has been happening at Vivarail this year. In part 2 I will be taking a closer look at the battery unit that has been in development for the last year, which I had the chance to ride on this morning at RailLive.


Thursday, 14 June 2018

Manchester Airport Expansion


A £1bn project officially known as the 'Manchester Airport Transformation Programme' (MAN-TP for short) began in July 2017 and since then significant progress has been made. The project will increase passenger capacity by doubling the size of the existing Terminal 2 and vastly improve airport facilities. 3 new piers will be constructed in total with prevision for an additional 4th if required in the future. Airside capacity will also be improved with major changes to the apron and taxiways.

In under 12 months a large area for new structures has been cleared and large sections of the terminal extension and new carpark have been constructed. 6 tower cranes (pictured below) have dominated the Manchester Airport skyline since early 2018. The tightly clustered cranes have been used to lift sections of steel and concrete into place to construct a new carpark which looks to be almost 80% complete.


Significant changes have been made to the passenger drop off and pick-up facilities at terminal 2 in order for work to commence. This includes moving the drop off zone to the ground level and closing off part of the ground level pick-up car park in order to provide parking for staff members. In April 2018 photos were released showing the view from one of the new piers looking through huge glass windows which look out over the airfield.

The terminal is set for completion in 2020 and it is hoped that major "noticeable" changes will take place in 2019. Once the extension is complete, terminal 2 will become the principal terminal with terminal 1 being phased out around 2022 and then later demolished. The entire project including construction of new roads, access ramps and demolition of T1 should be complete by 2023.


The principal contractor for the project Laing O’Rourke is delivering a £570m package of works, including the design and construction of the new T2 extension and the construction of the new 3,800 space multi-story car park. Laing O’Rourke will also undertake significant upgrades to the airport’s landscape and road infrastructure and will construct the initial two new piers for arrivals and departures.


Galliford Try was awarded to contracts totaling £92m, the first £38m phase is to extend the airfield’s west apron which includes construction of new taxiways and aircraft stands. The second £54m phase will increase aircraft stand capacity and aircraft parking. A new ‘Dual E’ taxiway will allow two aircraft such as the Boeing 777 and a Boeing 747 safely to pass each other.

Galliford Try will install more than 79,000m3 of concrete for new taxiways and aircraft stands, they will also reallocating the existing airfield and upgrade a mile-long section of taxiway so that aircraft can be maneuvered more efficiently.


Facts and figures
  • £1bn - Total investment
  • 900,000 sq ft of additional space to be added to Terminal 2
  • 19th busiest airport in Europe 
  • 50 food, beverage and retail outlets to be introduced
  • 3 new piers to be constructed with space and services available to construct a 4th if needed
  • 2023 - Project expected completion date
  • 1962 - The date the original terminal 1 building was constructed
  • 28m - The number of passengers currently using the airport annually

For more information click here

I hope to be able to provide updates as the project progresses


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