Pictured mid-August – the first Vivarail D-train carriage, converted from a decades-old “cast-off” London Underground car, ready for a trip round a Warwickshire test track. We couldn’t resist the chance to muck about on a “new” (?!) train and so joined an invited party of stakeholders to look at work in progress. Low-emission diesel engines have been fitted, and a new strengthened cab. Inside, it still felt very much like a London “Tube”, with District Line blue moquette replaced by a duller grey. There were mock-ups to look round of innovative modern interiors more suited to longer trips. It will be good to see these in service. The test-track demo was a pretty good ride at maximum speed of maybe 35mph (though we were advised to remain seated at one point). It could go at 60 in service. Faster than the usual 45 max on the District Line. Slower than a Pacer or Sprinter, but with better acceleration. Could the D-train replace Pacers in the North? Surely not. The bidders for the Northern franchise have made such decisions by now and the D-train is some months away from useful evaluation. A 3-car prototype should enter service on the Plymouth-Gunnislake branch next Spring. Scenic branch lines in the South West of England or elsewhere could just suit this train, with its good views out of the window hopefully improved by upgraded seating. Overall it’s a laudable re-engineering of a train that is too good to just throw away.
On the Calder Valley D-trains just wouldn’t do. We hope to receive a share of the 120 brand-new carriages required by the franchise specification for non-electrified routes, and speculate hopefully that these proper new trains could be used on a network of regional express routes including our York-Blackpool and future services to Chester and Manchester Airport. The franchisee will also have to refurbish all existing stock to modern standards, provide a significant increase in capacity and banish Pacer units by 2020. Interestingly, however, the Porterbrook train leasing company’s prototype refurbished Pacer is expected to be trialled on Northern lines as we write this. Well-tested in the North, Pacers could yet come out of retirement down south, slightly redressing the balance!
Meanwhile the North West continues to go electric as 25-year old Class 319 units from Thameslink, refurbished to look like new (well nearly), provide a lot more seats on routes from Liverpool to Manchester Airport, Wigan etc. The 319s are 10 years older and significantly less powerful than certain other electric trains in the North, including Class 323s which work existing Manchester electric routes and the 333s (pictured front page) that work the Airedale and Wharfedale lines. Now we hear that Northern’s 323s will likely go to the Midlands in the next few years and it’s obvious 319s would struggle to maintain timings on routes such as the tightly scheduled Glossop line. After the removal of TransPennine Express Class 170 diesels to Chiltern Railways, it sounds like the Northern Powerhouse could be suffering a Northern Power Loss. Oh dear!