Where next for the D-Train?

Source: RTM Feb/Mar 17

Adrian Shooter, chair of Vivarail and former chair of Chiltern Railways, discusses the future of the company’s Class 230, after the recent fire incident during testing at Christmas.

It wasn’t ideal. On one of the last test runs before the Class 230 entered active service on the Coventry to Nuneaton line, a fire broke out in one of the engine modules. 

As is natural, perhaps, for this most high-profile of projects, the incident happened right outside the new Kenilworth station in full view of the public, who were shortly joined by the media. Within minutes Twitter was also alight with photos and comments – many lamenting, some gloating, at the rather ignominious end to the trial.  

But to paraphrase Mark Twain: rumours of Vivarail’s demise were greatly exaggerated.  

The perfect storm 

It really was the perfect combination of elements to create a visually spectacular fire that burned for about 30 minutes.  

The root cause of the fire was, essentially, established as a fuel leak. The subsequent investigation found that there were a number of simple changes that would mitigate against it happening again in the future.  

We are an optimistic bunch at Vivarail and so rather than bewail our fate, we have used this to make some improvements to the internal design of the engine module and taken comfort in the fact that other integral elements – such as the fire barrier under the saloon floor – has been proved to perform admirably. 

Going forward: a blank page 

The Class 230 project has, from the start, been based on many years of experience in running and maintaining trains. Many of our decisions and rationale have been based around a ‘what if’ methodology, and the core one was always: what if someone designed a train that needed minimal maintenance? 

We knew that our train would be ideal for branch lines across the country – although of course it would have other applications, it’s not a one-trick pony! Many of these routes are isolated and accessing main depots is no simple matter. Indeed, on some of the routes we studied trains were travelling scores of empty miles every week just for the pleasure of undergoing some routine checks. 

So our basic premise was to build a train that could be maintained trackside, simply by housing all the vital equipment within easily accessible and detachable modules and with a no-nonsense remote condition monitoring (RCM) system.  

Again, drawing on our experience, we knew that many RCM systems were designed to monitor everything – with the result that much of the data was meaningless. 

Primarily, what operators really need to know is if something is going to fail – and if that could be supplemented up by information to use in routine checks – then returns to depot could be nigh on nullified. 

With two engines on each power car, the train’s redundancy was immediately minimised – should one engine fail then the other would take over and normal service could continue until the module was swapped out.  

The prototype train was built to be diesel-powered, but in actual fact the train is a diesel electric.  The diesel engine is not what is powering the train and the train itself does not mind at all where it gets its power from, which opens up a whole range of possibilities.  

So we began to build a new test car, work on which is nearly completed at our Long Marston base. This first new version will operate as a battery train. Once this concept is proved we can easily change the modules to test it in any variation. 

The wider picture 

When we started on the Class 230 project (a mere two years ago!) the main problem facing the industry was a lack of diesel stock, hence we made it our priority to be in a position to provide diesel units speedily and cost-effectively. 

However, events happen and now many operators are dealing with changes – delays or even cancellation – in the plans to electrify their parts of the network. It may not be popular, but in some cases the economic benefits do not stack up and in others infrastructure is a major issue. This leaves operators in a tricky position – the travelling public is expecting what they have been told will be upgrades, and whether true or not, local opinion is likely to be unimpressed to find out their particular service will remain the same – especially if there is already a lack of capacity to add to the mix! 

It quickly becomes apparent that the modular Class 230 is ideally placed to solve this problem, where someone is expecting a ‘clean’ electrified service being told they will have a diesel train is not going to go down well. However, giving them a battery/diesel hybrid train – green, modern and quiet – will easily mitigate against that. 

Of course, there are places where electrification can still go ahead but obstacles – tunnels, for example – make it extremely expensive. There, a train picking up its current from upstairs or downstairs backed up with a battery to carry through the non-electrified sections of track would again give an operator an easy solution. 

battery module edit

The future 

There is no magic bullet that will solve every need across the network, but the Class 230 certainly gives operators new options for their fleet. Its different power options combined with flexible internal layout make it a train that will work for operators and passengers alike. So when we are asked what the future holds for Vivarail, we are confident to say it is business as usual for our innovative train.



The full report into the incident can be found on the Vivarail website:

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email 


Lesf   09/03/2017 at 09:56

It isn't long until the Pacers become illegal. Let's hope Vivarail have the stock ready to plug the gap.

Andrew Gwilt   09/03/2017 at 10:46

There was plans to use some of the Class 230's on the Marks Tey-Sudbury branch line but instead new Stadler Flirt Bi-Mode trains will use that branch line aswell on other lines in Norfolk, Suffolk & Cambs to replace the Class 153's, Class 156's and Class 170's on those routes in East Anglia. The Class 230's could be used on branch lines in South Wales such as operating on some of Cardiff's suburban lines and even use the Class 230's on the branch lines in Devon and Cornwall but Class 165's and Class 166's are likely to operate on those routes. London Midland are to use some of the Class 230's on the Leamington Spa-Coventry and Coventry-Nuneaton routes with Kenilworth station to reopen as Coventry Arena and Bermuda Park stations are now opened and Bedworth station is to have platform extensions for these trains and longer trains. Plus some Class 230's could also operate on the Bletchley-Bedford line to replace the Class 150's.

Andrew JG   09/03/2017 at 20:25

All 75 of the former London Underground 1978 D-Stocks (D78 Stocks) that were used on the District Line before the S-Stocks (S7 Stocks) took over the District Line which has resulted in the removal of the D78 Stocks to be moved to Vivarail based near Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire in the West Midlands that are to be converted into 2-car and 3-car British Rail Class 230 Diesel-Electro Multiple Unit (DEMU) D-Trains for Great Western Railway, London Midland and Arriva Trains Wales to replace the Pacer rolling stocks used on the GWR branch lines in South Wales and across Bristol, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and the Cotswold's and the converted Class 230's to be used on London Midland Coventry-Nuneaton and Coventry-Leamington Spa routes and other routes in the West Midlands. With the Ford Duratorq (prime mover) engines that are to be fitted onto the Class 230's, which has resulted in one of the Class 230 test train "230001" prototype unit that caught fire at Kenilworth, Warks on 30th December 2016. Because of a fuel leak that one of the two new engines that caused the fire which 10 people were evacuated safely as a result of the fuel leak that caused the fire on the Class 230 prototype test train.

Mikeb   09/03/2017 at 20:51

I note that Adrian Shooter has said nothing whatsoever about future aspirations for Vivarail. If, as hoped, all remaining D78 trains are converted to Class 230 and find profitable use throughout the network, will they then look at similar re-engineering of other EMUs/DMUs or perhaps consider production of an entirely new design? Alternatively, will Vivarail be content in merely agreeing long-term maintenance contracts for the 230s with prospective TOCs?

Simon   10/03/2017 at 14:20

If Vivarail looked at the Volvo OppCharge system they might find a way for low cost electrification of quieter lines where full overhead electrification would not be financially viable. The advantages would include not needing to carry batteries enough for a full day's worth of travel. An example where this could work is the FGW Greenford branch where battery top-up charging could be performed at Greenford and West Ealing station which have platforms that are dedicated to solely the branch line trains. In this way the diesel trains could be replaced by a low cost electric train.

Andrew G   11/03/2017 at 11:39

The Vivarail Class 230's DEMU's could operate on the Cardiff and Valley local lines to replace the Class 142 Pacer trains operated by Arriva Trains Wales (ATW) including serving the Butetown Branch Line, City Line, Coryton Line, Vale of Glamorgan Line, Rhondda Line, Rhymney Line and Merthyr Line (Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare branches). (,,,,, and

Andrew G (Continued)   11/03/2017 at 11:40

Plus the Class 230's DEMU's could also operate on the branch lines in Devon, Avon, Somerset and Cornwall including the Avocet Line, Bristol-Taunton Line, Riviera Line, Severn Beach Line and Tarka Line operated by Great Western Railway (GWR) which will replace the Class 143 Pacers. Aswell operating suburban services to/from Exeter St. David's and Bristol Temple Meads across the Southwest region.

Andrew G89   11/03/2017 at 20:03

Was thinking if Great Western Railway (GWR) could allow to use few of the 2-car Class 230's on the West Ealing-Greenford branch line if the Greenford line isn't to be electrified. Then GWR could use the Class 230's on the Greenford line in West London. Unless TfL London Overground does take over the Greenford line and to use the cascaded 2-car Class 172's "Turbostar" DMU's to be used as the Class 172's are to be replaced by the London Overground 4-car Class 710's "Aventra" EMU's once the Gospel Oak-Barking line is completed and is completely electrified.

Johnh   13/03/2017 at 12:33

The lines west of Carmarthen with their 75mph limit would-be ideal with few trips all the way to Cardiff to fix faults

Nigel Spate   13/03/2017 at 15:59

I wish Adrian Shooter and his team all the best with this project. I have admired Adrain's skills and tenacity from his early Chiltern Railway days. Any chance a of a Class 230 in 4mm with batteries and DCC it might prove to be a good seller too! I am looking forward to having a ride on a Class 230 soon - so some on back to work now please ! Best Regards, Nigel

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