Faster, longer, greener trains for passengers in Scotland

Source: RTM Feb/Mar 17

ScotRail Alliance’s programmes and transformation director, Ian McConnell, gives RTM an update on its transformational Class 385 fleet, which will be introduced into passenger service from this autumn.

Scotland’s railway carries over 93 million passenger journeys each year, and this figure is expected to keep growing over the next decade.  

Across Scotland, people are using the railway to work, for leisure, to visit family and friends, and as a means of getting out of their cars. 

This is most evident across Scotland’s central belt, spanning Glasgow in the west, Edinburgh to the east and Stirling to the north. Indeed, the rail line connecting Glasgow and Edinburgh via Falkirk High is the busiest stretch of track in Scotland with Croy in particular showing strong demand, as new houses are built in the commuting belt east of Glasgow. 

A fleet of new trains is needed to meet this demand. 

In March 2015 – weeks before taking over the ScotRail franchise – Abellio and Hitachi Rail Europe signed a contract worth £375m to bring new trains to Scotland. We had a shared vision for rail travel in Scotland, to design and build new trains that will transform the passenger experience across the country’s busiest routes, as part of the biggest improvement to railway infrastructure since the Victorian era. 

We’re delivering more seats, more space, shorter journey times and improved reliability – and even using virtual reality to design the driver’s cab. 

The first of these new Class 385s – from the Hitachi AT200 platform – will be introduced into passenger service this autumn, and fully in use on the Edinburgh – Falkirk High – Glasgow route by December. All 70 trains are due to be handed over to ScotRail by December 2018. 

The trains are fitted with latest technology and will provide much-needed additional capacity, while delivering a reliable service that customers can rely on.  


The arrival of the Class 385s gives us options to cut journey times on some routes in the future. Superior acceleration will also allow them to pull away from the station more quickly, reaching line speed sooner. 

Meanwhile, Network Rail’s delivery of the Scottish government’s Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme is modernising the railway. Newly electrified lines, improved signalling and upgraded junctions will provide our customers with a faster and more reliable service. 


When it comes to adding capacity, our approach has been to keep things simple: we decided to make longer trains to carry more people, and to extend platforms to enable this. Seven-car trains will be a reality on the Edinburgh – Falkirk High – Glasgow route in December this year, and ultimately eight-car Class 385s will arrive in 2019, boosting capacity by up to 44% at peak times compared to the current six-car 170 trains. 

The new trains will have more seats. A four-car Class 385 has 273 seats, 46% more than the existing three-car diesel sets. Currently, we offer over 500,000 seats every weekday across Scotland. By 2019 there will be a further 100,000 extra seats every weekday. 

The Class 385 can operate in three-, four-, six-, seven- or eight-car formations, providing greater flexibility to match demand. With a new passenger counting system on-board, intelligent data will help us decide on the best formation to use for each service. 

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We are immensely proud that the Class 385 will also be one of the most environment-friendly trains. By switching from diesel to electric power, we will achieve at least 18% more energy efficiency and an estimated 21% reduction in the CO2 footprint. Electric trains produce around 1,650g of carbon per vehicle mile compared to 2,100g per vehicle mile that diesel trains emit. 

Each train is designed to be as green as possible including a braking mechanism that feeds excess energy back into system and LED lighting. Passengers will also benefit from greener trains, as air quality at busy stations will improve and there will be no engine noise. 

The result? Quieter, cleaner and more reliable journeys for ScotRail passengers. 

Revolution in rail 

The arrival of the new Class 385s will be complemented by the introduction of refurbished HSTs in 2019, and extensive timetable improvements via a ‘revolution in rail’.    

The latter is made possible by the Scottish government’s decision to retain 13 Class 170 diesel trains (39 additional carriages) beyond the terms of their current leases, which were due to end in 2018. These extra trains will create capacity to make substantial timetable service improvements: 200 more services and 20,000 more seats for Scots passengers – the largest programme of benefits for rail passengers in a generation. 

Passengers across Tayside, Stirlingshire, Perthshire, Aberdeenshire and the Borders are set to feel the benefits. This transformation means that we can set about delivering on our vision of a railway that connects people with jobs, businesses with customers and communities with the opportunity to grow and prosper. A railway that delivers for Scotland – not just because of what it is, but because of what it allows our country to do. 

Building the trains 

Hitachi’s train manufacturing facility at Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, is building the new trains. The company is famous for its Japanese ‘Bullet Train’ technology, which powers the world’s most advanced trains. This same technology and precision-engineering is being used to build trains in the UK, supporting thousands of jobs nationwide.  

To ensure the Class 385s are ready for autumn 2017, the first trains have been built in Japan to allow the test programme to begin as soon as possible. In fact, it took just 10 months from the contract being signed to the first train being built. This is extremely fast work but means that our customers will benefit more quickly. 

Glasgow Shields depot welcomed the first Class 385 test train to Scotland in December 2016. The train has now begun night testing on the network and daytime testing follows in spring. Meanwhile, other test trains are being put through their paces at testing locations in the Czech Republic and Germany.



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


Andrew Gwilt   16/03/2017 at 08:10

The Class 385's should soon start passenger service in September this year and 10 extra Class 385's to be added in 2020 if Abellio extends the Scottish railway franchise. Once the electrification on the Shotts Line is completed and is fully electrified.

Andrew JG   17/03/2017 at 12:21

Hitachi could also manufacture the AT200 Commuter trains for Greater Anglia to replace the Class 360's, Class 379's, Class 321's and Class 317's operated on the Liverpool St-Cambridge, Harlow Town, Bishops Stortford, Ely, King's Linn & Hertford East West Anglia routes, Liverpool St-Stansted Airport and Stratford-Stansted Airport Stansted Express routes and Liverpool St-Colchester, Braintree, Witham, Southend Victoria, Clacton-on-Sea, Ipswich, Harwich Town, Manningtree, Walton-on-the-Naze, Colchester Town, Stowmarket, Norwich, Chelmsford and Southminster Great Eastern main line stopper and commuter routes.

Andrew JG   17/03/2017 at 12:23

But instead Greater Anglia are ordering the Bombardier Aventra and Stadler Flirt trains.

Farflung   18/03/2017 at 08:31

More improvements and invested on the already well served rail corridors while ignoring the pressing need to reinstate rail connections to major urban areas, such as Levenmouth on the Fife Coast (pop 38,000)

John Gilbert   18/03/2017 at 21:42

But what an awful looking front end. The 380s are so much better-looking. If a corridor connection is required., and they usually are, then the options for end-design are limited. The Transpennine units operating between Manchester tand Scotland deal optimally with this admittedly difficult design problem., in my opinion at least.

Foaming Stoat   21/04/2017 at 12:43

The shapes of the front end are somehow faintly reminiscent of a Class 27, ironically.

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