Ex-LU stock being converted into DEMUs – next stop the north?

A rolling stock company has purchased the outgoing London Underground D78 stock with plans to convert them into DEMUs – with suggestions that they could be used to replace Pacers on routes in the north of England “at a fraction of the cost of buying conventional new rolling stock”.

In November Vivarail acquired 150 driving motor cars and about 300 vehicles of ex-District Line stock with plans to form 75 units of two, three or potentially four-car trains.

1280px-D stock at West Ham - tompagenet c. Tom Page
(Image: c. Tom Page)

A Vivarail spokesperson confirmed the purchase to RTM and said the first batch is due to arrive “shortly”, as they are withdrawn from LU operations and replaced with modern S Stock.

Vivarail plans to have a converted prototype ready by May or June of 2015.

The spokesperson also confirmed there had been expressions of interest from TOCs regarding the scheme but would not go into further detail. But its website makes a point of mentioning that the new train meets all the regulations on disability access – a key flaw of the Pacers, which would need an expensive overhaul before the regulations become mandatory in 2020.

The company calls the proposed converted units ‘D-Trains’ and says: “The Vivarail D-Trains are purpose-designed diesel multiple units. They are ideal for local rail services, where the requirement is for fast acceleration, minimal station dwell times, easy movement through the train for passengers and staff, and capacity combined with comfort.”

It adds: “The D-Train uses proven technology and innovative systems to give low costs, early delivery, faster acceleration, increased capacity and more comfort. The bodyshells and bogies from surplus London Underground District Line trains are combined with new diesel engines and modern control systems to create DMUs. Two- and three-car units can be supplied, with interior layouts configured for City, Commuter or Country rail services. The D-Train meets all current standards up to and including the 2020 PRM-TSI regulations.”


Vivarail, created in 2012 specifically to produce the D-Train concept, is led by a team with a huge amount of rail experience under their belts, headed up by former Chiltern Railways chair Adrian Shooter.

Rumours regarding the potential replacement of Pacers by old LU stock have been swirling for several weeks, with rail union RMT expressing outrage at the idea.

General secretary Mick Cash said: “We now know that the pledges to replace the clapped-out Pacers has been exposed as nothing but hot air as the government strategy for rail across the north unravels before their eyes, and that they are also being forced to consider replacing one lash-up with another by press-ganging 30-year-old London Underground stock into service, raising serious safety issues.”

Vivarail notes that the ‘flexible frame’ bogies are barely 10 years old, and promises: new engines and generators; new auxiliary equipment; new traction control systems; new national rail safety systems; a new cab structure; new gangways; new lighting; new or refurbished interiors, based on client requirements; upcycled corrosion-free aluminium bodyshells; and upcycled ‘nearly-new’ bogies.

It says: “D-Trains are much more than London’s cast-offs. Instead they offer a new concept in sustainable travel for local rail services, with a first-class engineering pedigree.”


But a Department for Transport spokesperson said: “There is no government proposal to replace Pacer trains with old London Underground trains.

“We are committed to improving services for passengers across the north. We recognise that pacers fall short of passengers’ expectations, which is why we will be specifically requiring bidders for the next Northern franchise to phase these outdated trains out. These bids must include improved rolling stock.

“The industry is best placed to tell us how more modern, better quality trains can be introduced, and it is only right that we look to them as we push ahead with our ambitious plans to transform the north’s rail network.”

RTM has reported extensively on the delays affecting key electrification schemes at the moment, and the concerns that there is a lack of suitable value-for-money diesel stock as a contingency and for non-electrified routes.

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


Neil Palmer   19/12/2014 at 05:35

I think Mick Cash should keep his mouth shut until he can actually see one of the converted trial vehicles. He's showing what a closed mind he has. Basically everything will be new except for the 30 year old corrosion free aluminium bodyshells and 10 year old bogies. What's the problem there? If Mick thinks there's an unlimited supply of public money for new rolling stock he's dreaming. Or maybe he's planning to put union money where his mouth is and donate some of his union's funds towards replacement with brand new vehicles?

Pedr   19/12/2014 at 13:11

Nothing new about new bodies on old underframes. A railway in Wales uses frames built in the 1880s for the Manx Northern Railway - after two or three rebuilds they still meet modern requirements.

Jim Dedicoat MIRO CMILT   19/12/2014 at 13:30

If LT D78 stock is so good why was it taken out of service for Londoners in the first place!. Why can't it be modified for them and stay there, surely a much cheaper option. How do you really justify changing a four rail electric commuter vehicle into a diesel unit and altering almost everything in it. Surely it must be more cost efficient to start with a new build with the right equipment added at the start for the job it is required to do. Do you not think we already have enough of everyone else's cast off's in the North. The Northern Franchise is already a Heritage railway...enough is enough.

John   19/12/2014 at 15:34

The Pacers are just plain bloody awful! Uncomfortable, noisy, hot and with a terrible ride. Wheelchair access although important, is only one of the reasons why they should all be withdrawn and scrapped!

Neil Palmer   20/12/2014 at 03:45

Jim, I believe there are several reasons TfL wanter to replace the D78 stock, despite a major refurbishment being completed around 2008. One of the reasons is the inability to adapt them for Automatic Train Operation to meet TfL requirements for capacity improvement (also the fact D78 stock are only 6-car trains). Also moving to a common fleet for the sub-surface stock will save on maintenance costs and improve operational efficiency. The D78 bodyshells can be pretty much considered as new as aluminium is corrosion free, and they have real bogies unlike the Pacer bus frame on wagon wheels. This is a new from the ground up DMU using recycled body shells to save a whack of money, which, face it, TfL brings in a lot more of from the farebox than Northern, or FGW Devon & Cornwall, ever will. Sounds like a VAST improvement over Pacers to me and a big saving for the taxpayers. As long FGW doesn't try using them on a route like Bristol to Penzance I don't see a problem if this gets rid of Pacers.

Mark   20/12/2014 at 14:14

The Pacers were built to allow branch lines to survive in the 1980s, taken from the Leyland National 2 bus and they have done very well, but now time expired - but they kept lines open that footfall would have shut. The LN2 was a disabled compliant bus, but by the time NR messed with it - no longer. Passengers numbers have grown because the lines survived, and relative wealth of customers grown. Now they need replacing, but money is still tight. I do not think the D78 needed to be replaced in London, they are still modern trains, but can understand the logic in one type on the sub-surface fleet which if that results in clever engineering to make half-life DEMU replacements at less cost to the Government - why not? May be when Government debt is reduced, when we have stop bailing out banks, Eire, Greece etc this country will have more money to spend on what is need to properly fund home rail requirements. May be Adrian - who knows his onions, should really be looking at making Pacer areas 3/4 rail electric operation - none of this nasty countryside cluttering over-head electrics systems that seems to come to grief every time there is a gale or an incorrectly set overhead.Its about time NR saw the benefits of 3/4rail electric systems. Be good to see them on Bristol/Penzance, Southall/Brentford or any other part of the FGW system

Alan Lewis   24/12/2014 at 09:18

More hand me downs for us up North.

Kent Railman   24/12/2014 at 16:09

What "safety issues" does Mick think there are with the D78 stock? I don't recall him saying anything about it when they were in daily use on the District Line for over 30 years.

Anthony Middleton   25/12/2014 at 14:33

What a complete waste of money. Why rebuild out of date coaches when you can build new upto date trains from new. Don't waste more tax payers money on this stupid idea .

Lesf   26/12/2014 at 21:52

D-trains are a masterstroke. Age doesn't matter for chassis and aluminium bodies. Getting them for scrap value makes the resulting D-trains much cheaper than new trains. All the components subject to wear will be new so the trains will be good as new. Electrifying more track for 3rd rail DC is a non-starter because it's expensive to build and inefficient in use; NetRail has declared its wish to convert all SE England mainline DC to overhead AC. Dual fuel Diesel/DC D-trains would be invaluable during the long conversion to AC. London ug lines are seriously overcrowded so new trains there are needed with increased capacity.

Melvyn   03/01/2015 at 21:11

I suggest Mick Cash goes on holiday to Switzerland where he will find trains that can be up to 60 years old in service primarily because they are electric and not diesel trains which have a shorter life than electric ones. When this idea was first mentioned it was thought to be a late April fools joke but conversion of D78 to 278 trains is at least being trialled ! The fact is TFL maintain their stock to high standards and as has been mentioned parts of these trains are only a few years old. Unlike Metropolitan Line A stock which was 60"years old D78s did not need replacing but former Mayor Ken Livingstone saw the sense in making all SSL lines use the same train type with the only difference being an extra carriage on the Metropolitan Line trains. In fact conversion of these trains to DEMUs should include provision for these trains to also work as electric trains and therefore as electrification spreads these trains could run as electric trains as well,as diesel trains something the some of the new IC trains being built by hitachi will be able to do. Finally, if the North wants new trains then they are going to have to pay fares more in line with what Londoners pay and deal with fare evasion with the first priority being to allow conductors on trains to collect fares and not keep having to open and close doors something that is proposed for these trains ! Of course if northerners want new trains then their councils can always buy them just like the Mayor of London through TFL buys new trains !

Michael Heydon   07/01/2015 at 20:11

have just picked up on this subject and unless I've missed previous discussions on this subject I would add the my comments. why do we need to be looking at this solution in the northwest. Liverpool to Manchester and blackpool to Manchester will be electrified in the next 2 to 3 years. class 319's are coming up from "down south" so, numbers of dmu's of classes 150, 156 and 185 will be redundant on these services. are these then not being cascaded to non electrified lines in the north west, particularly southport Manchester, a line currently inflicted with pacers. or are these being taken away from the northern franchise to give elsewhere. we in the northwest with northern rail have always had old stock, usually someone elses cast's time for the north west to have a fair deal with some decent stock

John Speller   09/12/2015 at 15:29

When ex-LU trains were transferred to the Isle of Wight in 1967, it proved to be a costly mistake because the height of the station platforms was wrong, and all the platforms had to be rebuilt. Is this going to be a problem with the current proposal?

RTM   09/12/2015 at 15:32

Hi John, The D stock body has been raised 73mm to comply with Network Rail standard platform height, Vivarail have said.

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