Rail Industry Focus


The almost forgotten cascade

Source: RTM Feb/Mar 17

After taking on the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) rail franchise, it is fair to say that Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) has faced some bad press, especially with regards to the introduction of driver-only operation on Southern. But one thing that has gone unreported is the significant rolling stock cascade that has rumbled on in the background, as the TOC’s engineering director, Gerry McFadden tells RTM.

Over the last 12 months GTR has been in the national spotlight, especially with regards to its ongoing industrial dispute with the unions and the disruption this has caused to hundreds of thousands of commuters in the capital. 

While it is impossible to ignore the issues surrounding the TSGN franchise, GTR has, since taking control, undertaken one of the largest fleet cascades ever on the network in a small space of time. 

Following a recent visit to the new Hornsey traincare depot, which will enable the transformation of Great Northern’s rail services, Gerry McFadden, GTR’s engineering director, discussed the work to cascade rolling stock in and out of the franchise. 

“Over the last 18 months, more than 800 vehicles have been cascaded in and out of the franchise,” he told RTM, adding: “I think it is a higher level of cascade achieved in such a short space of time than anyone before.” 

The key to this has been collaborative working between the operator’s engineering team, Network Rail and the OEMS: Bombardier and Siemens. “We have new Bombardier fleets in and cascaded, and three fleets out,” he said. “We also have part of the enormous Siemens fleet in. This happened simultaneously, without causing service disruption and headlines negative or positive.” 

Reflecting on the progress, McFadden noted that, so far, Class 700s have been cascaded into the franchise; 387/1s have been placed into and outside of the franchise; and Class 321s, 319s and 442 units have been diverted out. 

Breaking down the work, McFadden noted that currently Bedford to Brighton journeys have been operated by Class 319, Class 387/1, Class 377/5 and Class 377/2 units. 

“So a collection of Electrostars and 319s have been, effectively, the prime mover of people through the central cross-London core section of Thameslink for the last few years,” he said. “They will get replaced by Class 700s.

“They [the Class 700s] also will operate on the Great Northern line. At the start of the franchise, this fleet was formed of Class 313s, 317s and 321s and quite a large Class 365 fleet. Over the next couple of years, that will progressively move towards Class 387s, Class 700s and Class 717s. We will end up with 19 Class 365s left. But, virtually, this is an entire fleet replacement.” 

Great Northern’s 387s 

So far, GTR has cascaded around a dozen of its Class 387/1s over from Thameslink to Great Northern. These have already displaced the Class 321 units and, over the next couple of months, they will start to displace the Class 317s. 

The target, McFadden told us, is that by the May timetable change GTR “will have a full Class 387/1 fleet operating on Great Northern and we will be in a position where we don’t have to operate Class 321s or 317s”. 

“The 387s are the first air-conditioned trains to have operated on the Great Northern route,” he said, adding that it is making a significant difference to the ride quality, especially with regards to passengers experiencing quieter journeys. 

“The original franchise plan was to only have about 18 Electrostars running on the Great Northern route, but now with the 387 fleet going over there we end up stepping up to 27 or 28,” added McFadden. “That gives us the capacity to serve Cambridge North and allows us to have options to offer services to places like Ely and King’s Lynn when some of the capacity constraints are released. 

“The potential it gives us is tremendous. People look at the big sexy story of the Class 700s, but they don’t appreciate that, actually, 387s on the Great Northern are truly revolutionary.” It is anticipated that services will start running to Cambridge North at the May timetable change. 

New Class 387s for Great Northern edit

Class 319 cascade and 700 introduction 

One of the rolling stock types to be removed from the franchise is the Class 319s. At the start there were approximately 80 being run by GTR. This is now down to 25 and the rest will gradually be released in the summer.

“There isn’t a prescribed home for them all as it stands,” noted McFadden. “Quite a large number have gone to Northern Rail, and speaking to the owner of the stock, Porterbrook, they have developed a hybrid train solution for the 319s. They report ‘soaring interest’ in that design for operators. They expect them to be kept for a bit longer either in current or revised formation.” 

With regards to the ‘sexy’ and ‘transformational’ Class 700s, which RTM has reported on extensively, GTR had, at the time of the interview, bought 35 units: 15 12-cars and 20 eight-cars. Twenty-four of these werein service. 

“If you compare this to a normal four-car Class 319 it is substantially more,” said McFadden. “We have bought near enough the equivalent of the 319 fleet, and we are only part of the way in. Using normal units of fleet introduction, it is an enormously large new fleet. In terms of the Class 700s, we are only about a quarter of the way in.” 

While admitting there have been small issues in testing, McFadden stated it is worth noting it is an “evolutionary design”. 

“This is a very different concept of what a train could and should be,” he said. “Siemens have gone to great lengths to design out the failure modes that the vast majority of EMUs suffer from. It is very much a software-delivered train. 

“We have had some issues involving software. It is fair to to say there remain some improvements to make with regards to line reliability, but in the same token we have no particular fear than it being a very reliable product.”

Currently, Class 700s are running on the Bedford-Brighton route but also on the Wimbledon loop and down to Sevenoaks, which came into service in December. 

During the next 12 months, McFadden said GTR will gradually go through displacing the Electrostars and 319s and 387s from Thameslink. 

“Then, through the summer, depending on the programme, we start to cover some of the Thameslink diagrams covered by Thameslink drivers, but Southern stock,” he said. “Over the summer we do London Bridge to Brighton and we cover Littlehampton and Horsham. 

“Peterborough services start in autumn and that is direct King’s Cross to Peterborough. This kicks off the Great Northern services.” 

At this time next year, the fleet cascade should be close to being finished. However, there are lots of provisos against it. For instance, this is reliant on all the infrastructure running on time, as well as driver training.  

Stone age men with mobile phones 

With regards to the introduction of its 25 six-car Class 717s, which will replace the existing 40-year-old Class 313 units on services to and from Moorgate, McFadden said the trains come with all the “latest and greatest technology to deliver in-cab signalling”, but its use is dependent on when the infrastructure is ready. 

“They are designed to effectively provide for a much more frequent peak service from Moorgate on the basis that we get our tripcocks replaced,” he said. “There are plans for that, but this will be later than their introduction. 

“Because the 717s are replacing 313s we can’t do anything to the signalling while the two are operating, particularly between Drayton Park and Moorgate. 

“Drayton Park is where we carry out the voltage switchover on the Great Northern line going into Moorgate. From Drayton Park you are operating in tunnels and it is tripcock signalled, compared to TPWS elsewhere on the railway. So the Class 717s are coming with the latest European system plus tripcocks. 

“We have some stone age men with mobile phones,” he joked. 

McFadden added that while not all the issues have been smoothed out, especially around infrastructure works, the operator is working “hand in glove” with Network Rail to ensure that lessons are learned. There is also still the ambition to be running 24 trains per hour through the central core by the December 2018 timetable change.

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


Manek Dubash   15/03/2017 at 10:30

You wouldn't call the Class 700s 'sexy' if you had to sit in them for any length of time. The most uncomfortable train seats I've ever encountered - and they look like being the seat for future trains too. Yes, they're light, compact, and strong - but somewhere in all that, the idea that a seat was intended for humans to relax in got forgotten. Horrible to sit in, too tightly packed.

Henry Law   15/03/2017 at 15:41

Until Thameslink and the class 319 stock arrived in 1988, Brighton to London Bridge had mark 1 inter city stock (classes 411/412/421/422) with buffet cars with full bar and light refreshment facilities. The class 377 units were an improvement which unfortunately were short-lived. Even the much disliked VEP units now seem luxurious in comparison.

GW   15/03/2017 at 22:26

Who would have thought it possible to provide more uncomfortable trains than a 321, but the 387's succeed closely followed by the 700's. Whatever happened to passenger benefits?

Andrew Gwilt   26/03/2017 at 14:52

Still have to wait 2/3 years until the Class 321's, Class 317's EMU's and Class 153's, Class 156's DMU's and Class 90's Mk3's to be withdrawn as new Bombardier Aventra and Stadler Flirt rolling stock fleets are to be delivered for Greater Anglia and that also means that Class 170's, Class 360's and Class 379's could be transferred elsewhere.

Andrew JG   26/03/2017 at 15:37

Not to mention the 40 year old British built Class 43 HST's that Abellio Scotrail are to receive these HST's for the Highland routes in the North of Scotland. http://www.railengineer.uk/2017/03/23/scotrails-new-hsts/

Dave Brice   27/03/2017 at 13:47

Why complain about uncomfortable seats when most people will be standing anyway?

Andrew JG   28/03/2017 at 17:04

The future for the Class 442's "Ex-Wessex Electrics" is looking bleak but hopefully they could return and to be used on the proposed Southampton Central-London Waterloo open access franchise probably from next year. http://www.railwaygazette.com/news/passenger/single-view/view/southampton-london-open-access-service-proposed

Barry Hill   03/02/2018 at 12:31

Class 700's are one of the most uncomfortable trains built Hard seats. No flip down tables ,laptop charging sockets, and surprisingly some I have ridden on have been very rough riding. totally unsuitable for long journeys.sadly the 387's are spoilt by uncomfortable seats as well.

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