Rail campaigners have been impressed by an enterprising team intent on solving the shortage of diesel train units which is bedevilling plans to improve services on overcrowded rail lines throughout Britain.

The team’s radical approach involves stripping redundant London Tube trains “to the bone” and giving them new diesel power packs, matched with a range of interiors more comfortable than many newly manufactured trains.

The aim is also to provide larger areas of convertible space so baby buggies, bikes and luggage can be stored more easily than in the cramped interiors of many modern trains. A special luggage compartment has been designed for the popular Brompton folding bike.

Seats have received special attention, especially as the new Thameslink class 700 trains have been criticised for their minimalist, uncomfortable seating. The aim is to align seats with windows, which many modern trains designs fail to achieve.

The easily accessible toilet is similar to that of the Chiltern Railways class 166 Turbo diesel trains.

Over the past few weeks, the Vivarail team has invited campaigners, train operators, leasing companies, Government officials and other experts to see the trains taking shape and to ride the prototype around a test circuit at Long Marston, Warwickshire.

They say the aluminium bodies and modern Bombardier bogies made the the Underground’s D78 a classic design but to enhance its safety, a reinforced cab has been fitted and the bogies and traction motors overhauled.

Most of the campaigners were sceptical of what could be achieved with second-hand trains, but after visiting Vivarail, they were impressed by the attention to detail and high standards being applied to the now renamed D-Train.

It is intended that two- and three-coach variants of the train will be produced. The centre car in the three-coach train would be a trailer, with the end coaches being powered.

Vivarail say the engines can be replaced as an entire module within 10 minutes, so the trains spend the minimum time in the depot. They will also be fitted with equipment that automatically reports mileage and equipment conditions so maintenance and depot visits can be pre-planned and minimised.

Rental, maintenance and fuel costs will be significantly less than both new and existing diesel units and there will be variants suitable for both branch lines and city commuter lines.

Vivarail chairman Adrian Shooter (a Railfuture vice president) is confident the train will be ready this year, probably by November.

One line where the D-Train could be used is the Ashford-Hastings line.

MP for Bexhill and Battle Huw Merriman and Southern Railway’s lead engineer David Hickson have visited Vivarail.

The Hastings Observer has been told that because of budget restrictions imposed by the Department for Transport, Southern is unable to purchase more of the expensive diesel trains used on the Brighton-Ashford service.

East Sussex Rail Alliance chairman Ray Chapman said: “Once trialled, these highly efficient diesel-electric train sets would be an ideal interim solution on South Coast services.

“Carrying up to 150 seats per three-car train and a further 130 standing, these would provide just the extra capacity and comfort we need, by reinforcing the two-car sets currently in operation, especially during peak periods when they are heavily overcrowded.

“They would also add extra reliability for the increasing numbers of people who leave Eastbourne, Bexhill, Hastings and Rye for Ashford for the Javelin and Eurostar services to London and the Continent.”

On Thursday 27 August 2015 Railfuture was among the invited quests to travel on a demonstration D-Train organised by Vivarail at Long Marston. The photos below (click on them to see the full photo) were taken for Railfuture by Ben Walsh.

Temporary platform for invited quests to board the Vivarail D-Train for the demonstration run
Temporary platform for invited quests to board the Vivarail D-Train for the demonstration run

Invited quests board the Vivarail D-Train for the demonstration run 
Invited quests board the Vivarail D-Train for the demonstration run

Invited guests take a look under the Vivarail D-Train that has been lifted up by jacks in the depot
Invited guests take a look under the Vivarail D-Train that has been lifted up by jacks in the depot

After invited quests have travelled on the Vivarail D-Train it stands outside the depot
After invited quests have travelled on the Vivarail D-Train it stands outside the depot

Railfuture representatives fromthe Thames Valley were particularly impressed by their visit and provided some quotesfor Vivarail (source: Thames Valley Newsletter 88):

“If I was a commuter in,say, northern England and I had to board one of these trains every work-day morning I’d be happy even if I had to stand. The ride is rock steady (even on the less-than-perfect jointed track at Long Marston), the seating options are fit for purpose and the overall on-board experience is one of spaciousness with a light and airy ambience. It was refreshing to hear that families are being considered in the design of the interior with recognition of the importance of bays of four seats at a window.”
“It was refreshing today to hear a train builder talking about luggage space, passengers with electronic devices, passengers with bicycles and families looking out of windows on scenic routes. No mention was made of cramming the maximum number of seats into the available space. Let's hope any TOCs who may buy these trains are as forward-thinking as Vivarail.”

“I was very impressed withthe vehicle. It was much smoother and quieter than I expected. Vivarail certainly seem to have put a great deal of thought into the design particularly with regard to maintenance where the major components can be replaced asmodules very quickly and without elaborate equipment. Ten minutes for an engine change!

Viva rail have also paid a great deal attention to seats, internal layout, toilet facilities and luggagespace.”

“We were very impressed withthe work so far. The test car looks better in the flesh than the artist's impressions. The ride is smooth and relatively quiet at the speeds that were attainable on the test track. The ease of maintenance by swapping engine/alternator rafts in ten minutes (given a suitable surface) is an attractive feature for operators. The ex-LU seating was reasonably comfortable, which is more than I can say for the high-back seats. These were hard and the high backs restrict the view. Aircraft style seating would be particularly unpleasant.”

“Prior to the visit my view was that to use modified District Line trains on the national network was perhaps a case of needs must but not a thing to be enthusiastic about. The visit to Vivarail changed all that. It turns out the aluminium bodyshells, bogies and electric motors of the London Underground trains are close to the perfect starting point for a new train. Vivarail have added a whisper-quiet diesel engine and a good dollop of imagination to create a winner. I was impressed by just how user-sensitive they are with seats aligned to windows, ample space for bikes (both full-sized and folding) and real attention to detail, such as the inclusion of a reassuringly mechanical lock to the electrically-operated toilet door. I was struck by just how passionate the staff of Viva Rail are about the D-Train project. It’s a smart imaginative solution to the national shortage of rolling stock.”

“A really worthwhile visit and I was impressed with the amount of modification work being undertaken on the former Underground trains. The engines were quieter than a conventional DMU and the ride (on rough track) was very smooth and the new seating looked andfelt comfortable. Any remaining sceptics need to see and experience the refurbished train for themselves. Certainly this new class 230 is a much more pleasant experience than riding in one of the four wheeled 'Pacers' that should be retired in favour of this quality refurbished train.”

Members of Railfuture East Anglia also took part in the site visit. A review of their experience was included in the RAIL EAST newsletter. Click HERE to read an exanded review with several photos.

Northern saviour