HomeRail NewsClass 150 units back on the Marston Vale line

Class 150 units back on the Marston Vale line

In March 2019, the first Vivarail Class 230 train entered service on the Marston Vale line running from Bletchley to Bedford. Class 230 trains replaced Class 153 single car trains and class 150 units.

Following Vivarail’s demise, until 20 November 2023 there was no passenger train service on this line since December 2022. Hourly rail replacement buses have been running since then and will continue to run until the full service is restored in early 2024.

Over the last 11 months London Northwestern Railway (LNR) had been working hard to secure replacements and they announced 25 July 2023 that three Class 150 trains had arrived at Bletchley depot for this service. Many platforms on the line are quite short and Class 150 two car units are amongst the few diesel multiple units that are suitable. They are also in short supply.

LNR’s website gave extensive information about the temporary arrangements and future plans. Many commentators wondered why LNR could not take over maintenance of the Class 230 trains. LNR posted two relevant comments in its Q&A:

Q:Why was LNR not able to take on Vivarail staff to continue running the fleet?

A: Unfortunately, Vivarail held the intellectual property rights for the Class 230 trains and was the Entity in Charge of Maintenance [part of the license to operate], as well as holding all of the required technical expertise. Therefore, it was not feasible for LNR to simply take on Vivarail staff.

Q: Did you give consideration to reinstating the Class 230s?

A: Reinstating the Class 230s was neither feasible nor desirable given their significant reliability issues. On average, three engines per week required changing due to reliability issues, necessitating a substantial workshop operation. The anticipated future costs of keeping the fleet running would have been significant.

Since July, LNR has applied its livery to the trains’ exterior and has trained and/or retrained its maintenance staff and enough drivers and guards had been trained to enable a peak time service from 20 November 2023.

Jonny Wiseman, LNR customer experience director, said: “We are delighted to announce the return of passenger trains to the Marston Vale Line.

“We recognise that due to logistical constraints it has taken longer than we had hoped to bring back the train service and we thank our customers for their patience.

“While we will initially be running a partial timetable, we are working hard to train our drivers and senior conductors as quickly as possible with a view to resuming the full service in the new year.”

Four services in each direction are running on the route on Monday-Fridays. The services will be focused on the morning and afternoon peak periods, with rail replacement buses continuing to operate at other times.

The full timetable, including the return of a Saturday service, is expected to resume in early 2024 once enough train crew are able to operate the Class 150 fleet. With the exception of heritage railways, it is unusual to celebrate putting three 35-40 year old trains into operation, but the restoration of this line’s service will halve the journey time compared with the replacement buses and enable the active Community Rail Group to help rebuild the line’s customer base.

Malcolm Dobell BTech CEng FIMechE
Malcolm Dobell BTech CEng FIMechEhttp://therailengineer.com
SPECIALIST AREAS Rolling stock, depots, systems integration, fleet operations. Malcolm Dobell worked for the whole of his 45-year career with London Underground. He entered the Apprentice Training Centre in Acton Works in 1969 as an engineering trainee, taking a thin sandwich course at Brunel University, graduating with an honours degree in 1973. He then worked as part of the team supervising the designs of all the various items of auxiliary equipment for new trains, which gave him experience in a broad range of disciplines. Later, he became project manager for the Jubilee Line’s first fleet of new trains (displaced when the extension came along), and then helped set up the train refurbishment programme of the 90s, before being appointed Professional Head of Rolling stock in 1997. Malcolm retired as Head of Train Systems Engineering in 2014 following a career during which he had a role in the design of all the passenger trains currently in service - even the oldest - and, particularly, bringing the upgraded Victoria line (rolling stock and signalling) into service. He is a non-executive director of CPC Systems, a systems engineering company that helps train operators improve their performance. A former IMechE Railway Division Chairman and a current board member, he also helps to organise and judge the annual Railway Challenge and is the chair of trustees for a multi academy trust in Milton Keynes.
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