British Rail Class 769
The British Rail Class 769 Flex is a type of Bi-mode Multiple unit (BMU) and Tri-mode multiple unit (TMU) which is currently being converted by Brush Traction, and running in service with Transport for Wales Rail and Northern Trains. The train is a conversion of the existing Class 319 electric multiple unit (EMU), a conventional unit type which had become surplus to requirements during the 2010s.
|British Rail Class 769 Flex|
|In service||November 2020 - present (TfW Rail) |
17 May 2021 - present (Northern Trains)
|Manufacturer||BREL (as 319)|
Brush Traction (as 769)
|Built at||York Carriage Works (as 319)|
Loughborough (as 769)
|Family name||BR Second Generation (Mark 3)|
|Constructed||2017 - 2021 (as 769)|
1987 - 1988, 1990 (as 319)
|Number built||36 units|
|Formation||4 cars per trainset|
|Operator(s)||Great Western Railway|
Transport for Wales Rail
|Car body construction||Steel|
|Width||2.82 m (9 ft 3 in)|
|Height||3.58 m (11 ft 9 in)|
|Maximum speed||100 mph (161 km/h)|
|Prime mover(s)||MAN D2876 (one per two cars)|
|Engine type||12.8-litre turbo-Diesel|
|Power output||523 hp (390 kW) per engine|
|Transmission||original traction motors via ABB alternator|
|Current collection method|
|Safety system(s)||AWS, TPWS|
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in) standard gauge|
The conversion process is carried out by a partnership between the rolling stock leasing company Porterbrook and train manufacturer Brush Traction. The conversion principally involves the addition of a pair of MAN diesel engines (one under each driving trailer vehicle), the output of which is fed into ABB-provided alternators to power the existing electric traction systems. According to Porterbrook, the Class 769's performance under diesel power is either equal or superior to that of a Class 150 Sprinter diesel multiple unit (DMU), and the switchover between EMU and DMU modes can be carried out while the train is in motion.
In late 2014, Govia Thameslink Railway began returning its allocation of Class 319 units to Porterbrook as they were gradually replaced by Class 387 units and then ultimately Class 700 units on Thameslink services. Twenty Class 319s were cascaded to Northern Rail and allocated to Allerton for use on the newly electrified lines between Liverpool Lime Street, Manchester Airport and Preston. A further twelve Class 319s were leased by Arriva Rail North in 2016.
In December 2016, Porterbrook announced a partnership with Northern to convert eight Class 319/4 units from electric multiple units to bi-mode multiple units (BMUs), aiming to provide a solution to cover for the shortage of diesel multiple units following the deferral of several electrification projects across the network. They were initially referred to as the Class 319 Flex, before being allocated the TOPS designation Class 769.
According to railway industry publication Rail Engineer, a key reason for the selection of the Class 319 as the basis for such a conversion was that the type had been subject to a recent programme of upgrades, which had installed new passenger information systems, and accessibility-friendly toilets with controlled emission systems. Engineers at Porterbrook, having been tasked with finding a new use for recently-surplus vehicles of the class, decided that there was an emerging market for a bi-mode suburban/regional train that could readily move between electrified mainlines and non-electrified adjoining routes.
During a detailed evaluation to determine a suitable independent power source for the type, Porterbrook decided that the desired performance and range of the vehicle would be at least equal to a Class 150 Sprinter diesel multiple unit (DMU). Furthermore, it was also determined that these trains would be capable of interchanging between electrified and non-electrified lines via a straightforward switchover process, including potentially while in motion. According to Porterbrook, efforts were made to make the driving experience as similar to the Class 319 as possible to make it an attractive option to prospective operators.
The use of various energy storage mediums, including batteries, flywheels, supercapacitors and hydrogen fuel cells were examined, but most were discarded due to the insufficient range provided. A lack of available refuelling infrastructure and risks posed over the approvals process were also present with the hydrogen option. A diesel power unit was selected due to its optimum performance across factors including range, weight, size, power density, and overall cost. According to Porterbrook, the selected engine should produce lower emissions and reduced maintenance costs, as well as a higher tractive effort at low speeds, than a Class 150 train due to its use of modern technology.
According to industry publication Rail Engineer, detailed design work on the Class 769 was performed by a partnership between Porterbrook and Brush Traction, the latter having prior bi-mode vehicle experience with the British Rail Class 73 electro-diesel locomotive. Reportedly, over 60 engineers were involved in the design, which required in excess of 45,000 engineering hours to produce over 2,500 drawings, detailing more than 3,500 components involved in the conversion. Additional input was gathered from several of the original units' designers, which helped to compensate for missing and incomplete drawings.
At its core, the conversion work involves the fitting of a powerpack containing a Diesel engine and associated alternator underneath each of the driving trailer vehicles, which drives the existing traction apparatus via the DC bus along with a new return cable. The engine adopted is the MAN D2876, capable of generating up to 523 hp (390 kW) per engine; this powerplant is furnished with a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system to reduce NOx emissions. An exhaust system is also necessitated for the engine, which uses a layout that is similar to that of a Class 150 DMU, as well as fire barriers and suppression systems to account for the added risk of fire presented by the powerpack.
The cab controls and circuit breakers have been changed to allow the driver to choose between diesel, overhead AC, or third-rail DC (where applicable) power sources. On the 769/9 subclass for GWR, conductive shoegear is fitted to the trailing bogies of the driving trailer vehicles, along with a new power bus and additional changeover contactors installed under the intermediate trailer car and motor car. Furthermore, new and modified electronic control units are also installed to regulate the Diesel engine's power output and to help it emulate the DC conductor rail. Overall, the modifications add approximately 7.5 tonnes to each driving trailer; the additional weight is evenly distributed across the underframe, which imposed several constraints and necessitated the relocation of the original heating equipment to make room. The original suspension and brakes have been adjusted to compensate for the presence of the additional mass.
Conversion and testingEdit
Initially, eight units were selected to be converted for Northern, with Porterbrook also marketing the Class 769 to other operators. In April 2017, the first two units to be converted, 319434 and 319456, arrived at Brush Traction's facility in Loughborough. The majority of the conversion work, including all major elements, has been carried out at Brush Traction Loughborough facility. On the initial eight trains converted, work such as reliability improvement, re-branding and other modifications have been undertaken by Knorr-Bremse Rail Services (KBRS). For all subsequent trains, all works other than core Flex conversion tasks are set to be performed by KBRS.
Testing of the first Class 769 towards securing type approval was originally planned to take place at the Great Central Railway in November 2017. Testing was later than expected but trials were underway bin November 2018.
According to Rail Engineer, as the bi-mode conversion is neither considered to be an upgrade or a renewal, it is not required to be authorised under the standardised safety method for risk evaluation and assessment; however, this process has been voluntarily applied to reassure customers of the vehicle's safety. Reportedly, based upon demand for the Class 769, Porterbrook has ambitions to pursue further conversion programmes. Engineers at the company have evaluated other vehicle classes for the Flex conversion scheme, including a hybrid concept based on the Class 455 DC-powered EMU, which was speculated to include new three-phase AC traction systems, regenerative braking, and battery storage to capture this regenerated energy and from the Diesel engines.
Northern Trains were to be the first operator of the Class 769, with eight units, however Transport for Wales introduced a set into traffic first. They are to be stabled at Allerton TMD, with the first unit delivered there in December 2018, but along with the only other set delivered there, it has been returned to Doncaster. Northern indicated that the use of Class 769s would provide the most benefit on routes which are partially electrified, as they would be able to use their pantograph to operate on electrified routes while still being able to operate away from the overhead lines by employing their diesel engines.
Originally scheduled to begin entering service with previous operator Arriva Rail North in May 2018, they were later expected to start operating in the first half of 2019. Northern will deploy its Class 769s on services between Wigan North Western, Alderley Edge and Stalybridge. Northern had stated their intention to extend these services from Wigan to Southport from December 2019. Previously, there were plans to operate Class 769 units on the Lakes line.
The Class 769s entered service with Northern Trains in May 2021.
Transport for WalesEdit
In July 2017, five units were ordered by the Welsh Government for the Wales & Borders franchise, to enable Class 150 and 158 diesel multiple units to be released from service to undergo modifications to comply with PRM regulations, as well as allowing the company to increase its fleet capacity. Transport for Wales held an option for a further four, which they took up in November 2018.
Transport for Wales' allocation of 9 Class 769s are being converted from 5 Class 319/0 and 4 Class 319/4 units, with the former being the ones ordered under Arriva Trains Wales and the latter being the optional extras selected by TfW Rail. The first unit, 769002, was delivered to Cardiff Canton depot in March 2019.
The class first entered service in November 2020.
Great Western RailwayEdit
Great Western Railway will operate nineteen Class 769/9 units. The operator intended to run the first services in spring 2019, however this has been delayed by issues faced by Porterbrook in converting the units. However, the first vehicle has been delivered and all are expected to be delivered by the end of 2021. The eventual launch of the 769/9 units will enable the cascade of Class 165 and 166 Turbo units to the Bristol area and Class 158 units into Devon and Cornwall.
Although initially planned for use in London and the Thames Valley whilst twelve Class 387 units are modified for Heathrow Express services, the future plan for these units will be operating on services between Oxford, Reading and Gatwick Airport, which would mean operating on unelectrified, 25 kV AC OHLE and 750 V DC third-rail routes. To enable this, Great Western Railway's allocation of Class 769 units will retain their dual-voltage capability in addition to being fitted with diesel power units. The units will also receive an internal refurbishment and be fitted with air cooling.
The first Class 769 to be delivered to Great Western Rail was 769943 which was delivered to Reading TMD in August 2020. It was expected to enter the service in early 2021. The Class 769 is now expected to enter service with Great Western Railway between June and December 2021.
|Class||Operator||No. Built||Converted||Unit nos.|
|Class 769/0||Transport for Wales||5||2019-20||769002-003, 769006-008|
|Class 769/4||Northern Trains||8||2017-20||769424, 769431, 769434, 769442, 769448, 769450, 769456, 769458|
|Transport for Wales||4||2020||769421, 769426, 769445, 769452|
|Class 769/9||Great Western Railway||19||2020-21||769922-923, 769925, 769927–928, 769930, 769932, 769935–940, 769943, 769944, 769946, 769947, 769949, 769959|
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Media related to British Rail Class 769 at Wikimedia Commons