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Britain’s oldest electric trains replaced with £240m new fleet

Press release   •   Mar 25, 2019 15:51 GMT

Old and new: Retired driver Ian Twells and modern day driver Zornitsa Tsankova at the launch of the new Moorgate train

(See below for photographs and video)

For the first time in 40 years, passengers are riding on new trains in the tunnels to London Moorgate, as Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) begins to replace mainland Britain’s oldest electric rail fleet.

In a £240 million investment, 150 new carriages are being introduced between now and late summer, to replace trains that first entered service in 1976.

The 25 new six-carriage Siemens Class 717 trains will run on the Great Northern routes between Moorgate and Hertfordshire, to and from Stevenage, Hertford North and Welwyn Garden City.

Fast facts – new trains vs old 

  • The new trains (717s) have capacity for 940 people – that’s nearly 100 more people per journey than those they replace (an 11% increase)
  • They feature air-conditioning, Wi-Fi and plug sockets at every pair of seats
  • They feature live service updates from London Underground
  • The new trains can travel at speeds of up to 100mph
  • There will be 25 new trains each with six carriages and 362 seats
  • Each train weighs approx. 207 tonnes (without passengers)
  • The trains feature open and interconnected carriages like a bendy bus, allowing passengers to walk from one end of the train to the other
  • The trains run through three miles of ex-Tube tunnels, which used to be part of the Northern line, into Moorgate
  • They also have the latest accessibility features; including more visible grab handles and wheelchair spaces with clear markings on the carriage exteriors
  • The 717s have a brand new ‘snow mode’, which changes the way the brakes work to improve reliability in snowy conditions
  • The old trains (313s) have been in service for over 40 years making them mainland Britain’s oldest electric trains
  • They have travelled around 3 million miles since they were introduced in August 1976 – the equivalent to 120 trips around the earth, or more than six trips to the moon and back
  • Since the 313s were first introduced, they have carried over 460 million passengers – that’s seven times the population of the UK
  • When the 313s were first introduced, ‘Don’t go breaking my heart’ by Elton John and Kiki Dee was number one and Southampton were holders of the FA Cup

Gerry McFadden, Engineering Director at GTR, said: “We are transforming our passengers’ journeys by replacing their cramped, outdated 40-year-old trains, which are the oldest electrical units in mainland Britain, with fully-accessible, spacious, modern air-conditioned units with the latest in passenger information, onboard Wi-Fi and power points at every pair of seats.

“GTR is at the forefront of rail modernisation having introduced more new trains into passenger service in the past three years than all other operators in the UK combined.”

Rail Minister Andrew Jones said: “The arrival of the brand new Class 717 fleet, replacing some of the UK’s oldest trains and delivering more seats and space, complete with Wi-Fi and air-conditioning, is fantastic news for passengers.

“With the number of journeys on our railways having more than doubled in the past 20 years, we are focused on introducing new trains right across the UK, delivering significant improvements in performance, punctuality and capacity.”

William Wilson, Managing Director for Rolling Stock at Siemens Mobility Limited, said: “Siemens has built these trains with one goal in mind – to transform passenger journeys to and from London by ensuring that services are reliable and offer as much space as possible. The Class 717 has modern carriages with increased capacity for passengers and is equipped with air cooling, Wi-Fi and power points.”

The new trains are financed by Rock Rail Moorgate, a joint venture between Rock Rail and Aberdeen Standard Investments, and will be leased to GTR.

Mark Swindell, CEO Rock Rail, said: “These trains are designed to deliver a vastly improved passenger experience and represent the first time in the UK that a fleet has been financed with direct long-term investment from pension and insurance companies.

“Rock Rail is proud to be working with Govia Thameslink Railway and Siemens to drive better value for the UK tax payer and government and to deliver step changes in improved capability, capacity and travelling experiences for passengers on the Great Northern routes.”


For more information contact:

GTR press office 0203 750 2031;

Editor’s notes


1. Zornitsa Tsankova, 29, from Harlow in Essex, was one of the first drivers to take the new trains out in passenger service. She used to work cleaning trains until she won a place on the extensive driver-training programme which she passed 21 months ago.

Zori, as she's known, said: "There really is no comparison with the trains these are replacing. They accelerate faster, brake better and are air cooled throughout. They're so much better for passengers and if I have happy customers then I'm happy too."

2. Retired driver Ian Twells, 74, rode in the cab of one of the new Moorgate trains as a VIP to help Great Northern celebrate the introduction of the first of the new fleet. Ian started his career working as a steam engine cleaner and was driving trains when the first old Class 313s were introduced over 40 years ago.

Ian said: “This new train is a Rolls Royce as opposed to a Mini Metro of the old trains.”

Hornsey engineering depot

The 25 new six-car trains will be maintained in-house by GTR's engineering team at its depot in Hornsey, north London.

Almost 100 staff, including 52 fitters, are being trained to work on the new stock.

The depot, which can trace its railway heritage back to 1850, is also being extensively modified to the tune of £5million to accommodate work on the new trains:

  • Roof gantries are being fitted to 18 and 19 roads to facilitate work on the roof-mounted air-conditioning units
  • The jacking pad has been extended on 23 road to facilitate the lift of the six-car units for bogie repairs (they are fixed formation)
  • A wheel drop is being fitted to the wheel lathe to facilitate axle changes

The new trains demand new bespoke tools so, to improve efficiency, GTR has installed an electronic touch-screen tool vending machine from which fitters can select exactly what they need (see picture).

Dave Garrard, Continuous Improvement Manager at the depot, said: "This is the first time during my time at the depot that we have had brand new stock introduced for which we can create bespoke maintenance exam routines aligned with the service level agreement.

“To do the exams in one shift would have taken the units out of service for both the morning and evening peak so we've split them into two. This means we can do the work between the peaks, increasing the number of trains we can make available for passenger service."

The testing programme

  • More than 2,000 miles of operational testing
  • There have been up to 1,700 staff hours of night testing
  • We’ve checked over 100 platforms and stopping positions
  • 25,000 metres have been walked as part of our safety checks

Govia Thameslink Railway

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) operates Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern and Gatwick Express services as follows:

  • Thameslink – cross-London services between Bedford/Peterborough/Cambridge and Brighton/Horsham/Littlehampton/East Grinstead, and between Luton/St Albans and Sutton/Wimbledon/Rainham; plus services between London and Sevenoaks
  • Great Northern – services between London and Welwyn, Hertford, Peterborough, Cambridge and King’s Lynn
  • Southern – services between London and the Sussex coast (Brighton, Worthing, Eastbourne, Bognor Regis, Hastings) and parts of Surrey, Kent and Hampshire (Ashford International, Southampton, Portsmouth)
  • Gatwick Express – fast, non-stop direct services between Gatwick Airport and London Victoria,,,