TfW’s converted FLEX carries first passengers
HEAVILY delayed Class 769 FLEX trains finally carried passengers on November 16 - almost four years after the concept was revealed by Porterbrook, and almost three years later than was first envisaged.
Transport for Wales was the first to use a ‘769’ for passenger service, when 769002 formed the 0714 Rhymney-Cardiff Central.
The design involves fitting two MAN D2876 diesel gensets to four-car electric multiple units to create a bi-mode train. However, the designs vary - while that will be the case for Northern and Orion trains, TfW Class 769s are dieselonly units, having had their thirdrail shoegear and pantographs removed.
The project has been beset by delays, ranging from not having the capacity to carry out the work to testing and rectifying faults, as well as driver training being affected by COVID-19 because of rules relating to social distancing.
TfW is currently using one train on peak-time services, with 769003 used on November 18. It’s hoped that two ‘769s’ could be in traffic on the Valleys from the December timetable change.
A TfW spokesman told RAIL: “The larger trains, providing more seats and better accessibility, will be introduced in all-day service in December.”
Initially, TfW is highlighting the extra space for social distancing offered by the converted trains. It has also created training ‘bubbles’ with trade unions, to enable traction training during the pandemic.
Arriva Trains Wales ordered an initial five FLEX trains in July 2017, with the aim of them entering traffic the following year. The order was extended to take it to nine Class 769s, and these were to operate on the Welsh Valleys - enabling Sprinters to be refurbished to meet new accessibility regulations that came into force from January 1 2020, and to enable the withdrawal of 30 Pacers.
However, delays to the ‘769’ project forced TfW to apply for dispensation to use Pacers into 2020, and to look for additional diesel multiple units from other
sources (including several ‘153s’).
TfW aims to have all nine in traffic by May, as they are passed for service and sufficient crews are trained. This will enable the withdrawal of Pacers, although two sets of diagrams are being retained for either scenario.
When Porterbrook revealed the concept in December 2016 ( RAIL 818), it initially agreed an eighttrain deal with Northern, with the prospect of half of them being in traffic one year later.
As this issue of RAIL went to press, all eight had been delivered to Northern, but none had yet carried passengers. A spokesman told RAIL that spring 2021 was now the target for Northern.