Flex fleet will expand services on North Downs line


Train operator GWR has received its first ‘tri-mode’ multiple unit – able to run on overhead and third-rail electrified lines as well as under its own power using a diesel generator.

Converted from a Class 319 unit previously used on Thameslink services by ROSCO Porterbrook, the first of 19 Class 769 ‘Flex’ trains has arrived at GWR’s Reading Depot for an extensive programme of staff training and testing.

The trains are expected to enter service by early next year in services along the North Downs line between Reading and Gatwick Airport, allowing services to be expanded. The trains will enable some of GWR’s Turbo diesel multiple unit fleet to be cascaded to add capacity in the Bristol area and support the ability to launch new routes through the city.  

Offering more carriages than the trains they are replacing, they will be able to run under overhead wires in London and the Thames Valley, and to take advantage of third rail provision where it exists.

Present plans will see the trains deployed between Reading and Basingstoke, Reading, Redhill and Gatwick, and on the Henley and Bourne End lines. The tri-mode nature of the train will give GWR additional flexibility to use them in other areas of the network should they be required in the future.   

“A lot of hard work has been done to make sure people feel that they can travel safely at the present time, and that includes running more trains and carriages to make extra room,” said John Murphy, GWR’s head of fleet production.

“Planning is well under way for a further uplift in services in mid-September, re-introducing even more services across the GWR network to help accommodate a return to travel for school, college or for work and adding some new services for the first time. 

“This news shows we have not stopped looking at ways to further improve our service for customers.”  

On the GWR North Downs line, the trains will facilitate a return to usual Sunday frequencies of two trains an hour, and the ability to run three trains per hour from Reading to Redhill on Saturdays.

GWR is working with industry partners to extend this to further off-peak weekday services as well as extending these through to Gatwick Airport, as works at the station are completed. 

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