A mainline rail line in West London will take part in a trial later this year, replacing its existing fleet of diesel trains with former London Underground trains that have been converted to run on batteries.

The trials will take place on the Greenford branch line, which is operated by GWR and mainly runs between Greenford and West Ealing. The line is currently served by a 2-car Class 165 Networker diesel passenger trains, and as the line is unlikely to be electrified any time soon, to reduce pollution, GWR is looking to test battery trains instead.

Last year, GWR started looking for a supplier for the trial to prove the capability of a battery-powered train, supported by fast charging equipment, and has now signed a deal with Vivarail, a company that converts former District line trains to work on mainline services.

This happens to means that during the trial, Greenford station, which is on the Central line, will also be served by ex-District line trains.

This trial will also be Vivarail’s for its trackside fast-charging equipment in an operational setting. It is hoped that the project will demonstrate that the equipment works safely and reliably in a ‘real-world’ environment.

The use of batteries for extended operation has typically been constrained by their range and meant widespread implementation has, until now, not been feasible. To deal with this, Fast Charge equipment will be installed at West Ealing Station later this year and tested with Vivarail’s battery-only Class 230 train, which has a range of up to 62 miles on battery power, recharging in 10 minutes using the Fast Charge system in off-network tests.

The short 12-minute shuttle trips gives a half-hourly service including turn-around times at each end, which would also be used for fast-charging the batteries in the train in the platform bay at West Ealing. A half-hourly service between current first and last trains on the Greenford branch is 33 round trips, a total distance of 165 miles (264km) per day. To keep the service running through the day without running out of juice, when the train arrives at a station it connects automatically to the Fast Charge and the batteries receive a charge while the train is prepared for its next journey.

The trials will start later this year — so train nerds assemble, as former London Underground District line trains are returning to London.

(c) Vivarail

The trial is supported by £2.15m funding from the Department for Transport’s Rail Network Enhancement Pipeline (RNEP). Development of the Fast Charge technology also received funding from Innovate UK.

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24 comments
  1. West Ealing resident says:

    When will this go live?

  2. West Ealing Resident says:

    I know you said later this year but that’s rather vague. I believe in a previous article on this you’d said spring 2022. Could you confirm that is still the case or has the go live date slipped?

    • ianVisits says:

      I can only state what I have already stated – if I had a specific date it should go without saying that I would have given it in the article.

  3. Jack Fender says:

    Great news, this service is perfect for battery operated stock. Placing Pennie’s on the rails won’t be as much fun as the old steam trains though.

  4. Interesting says:

    Excellent idea. Could also be used to revive the Epping-Ongar railway as a commuter rail service.

    • Brian Buttterworth says:

      Perhaps as far as North Weald which isn’t quite in the middle of nowhere as it seems.

      The problem for Ongar is still the same as the problem with a third rail… it’s too bar for from the electricity grid to get a substation. Battery packs don’t really solve the problem as they do in the Greenford to West Ealing area.

      Blame the 1938 Green Belt Act…

  5. MilesT says:

    Is the picture showing the actual units used or is it a stock photo?

    Last seen 230001 was in the US race running demo services for “pop up rail”, with ends painted orange not yellow

    • James E Brown says:

      Even so, which will bring London Overground – Greenland (!)shuffle(!/) line.

      Plus; Romford and Upminster line, may either bi-electric – battery train or overhead wire train in between, that will use class 230 D stocks whenever their want to choose, instead as current class was 315/317/321/710s of 4-car coaches, though.

    • Luke says:

      230002 was sent to the US and the picture is an actual true photo.

  6. brenty says:

    would be good if this line was electrified, so the overground could take over like with romford-upminster line

    • PMD says:

      Why is that necessary? What would the Overground do that any other operator cannot do with a small specialist fleet divorced from the rest of its network?

  7. Keith Williams says:

    I remember FIFTY years ago, a local Greenford politician promised that if elected, he would get the branch service EXTENDED at the southern end to run Greenford – Ealing Bdy, – Acton M.L., – Olympia – Clapham Junction. ALL that has happened since is the line has been cut back from Ealing Bdy to West Ealing, effectively making it almost useless. This line could have been part of a SO useful service, but the people in charge have turned it into a farcical joke.

    • alistair twin says:

      So connecting at one end to the central line and to the eisabeth line at the other makes it “effectively useless”? now the 2 tph might be a pain, but in terms of connectivity that’s a pretty well-plugged into the netwrok.

      I guess people will mourn the need to change at shepherd’s bush to get to clapham Jctn (!?) but the ability to get to canary wharf in ~40 minutes, or liverpool street in less than 30? that’s pretty impressive.

      Also which local councillor was standing in an election who had any control over transport policy or funding? and why did anyone believe them?

    • Jonathan Graham says:

      The ‘through’ line to Ealing Broadway & Paddington is now carrying Elizabeth line and Heathrow services that didnt exist previously. The Greenford service has been cut back to terminate at a newly-built platform at West Ealing so that these trains are no longer interspersed with the through services, thus permitting the higher service frequency planned for the Elizabeth line.

    • Frank Funster says:

      “All that has happened”…but the service was extended to Paddington for many years, but then cut back by track capacity issues.

  8. Jonathan Roberts says:

    For those of you in the capital , that never had the horror of experiencing the ‘ Pacer trains ‘, used In the North, Wales and the Southwest, built from an ancient even then , Leyland bus body , welded to an aging aggregate freight wagon chassis.
    While the environmental idea is to be applauded, this feels like a broken promise never to repeat , a pacer style train again. And using ancient , ex underground cars, where the usually ride is lively to say the least . Perhaps better to convert the networker , a more modern , unit with Battery and Hydrogen power packs .
    And to push or lobby, for , what another poster and mentioned, regards the line having been cut, so Lobby to restore it’s full length, and perhaps further .
    With Draconian traffic regulations creeping ever outward from central London, rail is the best alternative, but the public have a right to a certain standard. Comfort should not be sacrificed. As I fear it will be with this ancient ‘ D stock ‘. Ideally full electrification, is the rail aim.
    And within the southeast are some very recently built fleets now mothballed , the line mentioned here would be a good use for those trains, not to mention their much higher capacity, than a tiny four car ‘ D train’.

    • Keith Williams says:

      Platform length at Drayton Green dictates that this could only ever be a 2-car service.

    • alistair twin says:

      It’s not as bad as a pacer, these are ‘proper’ trans that have had quite a decent refurb.

      the line extension has largely been made redundant by being used for the overground (available via central line to shep. bush) but maybe it was never going to happen, a promise by a local councilor who has no control over transport policy is at best a pie in sky promise. I mean we are talking about a route that can be covered in a bus in 20-odd minutes, not crossing the penines.

      look at the non-battery versions on this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeADhg0f3-M

    • alistair twin says:

      oh and London transport is skint, so nothing “bigger” is happening anytime soon.

  9. Paul says:

    How about running these new trains from West Ealing onto the Chiltern Railways Network?

    • Paul says:

      This suggestion often emerges – indeed I believe a “parliamentary” Chiltern service currently runs occasionally – but from a travel demand perspective I can’t see any merit:
      *Any through service would have to skip Greenford as there are no platforms on the through lines
      *The Ruislips are already very well served by the Central Line
      *The residents of Denham, Gerards Cross and Beaconsfield don’t wake up every day dreaming about a half-hourly stopping service to West Ealing! They mostly want to go to Central London, and Marylebone is much more convenient.

      This line principally serves communities around the intermediate stations, connecting them to the Central and TfL Rail lines at each end. The best hope for it is that the D-trains prove cost effective and can ultimately lead to a doubling in service to 4tph, which would at least make the route a more convenient option for those it serves.

      It’s a terrible pity of course that services on this line can’t reach Ealing Broadway, which would be so much more useful.

  10. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for this update and article of very local interest to me as a West Ealing resident. 🙂 I’ve never taken the line up to Greenford but maybe I’ll give it a go when this thing goes live.

  11. Margaret says:

    Having lived near Castle Bar Station since 1988 and taking the train all the way to Paddington for years, I remember very clearly when we were told that the line was going to terminate at West Ealing, we were promised that the frequency of the trains would increase to every 15 minutes instead of every half an hour. What happened to that promise? Are there any plans to run more trains, now that so many new housing units have been built along the line?

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