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‘A Rolls-Royce as opposed to a Mini Metro’ – retired driver describes Great Northern’s Class 717 trains

A retired train driver has described the introduction of Great Northern’s new Class 717 trains as Rolls-Royces replacing Mini Metro cars.

Ian Twells (Left), 74, rode in the cab of one of the new trains to celebrate the introduction of the first of the new fleet.

He started his career as a steam engine cleaner and was driving trains when the first Class 313s, which are being replaced, were introduced in August 1976.

Joining Ian at the launch was 29-year-old Zornitsa Tsankova (Right), who was one of the first drivers to take the new trains out in service.

Zori, as she’s known, used to clean trains until she won a place on a driver-training programme. She 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.”

The Class 313s – mainland Britain’s oldest electric rail fleet – are being replaced in a £240 million investment with 25 new six-car Siemens Class 717 trains.

These will be introduced up until late summer on the Great Northern routes between Moorgate and Hertfordshire, to and from Stevenage, Hertford North and Welwyn Garden City.

The new trains will be maintained by GTR’s engineering team at its Hornsey depot. Almost 100 staff, including 52 fitters, are being trained to work on the new stock.

The new 717s have capacity for nearly 100 more people per journey than the rolling stock they are replacing. They feature air-conditioning, wi-fi, plug sockets at every pair of seats and can reach speeds of up to 100mph.

In addition they have a new ‘snow mode’, which changes the way the brakes work to improve reliability in snowy conditions.

GTR engineering director Gerry McFadden said the train company is “transforming” passengers’ journeys by replacing the “cramped, outdated 40-year-old trains” with “fully-accessible, spacious, modern air-conditioned units”.


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