Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Second Generation EMUs by John Jackson

As a youngster in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, my earliest memories of watching trains were at a time when diesel locos were replacing their steam predecessors. As a Northampton lad, those ‘spotting’ days involved regular sessions at the likes of Peterborough, Wellingborough and the West Coast Main Line station at Roade, just south of Northampton.

It was not until a family holiday in 1964, however, that I had my first experience of trains running on electric power. We were staying just outside Newcastle upon Tyne when I had my first sight of a third rail providing 600-volt DC to power a fleet of ageing ‘North Tyneside Electrics’.

This class 313, seen at Finsbury Park, was built in 1977. (Second Generation EMUs, Amberley Publishing)

A little later that summer I was also to witness for the first time that same third rail powering London’s Underground network. Regular sessions at the likes of Clapham Junction and London Bridge were to follow shortly afterwards. It didn’t take long for me to realise the importance of the third rail in providing an intensive service for London bound commuters from what was then the Southern Region.

Since those days in the late 1960’s, I have witnessed the expansion of electrification across much of the UK rail network. My childhood haunts of Peterborough and Roade have long seen electric trains running under the overhead wires. It should only be a matter of months before Wellingborough joins them as the Midland Main Line overhead electrification is extended northwards from Bedford to Kettering and Corby.

The initial infrastructure costs of electrification may be high, but it is the considered view that electric trains are more environmentally friendly and, over time, have proved to be both cheaper to run and more reliable than their diesel counterparts.

A class 717 unit, one of the newest classes, is also seen at Finsbury Park. (Second Generation EMUs, Amberley Publishing)

The electric multiple unit (EMU) has played an increasingly important part in shaping Britain’s passenger railways and, in the 1970’s, this ongoing expansion of the electrified network demanded a new generation of these electric units. This planning culminated in the introduction of the class 313 units at the end of that decade, working on inner suburban services out of London’s Moorgate station.

From the Isle of Wight to the Central Belt of Scotland centred on Edinburgh and Glasgow, this second generation of electric multiple units now provides the mode of transport for an increasing percentage of all passenger journeys made in the UK. Since swapping the rat race for the rail tracks and, with my camera as a constant companion, I have been privileged to witness the many types of electric units at work across the UK.

In my twelfth and latest book, ‘Second Generation EMU’s’, I explore the variety of classes that have graced our railways over the last half century. Starting with the class 313’s introduced back in 1977 and ending with a glimpse of ‘bi-mode’ units. This latest industry buzz word may offer a far cheaper alternative than full end to end electrification of our secondary lines. These bi-mode units offer the flexibility of electric power when available, supplemented by the use of diesel engines when it’s not.

Bi-Mode power may be one for the future. Meantime, I hope you have the chance to share the journey through the pages of this publication.

John Jackson's book Second Generation EMUs is available for purchase now.