Final update: 24th February 2022.
Here’s a look back at the first of the old BR built multiple unit classes to be built that were based on the steel Mk3 coach bodyshell in a departure from the earlier series of trains which used aluminum bodyshells. They’re easy to identify because of the distinctive ridged roof which they share with the Mk3s. The 317s were also the first units to be built for DOO (Driver Only Operation), dispensing with the need for a guard. This wasn’t without controversy and led to the units being ‘blacked’ by rail unions which delayed them entering into service. They were also the first modern units to have a maximum speed of 100mph since the 1960s built Class 309s . They’ve led a nomadic existence during their lives, which is now coming to an end.
The first order for Class 317s was built in 1981-82 to operate services on the newly electrified line from London St-Pancras to Bedford. 48 four-car units were constructed by BR at York works, although the Trailer cars (and all the units bogies) were built at Derby works.
Due to the DOO issues with the unions the trains didn’t enter service until March 1983. They plied their trade on the ‘Bedpan line’ (as the Bedford-St Pancras route was nicknamed) until 1987 when they were displaced by the Class 319s built for the ‘Thameslink’ programme. By this time they’d come under the aegis of Network Southeast who transferred to units to services out of Euston where they displaced older, slower, slam-door class 310 EMUs. Their tenure on the line was short as they were soon displaced by the new Class 321s so they moved again, this time to operate services out of Liverpool St and Kings Cross stations on the West Anglia and Great Northern routes. This time their stay was much more long-lived. It outlasted BR and survived into privatisation when ownership of the units was transferred to Angel trains.
At this point in their lives they joined their sister units for the first time.
A second batch of 20 Class 317s (numbered 317349-368) were built solely at York between 1985-86. A further four units (numbered 317369-372) followed on in 1987. The 317/s as they were known were ordered to work Great Northern services from Kings Cross to Cambridge and Peterborough. They were easy to tell from their earlier sisters as the front end had been modified to remove the redundant roof headcode boxes. The 317/2s were allocated to Hornsey depot in North London which also looked after the 317/1s after transfer from Euston services.
Changes continued throughout the units lives as franchises came and went. WAGN was split in 2004 and some 317s were absorbed by ‘One’ which took over the West Anglia routes. The Great Northern services were absorbed by new franchise First Capital Connect in April 2006.
However, Anglia and Great Northern services weren’t the only places you found the 317s. In 1996, LTS Rail hired in Class 317/1 units from its sister franchise WAGN for use on the routes out of Fenchurch St. The initial 2 units increased to a total of 18 units by the following year. The sets were maintained at LTS Rail’s depot at East Ham. They were gradually phased out on what by then was c2c by the arrival of the Class 357s although the final 317s didn’t disappear until 2002.
In 2002 the 317s reappeared on the ‘Bedpan’ route. Thameslink hired in 4 sets to work additional services between Moorgate and Bedford. More units followed in 2004 when an engineering blockade spilt Thameslink in two to allow the St Pancras Thameslink station box to be constructed. a total of 12 317/1s returned to their original stomping ground until the blockade was lifted.
By late 2004 the picture had begun to settle. WAGN was no more. Twelve 317/1s worked on Great Northern services for First Capital Connect whilst all the other sets worked out of Liverpool St for National Express under the ‘ONE’ brand.
Whilst the service pattern had been simplified, the numbering system hadn’t! All but the sets (317337-348) working on Great Northern had been renumbered during various refurbishment programmes.
First to be renumbered were sets 317322-328 by BR back in 1994 when First Class was declassified. They had became 317392-398.
In 1998-99 WAGN refurbished the entire Class 317/2 fleet at Wolverton. 300 was added to the numbers and the units re-emerged ass 317649-672.
In 2000, 9 sets were modified and refurbished to take over ‘Stansted Express’ services from the Class 322s. They were renumbered in the 317/7 series thus:
Another 15 sets were refurbished by ‘ONE’ with new seating and passenger information systems in 2005 for use on West Anglia services. They were renumbered 317501-515 thus:
Finally, in 2006 a further 12 sets received a minor refresh at Wabtec in Doncaster. These were renumbered in the 317/8 series thus:
The final act in the lives of the 317s was on the 3st May 2015 when London Overground took over some London suburban routes from Abellio Greater Anglia. The lines from Liverpool St to Chingford, Enfield Town and Cheshunt via Seven Sisters were absorbed and eight 317/s and 6 317/8s (rendered surplus from Stansted services by the Class 379s) were taken over to run the services. The units were repainted on London Overground livery but little else. They lasted until April 2020 when the new Class 710 ‘Aventra’ trains displaced them.
Withdrawal of the 317s has continued to the present day. All the original Class 317/2s have gone for scrap at Eastleigh in Hampshire. The 317/7s have been stored bar 317722 which has been scrapped after being used as a demonstrator for a potential refurbishment programme. All that remains is a handful of 317/5s and 317/s which at the time of writing still work a few peak service between Liverpool St and Cambridge. For how much longer depends on the acceptance into traffic of the Class 720s…
Here’s a selection of pictures showing the diverse routes and liveries the 317s have used over their careers.
Personally, I never really liked the Class 317s. The high windows with their metal hoppers made the units feel claustrophobic and the lack of tables was bizarre considering that they operated medium distance services. But, they provided the railways with 100mph capacity and served it well on a variety of routes over the years. I hope to have one last trip on them over the next few weeks before they enter the history books.
If you’d like to browse (or buy) other pictures of Class 317s you can find them on my Zenfolio website in the following Galleries.
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Peter Skuce said:
Hello Paul, the second photo from the bottom is of a First Great Eastern Class 321 in Standard Class. It is not from a Class 317 – I can tell from the Ashborne seating, interior saloon lighting diffusers and the raked ceiling profile – none of those features are on the Class 317.
Andrew Gwilt said:
As most of the Class 317 are heading for scrap. I think that some should be saved and preserved or maybe Network Rail to inherit 1 Class 317 and modify them to be used as track maintenance unit to be used on the ECML, LTS, West Anglia and Great Eastern main lines. And to check for track defects and issues with the 25,000v AC overhead wire.