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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.

It’s the 15th March 2004. Displaced from the LTS but still carrying the modified NSE livery used on that route 317304 is seen speeding through Harringay whilst working a Kings Cross – Peterborough service.
A few years earlier on the 17th May 2001 317304 was pictures calling at Upminster on the London, Tilbury and Southend line.
The end of the line at Chingford on the 14th December 2001 as the low winter sunlight illuminates (from L-R). 317665. 317306. 317313. 31733 and 317315 at rest in the sidings.
A classic LTS location seen on the 7th May 2001 as 317307 speeds past the sea at Westcliff whilst working a service from Southend back to Fenchurch St.
In NSE livery and carrying the West Anglia logo (but with added icicles) 317310 freezes in the sidings at Stratford, East London on the 9th February 1991.
Seen at St Pancras on the 16th March 2005. WAGN liveried 317315 arrives at the Eastern platforms now used by SET Javelins and passes Thameslink liveried 319452, one of the units that displaced it on the ‘Bedpan’ line.
Classic corporate Network Southeast, from the train livery to the new lamp standards and signage! Here’s 317316 at Broxbourne on the 24th May 1991 whilst working a Liverpool St – Cambridge service.
It’s the 27th April 1997 and 317398 keeps sister unit 317317 company at Kings Cross. For a short while seven units were renumbered between 317392 and 317398 due to having their First Class seating declassified.
Still carrying First Capital Connect livery but ‘Great Northern’ branding, 317337 sits at Kings Cross with a service for Royston on the 14th April 2015.
When 317s worked services from Moorgate to Bedford. Here’s 317341 working empty stock on its way to Moorgate passing through Farringdon on the 18th June 2008.
On the 7th August 2000 Fragonset liveried 31459 brings up the rear of 5Z45, the Hornsey – Cricklewood stock move with 317398 and 317320, seen at Harringay Park Junction. The scene’s changed completely. The semaphores and signalbox have gone and the lines been fitted with 25kv overhead electrification.
On the 18th May 2009 a pair of units in ful First Capital Connect livery with 317345 leading speed North through Alexandra Palace in North London with a service from Kings Cross.
The world just before Covid shut it down. Unbranded but wearing Greater Anglia livery, 317340 is seen after its transfer to Transport for London working a service through Hackney Downs on the 11th March 2020.
The last of the original batch of 317/1s No 317348 crosses the Walthamstow marshes with a service bound for Cambridge on the 6th March 2003. The unit was still sporting NSE livery but with the addition of the WAGN triangle logo.
317360 from the second batch of 317s seen at Hornsey on the 25th February 1997, still sporting NSE livery. The unit had run ECS from Kings Cross and was about to cross the flyover in order to gain entry to Hornsey depot.
A sunny day in London on the 13th May 1995 as NSE branded 317370 heads through Hackney Downs with service to Cambridge.
London doesn’t see much snow compared to the rest of the UK, but here’s WAGN liveried 317653 passing through Alexandra Palace on a snowy 31st January 2003.
At Bishops Stortford on the 19th May 2015 as 317668 sits on the rear of a service to Liverpool St. The unit’s carrying Abellio Greater Anglia branding.
Towards the end of days and just before Covid changed the world, a pair of 317/2s pass just outside Hackney Downs station on the 11th March 2020.
On the same say as the picture of 317348 (6th March 2003) WAGN liveried 317661 crosses the embankment above the Walthamstow Marshes with a service inbound to Liverpool St.
Inside Ilford depot on the 13th March 2007 with 317511 in full ‘ONE’ livery plus 317722 and 708 showing off the front end modifications and new windowframes they received as part of their refurbishment for ‘Stansted Express’ duties.
317501 is seen in Abellio ‘Greater Anglia’ livery at Cambridge on the 8th August 2017.
A few years earlier on the 9th April 2015 317502 is seen at Hackney Downs sporting National Express livery but with Abellio branding.
Four years earlier on the 17th May 2011 317508 carrying full National Express branding sits at a virtually unrecognisable Stratford station. Note the original metal hopper windows the unit carried from new that were replaced on refurbished units.
Fresh from its conversion and rebuild at Wolverton works 317708 eases on to Hornsey depot, seen from Harringay station on the 7th August 2000. The difference in windows from the previous picture is noticeable.
Displaced from Stansted services, transferred to London Overground and repainted into their livery. 317710 leaves the sidings at Chingford on the 3rd June 2016.
All three varieties of 317 seen at Liverpool St on the 6th June 2011. 317/2 317666 with a rebuilt 317/1 renumbered 317723 and original condition 317/1 number 317882 wearing Stansted Express branding.
On the 21st September 2009 317884 calls at Bethnal Green. The unit’s base livery is the old ‘ONE’ livery with the addition of a white stripe and Stansted Express branding within it.
Another year, another view of Bethnal Green. This time it’s the 11th March 2020 and 317886 is seen descending the bank to Liverpool St bringing up the rear of a London Overground service.
Here’s a look at the interior of a 317 at Ilford on the 13th March 2007. The unit’s had it’s original metal hopper windows replaced and acquired a Passenger Information System (see the screen on the roof) but it retains the original 3+2 seats.
This is the refurbished interior of Stansted Express unit 317723 seen on the 5th March 2005. It’s a far superior layout to the original set-up and has the luxury of having 2=2 searing – and tables!

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.

The BR gallery.

TOCs Past: WAGN.

TOCs Past: FCC.

The Greater Anglia franchise.

London Overground.

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