Improvements on Great Northern

Route performance

If you travel on the Great Northern route you will begin to see the fruits of millions of pounds of investment in new rolling stock and infrastructure over the next two years. The route will see the introduction of three new classes of trains, replacing approximately 75% of the current fleet. Nearly-new Class 387s that currently run on Thameslink, started to run on Peterborough and Cambridge routes from October 2016, Siemens-built Class 700s will enter into passenger service from summer 2017 and brand new Class 717s will replace the current 40 year old trains running in and out of Moorgate from spring 2018.

However from spring 2016 we have experienced some challenges that have impacted the quality of service on the route, which had previously experienced five months of improving performance month-on-month. We are facing challenges due to on-going issues with driver vacancies and training requirements so some services will be at risk over summer 2016, particularly during periods of annual leave. For this we would like to apologise. We are working hard to address this by reviewing our training requirements and running the UK’s largest driver recruitment campaign. The introduction of our new trains over the next two years will greatly improve train reliability as well as offer significant increases in capacity, frequency of service and new routes.

Services are also being impacted by the autumnal heavy leaf fall season. Compressed by passing trains, the leaves create a thin, Teflon-like layer on the rails, so train drivers have to brake earlier when approaching stations and signals to avoid overshooting and accelerate more gently to avoid wheel spin. Leaf mulch can also insulate trains from the rails with the result that Network Rail’s signalling system, which uses electric currents in the track to locate trains, becomes less accurate. To maintain safety, longer gaps must be left between trains, leading to delays. Network Rail also have a fleet of rail-head treatment trains which clean the rails using water jets and then apply a sand-based gel to help trains gain traction. Click here to find out more information how seasonal changes impact the train service.

We are replacing 75% of Great Northern trains by December 2018

Modern trains for a modern railway

Our train fleets that operate on the line are between 21 and 41 years old and the maintenance depot at Hornsey, where our trains are maintained was in need of a significant overhaul to bring it up to modern day standards. We plan to replace approximately 75% of the existing train fleet with nearly new or brand new rolling stock in the next two years. These trains increase capacity and improve reliability, they will feature air-conditioning, bright and modern interior and will feature


We are close to the end of a major refurbishment programme of our 21 year old Class 365s trains and this has seen them improve reliability by 15%. However maintaining reliability on the older trains is becoming more challenging, with spares becoming obsolete. Nearly new Class 387/1s have begun to replace the trains that run on the Cambridge and Peterborough lines. The full introduction of 20 trains will be completed in early 2017. In July we began our driver training programme on these trains.

The trains feature air conditioning, modern passenger information systems and are fully accessible.

Hornsey depot

The depot has recently been completed following a five year modernisation plan, and came into full service in May this year. Improvements include the replacement of the existing track layout and renewing signalling equipment, and the installation of a brand new train carriage wash. These improvements will also benefit the Class 700s that will be maintained at the brand new Siemens’ depot, due to be opened later this summer.

2017 onwards

From spring 2017 we will also be introducing the new fleet of Class 700 trains that have just come into service on the Thameslink route. These are the trains that will form the Thameslink timetable starting in May 2018, to be enhanced in December 2018, that will open up many new journey opportunities from the Great Northern route (Peterborough and Cambridge) to the Thameslink route.


The final part of the train improvement programme is to replace the trains that currently operate on the Welwyn Garden City and Hertford Inner Suburban services into Moorgate. The tender exercise is complete and we are working with Siemens, on the final design of the train. There will be 25 fixed formation six carriage trains (150 carriages replacing the current 132 carriages) providing much needed capacity on the line.

Features include: air conditioning, modern passenger information systems and 2x2 seating.

We expect these trains to start coming into service late spring of 2018, with the full train fleet in service by the end of that year.

Driver training and recruitment

We are facing challenges due to on-going issues with driver vacancies and training requirements so some services are at risk, particularly during periods of annual leave.

What are the challenges:

Introduction of additional services
Since December 2014 we have increased the numbers of services we run to increase capacity, this includes the major changes to Moorgate services, from December 2015 extending services at evenings and weekends. These improvements required additional drivers to operate the service. The numbers of drivers we currently have would normally be sufficient to operate our timetable as planned but only with a reliance on drivers working overtime or their normal booked days off, like the rest of the industry.

New layout at Hornsey depot means all drivers require familiarisation training
The maintenance depot at Hornsey has just completed a five year modernisation plan, coming into full service in May this year. All of our drivers are required to undertake familiarisation training on the new layout, 8 drivers are released a day to do this. The project was delayed by approximately two months due to Network Rail needing to carry out additional engineering work which meant we couldn’t use the track; if this had not been agreed, we would not have been able to go ahead, and the project would have been delayed until late summer. Familiarisation training is now running into the summer leave period and is starting to overlap with driver training on the new trains.

Brand new trains means more training requirements
For every new train introduced on the route, a driver has to undertake 8 days of training. All Great Northern drivers are trained to drive all trains as part of our resilience for disruption or train displacements. The rest of 2016 will see up to 16 drivers released at a time to train on the new trains. This is a requirement to support the introduction of the new Class 387s.

What are we doing about it:

  • Since January 2015 we have brought 86 newly qualified drivers on to the route
  • 81 trainees are currently employed and are at different stages in their training
  • Maximising usage of driver instructors and managers to allow our trainees to undertake their final assessment as soon as they are ready for it and remove any bottleneck at the end of intensive training process

This is now starting to put further strain on an already stretched resource. Our drivers continue to be flexible by working overtime and their rest days to cover our services and our resourcing and Control teams are working tirelessly to cover all turns of duty and trains.

Commitment from Great Northern to our passengers

We are determined to manage the current challenges to limit the disruption to services for passengers. The introduction of our new trains over the next two years will greatly improve train reliability as well as offer significant increases in capacity, frequency of service and new routes. The current training requirements for Hornsey depot will begin to decrease at the end of the summer and our driver recruitment and training programme will continue over the next 10 months into spring 2017. This will allow us to provide additional drivers to cope with the further requirements as the new trains come on line, and will ensure that we are in position to provide a reliable and consistent service for our passengers.