The Class 313: Versatile and Pioneering

by | Jan 28, 2024

From Richmond to North Woolwich and from Brighton to Seaford the Class 313s have had a decorated career. The time has come for retirement, with 313 205 joining the Rail Tags fleet.

Pre History & Production:

In August 1971, British Rail had proposals to electrify Great Northern Suburban services approved by the government. The project would take place in two stages. Stage One would be electrification from Moorgate to Welwyn Garden City and Hertford North. Stage Two would be Kings Cross to Finsbury Park and Welwyn Garden City + Hertford North to Royston.

As a part of the electrification project two new fleets of rolling stock were ordered. The Class 312, derived from the Class 310 built to operate outer suburban services to Royston. And the Class 313, built by BREL for inner suburban services between London, Welwyn and Hertford.

During the same year, London Underground had come to an agreement to transfer the Northern Line (Highbury Branch) to British Rail in order to run commuter services to Moorgate, relieving congestion at Kings Cross station.

Original ambitions for the Northern Line (Highbury Branch), now known as the Northern City Line was to install OLE catenary down the tunnels. However due to clearance issues it was deemed unfeasible. Instead third rail voltage was increased from the LU standard of 630v to 750v DC.

This quirk forced BREL to think outside the box. They were tasked with a whole new design of EMU that required dual voltage capabilities for the proposed Great Northern Electrics service. The solution? the opportunity to further develop their Class 445 / 446 prototypes.

BR “4-PEP” Class 445 Prototype 4001 + 4002 at London Waterloo preparing for a service to Hampton Court 07/75 (CC BY-SA 2.0 – Hugh Llewelyn)

As the Class 445 / 446 prototypes were built to function as 750V third rail units. A new intermediate trailer coach carrying a pantograph and AC to DC transformer was constructed and added to the Class 446 2-PEP. The Class 446 3-PEP formation was tested on AC rails for half of 1975. It was then chosen as a base for the construction of the Class 313.

In February 1976 production began at BREL Holgate Carriage Works in York on 64 Class 313 dual voltage EMUs. Taking into consideration the use of the Northern City Line tunnels to Moorgate the new Class 313 trains would feature a few notable differences to comply with underground rolling stock regulations such as the requirement of having doors built on the front centre of driving coaches for tunnel evacuation purposes as well as DC traction supply being separate for each coach. They would also feature the signature London Underground tripcock signalling system. Another noticeable difference was the need to build the roof slightly lower then standard rolling stock at the time. Production of the 313s saw new practices not yet before seen in rolling stock manufacturing. Both driving vehicles would be fitted with motor equipment whilst the intermediate coach would be a trailer fitted with a pantograph. Contrary to production of the Class 313 other units featured driving trailers with a motor coach. The 313s would enter service in the same year between Moorgate and Welwyn Garden City / Hertford North

Class 313 003 at Welwyn Garden City on a service to Moorgate in 1976Class 313 003 sits at Welwyn Garden City preparing for a Moorgate service in 1976. Note the inclusion of a headcode blind on the non drivers side of the cab. (CC BY-SA 3.0 – Roger Carvell)

The Class 313 would plough their trade on the Great Northern Electrics route well into the twenty first century, being retired off the route in 2019. However we now turn our attention to their use on the Watford DC Route, following the history of 313 205. (Known as 005 at the time of displacement).

North London Link & Watford DC:

Owing to a surplus of 313s on the Great Northern Electrics route in 1986 a decision was made to transfer 313 001 – 016 to the North London Link & Watford DC routes in London to replace the Class 501 units. The transferred units would have extra shoegear fitted to allow traversal on the Watford DC route which had long gaps in the third rail. Then in 1988 an extra four units were transferred from the Sunshine Coast Line. Thus allowing the displacement of Class 416 2-EPBs onto other routes.

During the same period a transition phase occurred seeing Network SouthEast take over various services in and out of London. This saw the Class 313s repainted into the now iconic Network SouthEast toothpaste livery bearing the “North London Lines” emblem on the side.

Class 313 003 enters West Hampstead station on a service to Stratford.Class 313 003 seen once again, entering West Hampstead on a North London Link service to Stratford in 1991 carrying the Network SouthEast Toothpaste Livery. (CC BY-SA 2.0 – Albert Bridge)

During operations on these routes the Class 313s visited various infamous now disused stations and lines. Most notably being the Croxley Green Branch, mothballed in 1996 and the NLL to North Woolwich closed in 2006. As well as this, when 313s first cascaded onto the NLL they served Broad Street for a short period of time.

Watford West Station Abandoned PlatformThe now abandoned platform at Watford West station during a sunset.

One year after the mothballing of the branch line from Watford High Street to Croxley Green, Silverlink took over the North London Railways franchise. During this same period, ownership of the Class 313 units transferred to Eversholt Rail. During this period, the Class 313/0s that operated on the North London / Watford DC Lines would receive a repaint into the Silverlink Metro colours and reclassification into the Class 313/1s due to previous modifications.

Class 313 107 at North Woolwich during final days of operation.reclassified Class 313 107 is seen at North Woolwich station in the stunning Silverlink Metro livery preparing for a service to Richmond. 

The period from reclassification onward was relatively quiet for the 313s on Silverlink Metro. An exception being in 2006 when the branch from Stratford Low Level to North Woolwich closed to allow the line to be converted for use by the Docklands Light Railway. The line would be used from Canning Town to Stratford whilst the line onwards to North Woolwich remained desolate. There wasn’t much to miss though, an extension of the DLR to Woolwich Arsenal via King George V spurred better connectivity of the local area making the branch obsolete. That would be, until the Elizazbeth Line would reuse the alignment from Custom House to just outside North Woolwich almost a decade later.

In November 2007, the North London Railways franchise was handed over to Transport for London under the revolutionary upgrade plan named London Overground. By this time, the future of the Class 313/1s were under threat owing to the order of Class 378 Capitalstar units from Bombardier. The first one entered service in 2009. By this point it was announced that Southern would be expanding their fleet by leasing and refurbishing the now elderly workhorses of the capital freeing up their Electrostar fleet. Test runs on the Coastway commenced in late 2009.

Southern Coastway And End Of The Line.

After the announcement of Southern inheriting the Class 313/1 fleet they were on the move to Wolverton Works for refurbishment. This would see the 313s get new seating and flooring, the implementation of passenger information systems and improved space for disabled passengers, they would also reclassify to Class 313/2s. 313 206 returned from Wolverton Works on the 14th of April 2010 in the Southern Coastway Livery.

Operations commenced on May 23rd 2010 with 2 trains per hour between Brighton and Seaford. From December the 13th operations expanded onto Brighton to Portsmouth Harbour runs as well as the Littlehampton to Bognor Regis shuttle.

Class 313 215 sits at Brighton station in 2011.recently refurbished 313 215 sits at Brighton in July 2011 before operating a service to Eastbourne. (CC BY-SA 4.0 – PeterSkuce)

In June 2012, Eversholt Rail sold their Class 313/2 fleet to newly founded ROSCO Beacon Rail. Beacon was founded in January 2009 after the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group purchased the European Rolling Stock leasing sector of Allco Finance Group. They are now owned by JPMorgan Chase Co.

The Class 313/2s would glide along the East & West Coastway routes for over a decade. Whether they were transporting Brighton & Hove Albion football fans or families on days out along the coast they had a unique presence along the south coast.

In December 2017 unit 313 201, previously numbered 001 & 101 was repainted into the retro British Rail Blue & Grey livery to celebrate the units legacy as the first built 313 and BREL 2nd generation EMU. This repaint was carried out during a C6 overhaul at Wolverton Works.

By 2020 their age was starting to show, at 44 years old rumours started to float around about their future. Nothing would come to fruition until March 2023 when it was announced the 313/2s would be stood down during the May timetable change. At this point units 313 202, 214 and 217 were officially out of miles, they would be sent to Arlington Eastleigh Works for cold storage on March 10th 2023.

One and a half weeks later The Branch Line Society announced “The Sussex Rambler” Class 313 Farewell Railtour. This would take place on April 29th 2023.

Class 313 201+213 at Littlehampton next to 211 on The Sussex Rambler Rail Tour April 29th 2023Class 313 201 + 213 standing at Littlehampton Platform 3 next to 313 211 on The Sussex Rambler Railtour under the beautiful spring sun. What a tour that was!

The Sussex Rambler would see 201 + 213 tour from Brighton to Preston Park, Portsmouth Harbour, Bognor Regis, Littlehampton, Three Bridges, Eastbourne, Ore, Hasting, Newhaven Marine, Haywards Heath before eventually thrashing all the way back to Brighton for the send off. Over £25,000 was raised on the tour for The Railway Children & Chestnut House Children’s Hospice. That was the perfect railtour in my opinion. It’s always great to see people come together for such a grand event, raising money for a good cause. It was nothing short of grand.

However, it wasn’t the last time we’d see 313s on the Coastway. On May 17th we managed to head back down to Brighton and catch some more in public service before their swansong on the 19th.

A collage of Class 313/2 photos taken in May 2023.A collage of mixed Class 313 photos taken around the Coastway in May 2023. This is where we met 205.

Two days later the Class 313 would operate their last ever passenger services. After 47 years of service all units were retired. Four years after the 313/0s on Great Northern were also withdrawn and subsequently scrapped. Starting in June units would eventually move from Lovers Walk to Arlington Eastleigh Works for cold storage. That was until it was confirmed that they would be scrapped there.

It was an opportunity we couldn’t miss, the Class 313s are a very familiar sight to me. I first met the /1s on the North London Line when I was a kid, being somewhat local to Richmond travelling through the area I am familiar with the sounds and sights of these machines. The Silverlink livery was always stunning and caught my eye.

I also had the privilege of getting up and close with a Class 313/0 on work experience years ago. For me it was a very special moment that I still cherish, being the first taste I got the railway environment.

The Cab of Class 313 051.The cab of Class 313 051 stabled at Hornsey Depot prior to full withdrawal of the fleet.

We visited the scrap line of Eastleigh Works in July 2023 to select a unit and mark out sections of exterior panel we thought were suitable to making a quality tag. We selected 205 for the convivence of where she was parked and the memories made with the unit back in May, cruising along the coast with windows open feeling the cool breeze fill the air of the saloon.

It was certainly a sight to go from seeing 313 205 alive and kicking around to being on death row missing the soul it once had through the sound of the motor alternators. This was the day we knew these Class 313 tags had to be special, we were there from riding her in service to seeing how it ended.

A collage of Class 313 205 on the scrap line at Arlington Eastleigh Works July 2023.A collage of images we took down at Arlington Eastleigh Works when marking up sections of bodyside to turn into tags.
(These images were taken and published with permission of Arlington Fleet Services Ltd.)

We received our panels in late August and got to work immediately on this Edition. Whilst it took a bit longer then we would of hoped for it certainly has paid off. These tags contain the most variety we’ve ever done and that probably wont change with any future releases. Thanks to the extravagant colours of the Southern Coastway livery along with the variation in thickness makes this our best work yet. And we’re very proud of what we’ve managed to achieve with the Class 313s. Giving Class 313 205 a new home beyond the bustling life of the ECML, North London Line and Southern Coastway routes.

Welcome to the Rail Tags Fleet, Class 313 205. Available Now!

Rail Tags Class 313 205 Southern Coastway Tags

With thanks to Arlington Fleet Services Ltd and the 400 Series Preservation Group.