RAILWAY HISTORY was made on Sunday evening when the first-ever electric train operating under the overhead wires pulled into Bromsgrove Station, writes Neil Gordon.
The momentous occasion took place at 8.24pm. The train, consisting of two class 323 units, known by the internal headcode 5T78, arrived on platform 3. A number of Network Rail and West Midlands Railways representatives were on board to oversee trials being conducted to test the newly installed overhead power lines, ahead of a full electric service being introduced.
The train, numbers 323206 and 323222, made history twice with it being the first-electric train to operate on the town’s famous Lickey Incline, and also the first electric train to operate at Bromsgrove.
Rail enthusiasts lined the route and around another 40 were present at the station.
The six coach train set-off on the first trial at 8.32pm heading to Birmingham’s New Street station. The train stopped at Barnt Green on both the outward and return journey, arriving back at Bromsgrove on platform 1 at 9.51pm.
The next journey involved the train travelling non-stop to New Street station, with the train calling at Longbridge on the return journey.
Finally, the train departed Bromsgrove around 11.20pm running non-stop to New Street station, where it arrived shortly before midnight.
Observers who witnessed the train departing Bromsgrove have commented on how more powerful the electric trains are in comparison with the diesel trains currently serving Bromsgrove.
Richard Dugdale, senior sponsor for Network Rail, said: “Passengers will soon be travelling on electric trains between Birmingham and Bromsgrove which will provide a better, greener, more reliable service.
“The Railway Upgrade Plan is delivering significant improvements across Britain. Bromsgrove with its new station and electric train service is reaping the benefits.
“Electric trains mean overhead power lines along the railway are live, 24 hours a day. I would urge everyone to remember this and never put themselves or others at risk by trespassing on the railway.”
The upgrade and electrification of the railway to Bromsgrove by Network Rail is part of the Railway Upgrade Plan. When the work is completed, West Midlands Railway is to operate an extra three trains every hour. Currently the town has two trains per hour in the peak and just one train per hour off-peak.
The testing also marks the permanent switch on of the overhead power lines, which carry 25,000v of electricity, 24 hours a day. Local communities are being urged to be well aware of this additional safety hazard and the added danger it poses should anyone choose to trespass on the railway.
Richard Brooks, customer experience director for West Midlands Railway, said: “There is still more work to be done but the test train is a major step towards giving Bromsgrove the extra services the town needs. These are exciting times for the region. Rail travel in the West Midlands has never been more popular. We are investing almost £1 billion to create more and better journeys, helping to shape and support the region’s economy and identity.”
The new timetable is due to come into force at the end of July. That will see Cross City services which currently stop at Longbridge carrying on to Bromsgrove and the other three remaining on their usual route to Redditch.
It will be a welcome change for commuters providing plenty more services between the town and the Second City.
Bromsgrove Rail User Group Chairman Mike Ponsonby said: “The test was very successful and the train from a standing start at Bromsgrove station reached 60mph at the Blackwell summit.
“A second test saw a three-car set switched off and the other three-car pulled the dead weight with no problems.
“There was also a successful stop-start at the Vigo Bridge – it is a tremendous success both for Network Rail and the electrification programme.
“This moment is as historic as when the first trains came to Bromsgrove in 1840 and from July we will have five trains-an-hour to and from Birmingham during peak times – a 150 per cent increase on what we have now.”