Moving home

Here’s a train.

It’s a Class 700, built by Siemens for the Thameslink line in London. No, there’s nothing of note about it, it’s just a train.


In the old days of a nationalised rail service, British Rail built their own rolling stock in the UK and so introducing it to service was usually a straightforward process.

After privatisation everything was sold off and orders for new stock were put out to tender. The Thameslink tender was duly won by Siemens who are building 115 trains in Krefeld. Krefeld is in western Germany which is separated from the Thameslink line by Belgium, a corner of France and the English Channel. All of these are equipped with railways and they’re all standard gauge so it should be a simple job to drive the new trains to their owner.

Er, no. The Class 700 runs on a diet of 750V DC fed to it by a third rail. You won’t find either 750V or a third rail on the way.

So, a really big one of these?


Sadly, no. Even if it were physically possible to drive all the way the Class 700 is only certified for use in the UK.

You’ll need to tow it as rolling freight then. For regulatory reasons the first five couldn’t use their brakes when being towed so independent brakes had to be supplied in the form of buffer wagons, basically freight wagons whose own brakes are used to slow the whole train.


Here we see delivery underway. A diesel loco is pulling a group of buffer wagons (blue), the new train (divided into two and the two halves coupled front to front) and more buffer wagons. They have to string air pipes beside the towed train so as to operate the following wagons.


You can’t just send a loco to Germany to haul everything back either. No, life is never that simple. Each country needs a loco and a driver certified and qualified for its railways so you have to change both at the border. When you get to the Channel Tunnel a tunnel emergency loco has to be used and then the final leg is hauled by one of these, and on at least one occasion this very one.


So there you have it. How to move a train without driving it or putting it on a ship.

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