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Just how nimble are today’s locos and units, and what’s the quickest off the mark? Neville Hill returns to the Cambridge line in search of the now venerable BR-built Class 317s.

THE Class 317s are a product of British Rail in the early 1980s, so younger readers might be forgiven for writing them off as falling short of modern Bombardier and Siemens standards. This would be a mistake, however, because the Mk.3 bodyshells, spacious interiors and smooth bogies give the units a ride quality equal to the best.

BR-built Class 317s can currently be found working inner-suburban workings out of Liverpool Street, although there are plans to replace them with new Bombardier stock from 2019. No. 317656 is pictured between duties at the London terminus on April 30, 2016.

Having been built originally to work St Pancras to Bedford outer suburban services, the electric sets now perform a less-visible role on Lea Valley locals (Lee Valley on signage) to the likes of Bishop’s Stortford and Hertford East.

The units even accelerate well. All but experimental No. 317322 are fitted with four 332hp traction motors; ample power for the relatively lightweight 137 tons sets. The sub-classes differ mainly in seating layout and style, and seem to be used interchangeably on the double-set combinations. This lacks brand clarity but, since they are all comfortable, nobody much cares.

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