UK: ‘They’re some of the most accessible and sophisticated trains in the entire country, with great new features like level access with sliding step technology, more room for bikes and wheelchairs, phone charging and wi-fi onboard’, said Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram when the first of Merseyrail’s Class 777 third-rail electric multiple-units entered passenger service.

The first public journey was the 10.50 from Liverpool Central to Kirkby on January 23, operated by set 777 049. The Kirkby line will be the first to move to Class 777 operation, as only three trains are required to work the service of 4 trains/h.

Merseyrail Class 777 service trains second arrivat at Kirkby (Photo: Tony MIles)

The fleet will be phased in on a route-by-route basis. The full deployment programme is still to be confirmed, but the Ormskirk line will be next in line, with the Northern and Wirral lines following later in the year. Supplied by Stadler, the Class 777s will then have replaced Merseyrail’s ex-British Rail Class 507 and 508 EMUs, owned by Angel Trains, which date back to the 1970s.

Revised operating method

1st Class 777 Train Manager dispatch point 230123 TM08

The first of the Class 777s was delivered to Stadler’s new Kirkdale depot on January 16 2020, but entry into service was delayed by the lengthy process of agreeing a method of operation with the trade unions.

Initially it was announced that the Class 777s would be worked only by a driver, with the existing guards moving to platform-based roles. However, after local politicians and passengers voiced support for a second person on every train, an agreement was reached for an amended method of operation.

On arrival at a station, the driver checks the train is safe before opening the doors. Once boarding is complete, the newly-designated Train Manager touches a card on a panel located by every set of doors to indicate to the driver that it is safe to close the doors and depart.

Passengers on the first service expressed approval of the decision to retain a second member of staff onboard.

Publicly owned fleet

First Class 777 service train 777049 departs Fazakerley for Kirkby (Photo: Tony Miles)

The Class 777 fleet has been purchased outright by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority in a £500m deal.

The order initially covered 52 EMUs, but one more was ordered following the decision to extend the Kirkby line to Headbolt Lane.

The Headbolt Lane extension will be worked using battery power as a testbed for potential future non-electrified extensions. Seven trains are therefore designated Class 777/1 and fitted with onboard battery packs. These are expected to offer a nominal range of 55 km.

The Combined Authority has an option to procure a further 60 trains, and Rotheram continues to campaign for government permission and funding to extend Merseyrail operations beyond the existing network.

Each four-car EMU has 182 seats. Articulation means that only six bogies are required for each train, reducing weight and the impact on the track.


First Class 777 service trainset passes Stadler depot at Kirkdale (Photo: Tony Miles)

Platforms have been modified to allow level access via extending ramps at all doors.

Alterations to the signalling will provide the correct visibility for eight-car formations, as these will be longer than the current maximum of two three-car Class 50x EMUs.

A programme of platform extensions has not yet been completed, and so Merseyrail plans to retain a small number of Class 50x sets for use in six-car formations at peak times.

At Southport, a more significant rebuild is required. The platforms are being extended into the concourse area because of track layout constraints at the Liverpool end. A lengthy blockade will also be required to extend the platforms at the sub-surface Liverpool Central station.

Power supply enhancements have been undertaken across the 750 V DC network, with the Class 777s requiring a higher minimum voltage than the Class 50x sets; the older trains are able to work with very low voltages at points furthest away from electrical feeder points. However, testing has demonstrated that the Class 777s will still operate if the voltage drops to around 400 V, exceeding expectations.

A new trackside wi-fi network provides continuous real-time data connectivity with the Sandhills control centre, as well as free internet access for passengers. Line controllers are able to access real-time CCTV pictures, enabling them to identify any onboard incidents and take appropriate action.

Charting our own course

1st Class 777 service train & Steve Rotheram Kirkby 230123 TM02

Rotherham said the entry into service was ‘a massive day, not just for our area, but for the entire country’, and a major milestone in his plans to build a ‘London-style’ transport network for the region.

‘Alongside the work we’re doing on buses, active travel and integrated ticketing, we’re bringing our transport network into the 21st century’, he said.

‘This half a billion-pound investment shows the difference devolution makes. We’re charting our own course, putting the public back into public transport and delivering the services that our region’s 1·6 million people deserve.’