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Train Sim World 3 Interview: ScotRail Class 385 driver

“Edina! Scotia's darling seat! All hail thy palaces and tow'rs...”
Address to Edinburgh by Robert Burns, 1786
Burns Night is upon us! The annual celebration of Scotland’s national poet brings with it hearty haggis and recitals of Robert Burns’ best-known works. Today also sees us closer to the release of our next Scottish Train Sim World route Add-on with ScotRail Express: Edinburgh – Glasgow! We sat down with a ScotRail Class 385 driver to discuss what life is like on Scottish rails and get their thoughts on their day-to-day job being included in Train Sim World 3.

Welcome to Train Sim World! Introduce yourself!

Hi! I’m Jonny, and I’ve been with ScotRail since 2008, initially as an apprentice fitter but then moved over to driver training in early 2016 and passed out in 2017! That’s almost 6 years of being a qualified driver out of Edinburgh Waverley.

What's your role with ScotRail?

I’m currently a train driver at Edinburgh Waverley, so sort of a ‘run of the mill driver’. We sign: the Fife Circle; Cumbernauld; Dunblane; Tweedbank; North Berwick; Dunbar and Edinburgh to Glasgow via Falkirk High, so a wide variety of routes as well as a wide variety of traction!
We work the Class 158s and 170s, a few of us signed the Class 365s when the Edinburgh – Glasgow route was first electrified and I was one of the only drivers to ever drive to and from Alloa as part of the overhead power line testing for the Dunblane route.
It’s quite a lot of experience for the 5 or 6 years I’ve been driving!

And presumably, you work with the Class 385 as well?

Yeah, as drivers we get something called a ‘Core Traction’ or ‘Core Route’ which we work off of. Before the 385s came in, the Class 170 and the Edinburgh – Glasgow route was our ‘Core’ but now the Class 385 has become the ‘Core Traction’ for most drivers. They now cover about 65% - 70% of the workload that I do. Essentially the only workings we do now that don’t involve the 385s are down to the Borders, Tweedbank and Fife Circle. Everything else is 385s now!

So, the Class 385 is pretty crucial to ScotRail’s operations then?

Oh definitely, but at the same time it has transformed them as well. The driving experience now between Edinburgh and Glasgow is vastly different to when it was with other traction. Particularly with reliability compared to some of the diesel fleets – it's very rare to have a fault with these trains.

Do you have an interest in railways outside of work?

I can hear my colleagues giggling about this now... railways have essentially become an obsession for me! I occasionally do main line steam locomotive support crew work and I was a volunteer on the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway until I got married but I now do event organisation and photo charter work there and at Strathspey. I’m also a photographer, mainly of steam locomotives, I have a model railway which was featured in a magazine last year... it’s obsession-level!
The railways have defined me since I was born - a heavy enthusiasm. Upstairs I’ve got lamps, headboards, cabinets full of locomotives, there’s a taillamp currently in my bedroom and there’s railway memorabilia all over the place! Even in the garden there’s a semaphore signal and a couple of mileposts!

So, the short answer is... yes?! What about video games? Are you familiar with what we do?

Yes! In fact, if it weren’t for the time taken up by modelling, I’d be spending more time on Train Sim World! I also have Train Simulator Classic with the Edinburgh – Glasgow route and the Fort William - Mallaig Line. I’m up there regularly (in real life) and particularly during COVID it was a great way to enjoy those routes as I couldn’t get out and about.

So, before we delve into Edinburgh - Glasgow in-game... what's it like being a train driver?

It’s both the best job in the world but also sometimes the most challenging, if you know what I mean. When we had the freezing temperatures recently, I had the most beautiful drive down to Tweedbank – there was snow everywhere and the sun was shining over the snow and I thought: “I’m so lucky to do this”.
But at the same time, you can lose a bit of your social life. Last week, on Monday it was an 0430 start. You take the good with the bad and the difficulties that come with that job. It’s not an easy job either. We’re paid to know what to do when things go wrong, to know the rules, the sort of knowledge to deal with the unexpected. But that’s what also makes the job worthwhile – to know you can drive a train safely and up to a high standard. It’s a great job to have.

And what about the Class 385?

Jumping into the 385s, everything is on a screen in front of you! Even when there’s faults – and usually it’s nothing more than a toilet fault – the job becomes easier as the technology moves on and the Class 385 is the pinnacle of that for ScotRail right now. The units are very light on their feet compared to the DMUs and you feel this when doing brake tests.
The unit gives enough assistance to the driver that we can focus more of our attention on our speed and what’s happening out the window without worrying about what’s going on behind us. Other units might be more interesting to the enthusiast in me, but with the Class 385 it makes my job better on a practical level. Because of the information it gives you in the cab, we can work more efficiently and we can concentrate on looking out for things ahead of us on the overhead line, or on the track.
And keeping an eye on the railhead is important – especially with low adhesion, rain, snow. Different weather changes your driving style entirely.
(Take note those with Dynamic Weather turned ‘ON’ in Train Sim World 3!)

What's the best part of the Edinburgh - Glasgow route, as a driver or a passenger?

Travelling on a weekend between Linlithgow and Polmont, you keep your eye out for Manuel Junction (where the mainline joins the Bo’ness and Kinniel Railway). I might sometimes see one of my mates on the footplate of a steam locomotive and they give me a ‘toot’.
But the best thing about Edinburgh to Glasgow is that it can keep you on your toes – it's very varied. We now stop at Bishopbriggs and Lenzie, which wasn’t common before COVID. On an express service, coming out of Glasgow which is very suburban, you do several speed changes before stopping at Bishopbriggs and Lenzie... but that’s it then until Falkirk and same again to Haymarket when it gets very busy again. You start seeing double-yellow and single-yellow signals because of more traffic. But on other services, you stop at other stations like Croy, Linlithgow and Polmont.
Edinburgh – Glasgow can feel like different routes at different times. Outside of the urban cities, especially between Falkirk and Croy, it’s open countryside! A lot more rolling hills – a big contrast to the ends of the line.

So, seeing what you do for a living arrive in a video game - how does that feel?

I think it’s quite cool! Even before this interview I’d seen the teaser that you dropped showing the Class 385 and I did think, of the lines that they operate, the route that stands out the most is Edinburgh – Glasgow. And the first thing I thought was: “Could I get this for PS4 and could I teach my friends and family to drive this?” Because I had seen some of your other Train Sim World 3 routes and the realism there, so I just wanted to see how much of my knowledge I could transfer to the game.

I suppose when you get home from work, it can be quite hard to explain how your day has been?

Exactly, so it was one of first things I thought – I could get my family playing this and I’ll act as a Driving Instructor (DI)! When to apply power, when to brake etc. It’s an experience we could share with other people.
I also thought that there will be loads of people out there, like rail enthusiasts or fans of Train Sim World, that will be replicating my job, which is an interesting thing to think about! But it’s great because I think it brings more of an awareness to what we do as drivers. So, I was really excited when I first saw the teaser. This is a route I drive, so can’t wait to see the realism and whether it gives my family a better understanding of what it is I do. To be able to give that experience to others is great.

What are your first impressions of the environment (at Edinburgh Waverley)?

As soon as you loaded it up I knew we were on Platform 11! So that says a lot for my route knowledge... I was quite happy about that! The shop names might be different, but overall... it’s Edinburgh Waverley. You can distinctly tell that it’s Edinburgh Waverley. Looking down the platform, I can tell straight away that the green signal is Echo 471 (E 471). I’m interested to know how much is there down the east end... where’s our Signing On point? See that glass building with “Operations Depot” on it? That’s our Signing On point!

How does the virtual Class 385 compare to the real thing?

(Inside the cab) - It looks bang on, actually, scarily to the point! We’d normally have a Defects Sheet Book in the little holder near the Secondman’s Seat. In fact, no train should be running without one! That’s the only thing I can spot that’s different!

What are your thoughts as we exit Edinburgh?

You can tell straight away that that’s Haymarket. And then after that you come through the ‘neutral section’. It’s around here where we do a ‘running brake test’ in Step 2 (the level of braking on the controller) and reduce by about 5 mph. That gives us a feeling for how the brakes are performing. Not so much with the 385s, but with other Classes you can sometimes find the brakes perform differently on each individual unit – depending on when the disks and pads were changed, for example.
Ideally, we do this test above 40 mph and before our first station stop.

It seems to be quite a flat route, without much gradient. Is this correct?

Yeah, but whilst it is flat you do tend to come on and off the throttle a lot with the Class 385s. There are little bits of uphill and little bits of downhill – nothing too severe – but they’ll suddenly take 2-3 mph off your speed so you need to compensate. It’s generally flat until you hit Cowlairs, then it feels like you’re delving into the centre of the earth down the incline that comes out of Glasgow.
That’s one area where you can really tell the difference between the 170s and 385s. With the DMUs, you just couldn’t get the speed coming out of Glasgow, whereas with the 385s, you can.

Players will be operating the Class 385 for the first time - what advice would you give to them?

(Said without a moment’s hesitation): Don’t put it into full power straight away! You’ll be off like a rocket!
We obviously run to a timetable, but it’s important that we do the job safely. For anyone coming into this for the first time, if you feel you don’t know the controls that well, or you don’t know the route that well, give yourself a bit of time first to learn it. There’s a lot of Edinburgh – Glasgow to remember: braking points, how many carriages fit on which platforms. That applies to Edinburgh Waverley as well as there are so many platforms. And again, the controls in the cab – because it is a combined brake and power controller, it is even little things like: Push forward to brake, pull back to accelerate.
Give yourself the time to learn it, because if you were doing it in real life, you’re not expected to drive the train within 2 hours or know the route back to front.
And of course, in Train Sim World 3, we have Training Center for precisely that reason! Players can run the Class 385 as much as they need to without the worry of signalling, so that they can then apply that knowledge to Edinburgh – Glasgow once they’re comfortable.

It’s been great to get such an insight from a real life ScotRail driver. Thank you so much Jonny for taking the time to chat – and good luck teaching your family how to drive the Class 385 for themselves!

No problem! I hope players really enjoy the route!
Train Sim World 3: ScotRail Express: Edinburgh – Glasgow Add-on arrives for Train Sim World 3 on January 26th for Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Epic Games Store, and Steam. It will be available for £29.99/$39.99/€35.99
Estimated download size for PS4 / PS5 = 4GB
Find out more about ScotRail Express: Edinburgh - Glasgow, Train Sim World 3, and more by following @trainsimworld on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitch, and TikTok.
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Train Sim World 3 Interview: ScotRail Class 385 driver