HomeRail NewsDeveloping Ilford

Developing Ilford

Bombardier’s Ilford depot is a heavy maintenance depot in Essex, situated between Ilford and Seven Kings stations. It is operated by the company’s Services Division which has two roles – providing routine daily maintenance services for the train operating companies (TOCs) and offering more substantial vehicle overhaul and reengineering/asset life extension programmes for the rolling stock companies (ROSCOs). Ilford is part of that second category.

The approach road is cobbled, which adds a certain rustic charm as one drives down it between two parked-up class 315 sets in Greater Anglia colours. Security is tight yet efficient and the depot is neat and well-kept, but externally the two main buildings look like what they are – utilitarian railway workshops built in the 1940s.

Access to the main building is over a new- looking HoldFast level crossing across a couple of sidings. This leads to A Shop, which contains the offices and the general workshops. The office accommodation has been freshly refurbished and has a modern feel to it. In the workshop, all is tidy and well laid out. A Chiltern Railways class 165 was up on jacks, with no bogies. They had been rebuilt and were waiting to be reinstalled. On the next road was a shiny Greater Anglia class 315 in pristine white livery, and with no interior.

Better bogies

These two trains are a good example of the type of work that the Bombardier Services Division carries out at Ilford. A lot of bogie exchange work is undertaken – in fact the strategic spares stock of bogies for the Bombardier Electrostar fleet is held at Ilford.

The depot works closely with the Bombardier facility at Crewe, where the bogie overhauls are actually carried out. Old bogies are transported up by road, and freshly refurbished ones are returned the same way. When rebuilding a fleet, some spare bogies are fitted to the first train through the shop, so a rotation pattern can develop. Train two or three will be fitted with train one’s freshly rebuilt bogies.

In fact, Crewe is not the only other Bombardier facility that supplies Ilford. BTROS Electronics in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, which has been a Bombardier company since 2009, manufactures and services the passenger information systems and other electronic hardware.

Walking over to B Shop, one passes under a particularly ratty-looking footbridge. This carries a public footpath which crosses the site. Access to Bombardier’s land is blocked off, but the bridge traverses the entire width of the depot and the adjacent storage sidings, and looks as if a strong wind would carry it away. Needless to say, it isn’t Bombardier’s property.

Paint and sand do mix

B Shop contains two particularly interesting areas. The first is the paint line. It consists of three individual bays, one after the other on the same road, and all large enough to take a complete 26 metre long carriage. First in line is the shot blasting bay, where workers in complete dust protection suits with their own air supply sand blast old coaches to get them down to bare metal. Sometimes this can involve removing several layers of paint, all different colours from the various train operators that have owned that train in the past. That can take quite a time, and use a lot of sand by the time it is all removed, the floor looks like a young beach.

Once bare, the coach is winched through to the middle bay – the paint shop proper. Here it gets a protecting coat of primer. Steel bodies often have depressed spot welds while early aluminium bodies can have countersunk rivet heads exposed on the sides – in that case a thick spray filler-paint is used that will conceal those recesses.

If the carriage is in good condition, it moves into the third area. Here it is rubbed down to give a smooth finish to the primer coat. Once ready, the vehicle goes back to the paint shop for a coat of paint, and may then shuttle between the two bays a few times before being finished.

However, if the shot- blasting showed up anything too

unpleasant, another procedure is adopted. Sometimes, the blasting removes layers of filler, or old paint, and reveals bad corrosion and even holes underneath. In these cases, a coat of primer is still applied for protection, but the whole car is then taken back to B Shop so that the damage can be properly repaired before being returned for its final paint.

Under development and under wraps

The other half of B Shop contains a couple of roads where trains having a particularly intrusive overhaul can be housed. On the far right is a most interesting project. 317722 is a four-car train, one of the nine 317/7 sets which are now in storage having been released from Stansted Express.

Owner Angel Trains is taking advantage of the break in service to develop a heavily-revised version of this thirty year old train that could see it fit for another ten or fifteen years of service.

The project is to take the time until next summer to come up with a series of engineering improvements that can be readily fitted to the rest of the class 317 fleet, in total 72 four-car sets. Work revolves around two areas – the traction equipment, and the passenger cabin.

As built, the train had DC traction motors fitted to the single power car. These are being replaced by four new AC motors, one on each axle on the two motor bogies. The bogies

themselves were rebuilt only recently, so they aren’t being touched. Bombardier’s traction division at Västerås in Sweden has come up with an AC motor which not only is the same size as the DC original, it has the same mounting points. The motors can therefore be switched without modification to the bogies.

However, as the AC motors need more control equipment, the battery packs no longer fit under the power car. They have therefore been stripped out and are being relocated to the adjacent trailer car.

The new motors are also fitted with regenerative braking. The driver’s controls in both cabs will be modified to reflect the new traction package. The design work for this area of the project has been undertaken by a combination of Ilford and Derby-based engineers.

Inside, a completely new interior is being designed. When the trains were last rebuilt, by Railcare in 2000, air conditioning and a passenger information system were fitted. That is being retained. In fact, everything is being retained in two cars, so that they will have a ‘before’ look with their twelve year old upholstery, high partitions, large luggage racks and intrusive handrails.

The other two cars, however, will benefit from a range of improvements including new seats, smaller luggage racks and new partitions which will be lower than at present and angled back to enlarge the standing area near the doors. There will be new lighting, new door skins, and the whole interior will be lighter and appear more spacious. The ‘before and after’ effect will enable passengers and others to see immediately what has been done.

Bombardier engineers are being given the time to get the job done properly. As Dave Adams, general manager for heavy maintenance, commented: “Having a design project like this in the depot has been very refreshing. We have a partnership with Angel Trains rather than a customer/supplier relationship. They know they can depend on us as a safe pair of hands.”

Peter Keighron, the project manager, is equally upbeat. “This is an exciting project, and one that bodes well for the future. This is not a prototype train, it is a pre-series development. We fully intend that Angel will

be so pleased with the result that they will want to introduce the enhancements across the fleet, if not immediately then whenever the new franchises come into force.”

It is easy to see the buzz that having a design and development project, rather than conventional heavy overhaul, has created amongst the Ilford staff.

The new interior will be finished in July 2013, and the train will go back into service in November 2013, most likely with Greater Anglia. Then both the operator and passengers will be consulted for their views on the improvements.


Angel Trains’ involvement in the 317/7 project brings home the fact that although the trains that are being worked on at Ilford are operated by various TOCs, it is actually the ROSCOs which own the trains and are paying the bills. Bombardier also works with Angel Trains to do C4 overhauls on its class 165 and 317 fleets. Mark 3s are being worked on for Porterbrook, and C4 overhauls are being undertaken on class 315 and class 321 trains for Eversholt.

In a small building beside A Shop is a Hegenscheidt wheel lathe. Like much of the equipment at Ilford, this is not a newly installed electronic do-anything lathe such as the one at Etches Park in Derby – another Bombardier influenced site. This one was installed in 1984 but has been heavily updated since. CNC controls and integral gauging have made this single-axle lathe able to do almost anything. Team leader Colin Sloman has even developed some extension arms which mean the lathe can now turn wheels of up to 6’ 8” diameter – useful when 6233 Duchess of Sutherland needs attention. More conventional tooling is used on the regular Greater Anglia or C2C fleet.

Major move

Talking of Greater Anglia, its Seven Kings depot is at the other end of the site.

And shortly, there will be some new developments that will improve the area even further. Crossrail will need sidings to stable part of its fleet of new trains, whoever makes them, and Ilford is apparently an ideal place. A new arrangement of sidings will be built between the Greater Anglia and Bombardier depots. The snag is, that is exactly where B Shop is now.

As a result, major changes will happen in the next couple of years. A completely new shop will be built just to the south of the existing wheel lathe building. The existing paint shop will also be relocated to the London end of the site. As part of the development, A Shop will get a new roof, new cladding and other improvements which will completely transform its appearance, so that Bombardier is able to carry on with the same sort of work that it currently does in B Shop. When all that is done, the current B Shop will be torn down so that Crossrail can build its sidings. At that time, Bombardier’s boundary will be more-or-less under the long footbridge, which will be retained.

This development is independent of the fact that Bombardier is tendering to build the Crossrail trains. So whoever wins, some of the new fleet will be parked at Ilford.

With this development waiting to proceed over the next couple of years, and an order book that seems secure, Bombardier’s Ilford team appear to have a good future. the rail engineer will be back when 317722 is ready to be viewed, and tested.


  1. Isn’t it about time money was invested in new rolling stock instgead of refurbishing 30+ year old stock. The new stock might encourage more people to use the trains.

  2. Good idea.It’s not so much all brand new trains needed its the seating.Old seating sinks to depths of very uncomfortable.Renew the seats regularly.Higher and firmer gives a much happier ride.Well done to the Ilford yard for keeping a good standard for 70 years or more..


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