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Growth and transformation

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Views tend to be polarised on rail privatisation. Those who consider it a failure cite high fares, increased costs Finsbury Park. and overcrowded trains. Others feel it is a great improvement over an inefficient British Rail as it has attracted more passengers and provided increased investment. As in all debates, there is some truth on both sides.

This much was evident from an address given by this year’s Chair of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Railway Division, Chris Kinchin-Smith, which was delivered at the Division’s seven centres and the Institution’s London headquarters. Entitled ‘Growth and Transformation’, it described significant improvements he had witnessed in his career and explained why long-term predictions show a continuing increase in passengers for which further transformations will be required.

British Rail transformations

In 1960, Finsbury Park became Britain’s first purpose- built diesel locomotive depot. It maintained eight of the 22 Deltic diesel locomotives that replaced 55 Pacific steam locomotives. As the depot’s senior technical officer, Chris learned many excellent practices from the depot’s management and how the Eastern Region continually increased line speeds to take full advantage of the Deltics’ ability to cruise at 100 mph for mile after mile.

In the late 70s, the East Coast service was further transformed by the arrival of High Speed Trains (HSTs). The development of the iconic HST, the world’s fastest diesel train, was probably British Rail’s best ever investment. It cost £800,000 (£11 million in today’s money) to produce the prototype, which took less than two years to build and was delivered in 1972. Next year, the IMechE’s Railway Division is to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the HST’s introduction to service, which took place on 4 October 1976.

The introduction of HSTs on the East Coast route saw depots built at Bounds Green, Heaton and Craigentinny. However, the main base at Leeds Neville Hill was a DMU and coaching stock depot with some buildings dating from the steam era on which just £20 million at today’s prices was to be invested. Chris, then the depot’s traction and rolling stock engineer, and subsequently depot engineer, described the culture change programme required, as previously it had not been a “world beating depot”. This included a huge investment in training and the appointment of shift production managers for a 24/7 management presence. A unified depot management was also introduced to make shunters and carriage cleaners part of the depot maintenance team.

In 1982, BR introduced sector management to give bottom line accountability. Primacy was given to five business sectors (Inter City, Regional Railways, Network South East (NSE), Freight and Parcels). Chris was then area fleet manager, Thames & Chiltern and later, NSE route manager, Solent and Wessex. In both roles, he experienced a changed management ethos that emphasised both growing revenue and reducing costs. Investment to grow the business included new trains on the Thames and Chiltern routes and the Bournemouth-Weymouth electrification, one of 17 electrification schemes implemented by NSE.
Prototype High Speed Train [online]

 Privatised transformations

Although the early years of the privatised railway were a difficult time for the industry, there were successes. As a consultant, Chris worked for Christopher Garnett, chief executive of the Great North Eastern Railway (GNER), who he regarded as a visionary leader that transformed the company through customer commitment and stakeholder management. He achieved this without new rolling stock and despite the accidents at Hatfield and Great Heck.

A transformation that did require new stock was the way that the ‘red team’, Virgin Trains, had embraced the West Coast modernisation to make best use of the class 390 Pendolino electric high-speed trains. Chris had seen this whilst at the Strategic Rail Authority and noted that a significant part of the successful introduction of these trains was transforming the depots that previously had a traditional outlook. This required a lot of work to change culture and introduce lean processes.

After British Rail proposed closing Marylebone station in 1984, it was saved from closure by Chris Green, director of Network South East. Green then also oversaw an investment programme for the Chiltern route that included new trains and signalling. In 1996, the Chiltern Railways franchise was awarded to a management buy- out led by Adrian Shooter, who ran the route from 1993 to his retirement in 2011. During this time, he achieved his vision of rebuilding the Chilterns route, including its redoubling between Princess Risborough and Banbury. October saw the latest phase of this transformation, a new service to Oxford via a new chord at Bicester.

British Rail’s London Tilbury and Southend (LTS) was known as the misery line. Now, as c2c, it is the UK’s most punctual train operating company (TOC) following the delivery of Bombardier’s Electrostar trains. c2c’s confidence in its performance is such that it has an app that offers passengers instant compensation if their trains are more than two minutes late.

The final transformation example mentioned was the conversion of some of London’s forgotten railways into a full orbital route around the capital, with new trains and enhanced infrastructure. London Overground’s provision of frequent trains on this route, operating for long hours at staffed stations with no graffiti, is an impressive achievement. Transport for London has created a world- class service that would have been undreamt of twenty years ago.

Perception is reality

In his presentation, Chris readily acknowledged that his examples of transformation are, to an extent, anecdotal, and he recognised the need to quantify such successes. For this, he proposed a measure of customer satisfaction, as passengers’ perceptions are the reality. There are a number of such surveys. However, Transport Focus is the one with the largest sample size and longest track record having published national rail passenger surveys twice a year since 1999. Plotting the overall satisfaction indices on graphs for each type of TOC over this period reveals some interesting results.

Apart from a dip at the time of the Hatfield crash, satisfaction for long distance TOCs was between 80 and 90 per cent over this time. East Coast started and finished as the highest scoring TOC, although, for four years up to 2013, Virgin Trains had scored just over 90.

Of the regional TOCs, Merseyrail was consistently the highest scoring, despite its 30-year-old trains. ScotRail and Arriva Trains Wales had scores in the high eighties, whilst Northern Rail had been below eighty for the past few years, perhaps because this franchise was let with minimum subsidy.

Graphs for the London & South East (L&SE) TOCs confirm the success of the Chiltern, London Overground and c2c transformations with these three TOCs scoring around the 90 mark for the past few years. At its lowest, c2c had scored just over 50 in 2001 and, when it first operated in 2007, London Overground’s score was in the mid 60s.

Passenger Growth [online]

Perhaps not surprisingly, at between 70 and 80 per cent, the larger L&SE TOCs have the lowest passenger satisfaction, although this is an improvement on the 60 to 70 figure of ten years ago. The current low figure is no doubt a reflection on over-crowding and deteriorating punctuality, plus the disruption being experienced during infrastructure works for the Thameslink project.

The national rail passenger survey shows what passengers want. The biggest impact on overall satisfaction is punctuality, cleanliness and comfort. As far as dissatisfaction is concerned, a poor response to delays is by far the most significant factor. To achieve a high passenger satisfaction score requires trust. This demands emotional engagement, staff excellence and making passengers feel valued or in control, for which the c2c automatic refund app is a good example.

Unpredicted unprecedented growth

Whatever Britain’s rail passengers may think about their TOCs, they have been travelling in ever-increasing numbers since British Rail was abolished in 1994. At that time, UK rail passenger miles were the same as in 1950 when the rail network was about twice its current size. Between 1950 and 1994, passenger traffic fluctuated in accordance with economic cycles and other factors. Yet, after privatisation, traffic has steadily risen with barely a blip from the 2008 recession. Now passenger numbers are twice that of 1994.

This demand has risen faster than predicted by any transport models. Moreover, it is far greater than that experienced by other Western European countries – for example, it is more than twice the growth experienced by France and Germany.

So what’s different about the UK? Why wasn’t this growth predicted and what’s wrong with traffic forecasting models? Answers to these questions are needed to understand whether this growth is to continue.

Factors driving the current growth include higher-than- forecast population growth, the boom in the housing market forcing longer-distance commuting, increases in city-centre service jobs and a significant drop in car mileage which has fallen due to rises in insurance and other running costs, changes to company car taxation, increasing congestion and reduced city-centre parking places. In fact, men in their 20s are now driving much less and an increasing number do not drive at all.

Technology has also made rail travel more attractive. The Internet offers easy advance purchase and fare visibility as well as enabling better use of time on trains. Other improvements include better revenue protection and improved car parks. Some of these factors are not easy to model.

It seems certain that a significant part of this growth is due to privatisation. This is the conclusion of economists Oxera who, in a report for the Rail Delivery Group, concluded that changes to the structure of the industry have accounted for between 25 and 75 per cent of the increased traffic. It is, however, impossible to say how the industry might have developed in the absence of privatisation.

Yet more growth?

Understanding whether this growth is to continue is essential when planning the rail network’s long-term capability. For this reason, the industry has developed a Long Term Planning Process (LTPP) with a 30-year horizon. The LTPP involves all parties concerned and considers four scenarios: ‘prospering in global stability’, ‘prospering in isolation’, ‘struggling in isolation’ and ‘struggling in global turmoil’.

Initial conclusions are that it is unlikely that the factors favouring rail will change in the short-term, so it is concluded that growth will continue. Whilst growth could vary significantly over 30 years, the required increase in railway infrastructure capacity has a very long lead-time. Hence, the industry’s strategic planning is based on the high end of the demand forecast, whilst other scenarios are used for sensitivity testing.

The LTPP outputs are available on Network Rail’s website. These include four market studies and six of the twelve planned route studies. One of these, the Wessex route study covers some of the UK’s busiest routes and it predicts a 40 per cent increase in growth on both main line and suburban services to Waterloo by 2043. Even without growth, much additional capacity is needed on the Wessex main lines as standing is now commonplace for peak journeys of up to on one-hour’s duration.

Crossrail train 1 copy [online]

To provide the required increase in capacity, various options are considered. The principal infrastructure options include a fifth track from Surbiton to Clapham Junction, a second Crossrail from South West to North East London, and deployment of the proposed (but untried) Level 3 of the European Train Control System. Clearly providing the required capacity has huge infrastructure implications.

Trains, electrification and skills

Network Rail’s LTPP is complemented by the rail industry’s long-term passenger rolling stock strategy (RSS) (issue 115, May 2014) for which Chris is the project director. This uses the same planning assumptions as the LTPP and considers seven generic fleet types (short, medium and long distance electric and diesel, plus very high speed electric). Its low, medium and high predictions for the number of rail passenger vehicles in 2043 are respectively around 19,000, 22,000 and 25,000. This compares with the current 12,775 vehicles shown in the last edition of the RSS.

Possible electrification scenarios are considered to derive low, medium and high predictions of respectively 62, 71 and 77 per cent for total track miles electrified by 2034. This compares with the current figure of 41 per cent. Whatever the electrification scenario, the last edition of the RSS predicted that, by 2029, self-powered vehicles would be less than 10 per cent of the total. However, these scenarios are being updated following the review of Network Rail’s enhancements programme by Sir Peter Hendy and will be incorporated in the next edition of the RSS, due to be published in March.

The RSS gives manufacturers and the supply chain the confidence to develop their production capacity. It also helps create a consensus between Network Rail, TOCs, ROSCOs (rolling stock leasing companies) and Government to match infrastructure enhancement and rolling stock provision as well as highlighting opportunities for standardisation and improving value for money.

To support a significantly increased fleet size, the RSS considers future requirements for depots and berthing. It stresses the need to ‘future proof’ depots by passive provision for longer trains and also highlights the forecast shortage of engineering skills. This is a particular problem for traction and rolling stock on which 14,500 engineering and technical staff are currently employed. According to research by the National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR), a 57 per cent increase in such staff will be required over the next ten years as 4,900 are due to retire while a further 3,300 will be required for the extra vehicles.

To address this issue, the Department for Transport, Rail Supply Group and NSAR are developing a national transport skills strategy, to be published in January. As part of this, the Government has recently outlined plans to create more than 30,000 apprenticeships in the transport industries by 2020.

Future transformation

There is a strong consensus that rail passenger growth will continue into the foreseeable future. To meet this demand, significant infrastructure investment and a large increase in rolling stock is required. If the industry is to manage this additional capacity in a cost-effective manner, an organisational transformation will also be necessary.

As has been seen, transformations take around ten years or longer, require visionary leadership and a true partnership between infrastructure and train operators. This highlights the need for greater devolution from Network Rail such as deep alliances and joint ventures. In Chris’s view, the extent of devolution so far has been fairly shallow.

Today, UK rail has political support. Its contribution to the economy is recognised, as is the severe impact of the rail network failing to meet future demand. Forty years ago, such support could not have been imagined. In contrast, at this time France had just made a start on its high-speed rail network and had rolled out its prototype Train à Grande Vitesse. Work had also just started on Paris’s Crossrail, the Réseau Express Régional.

Projects such as HS2 and Crossrail 2 offer the required step-change in capacity and the opportunity to catch up. The challenge for the rail industry is to continue to transform itself in order to deliver this extra capacity in a cost effective manner.

David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEM
David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEMhttp://therailengineer.com

Rolling stock, depots, Scottish and Russian railways

David Shirres joined British Rail in 1968 as a scholarship student and graduated in Mechanical Engineering from Sussex University. He has also been awarded a Diploma in Engineering Management by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

His roles in British Rail included Maintenance Assistant at Slade Green, Depot Engineer at Haymarket, Scottish DM&EE Training Engineer and ScotRail Safety Systems Manager.

In 1975, he took a three-year break as a volunteer to manage an irrigation project in Bangladesh.

He retired from Network Rail in 2009 after a 37-year railway career. At that time, he was working on the Airdrie to Bathgate project in a role that included the management of utilities and consents. Prior to that, his roles in the privatised railway included various quality, safety and environmental management posts.

David was appointed Editor of Rail Engineer in January 2017 and, since 2010, has written many articles for the magazine on a wide variety of topics including events in Scotland, rail innovation and Russian Railways. In 2013, the latter gave him an award for being its international journalist of the year.

He is also an active member of the IMechE’s Railway Division, having been Chair and Secretary of its Scottish Centre.

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