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Hitachi’s new maintenance regime

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Ask an engineer or programme manager what they want for their new project, and very often they will say “a clean sheet of paper”. It’s Utopia. The chance to start something fresh with no conditions, no carry-over technology and no pre-set boundaries will, of course, never happen.

It’s a nice idea, but, as they say, “there’s nothing new under the sun” – someone has always done it before.

New trains?

As an example, consider the Intercity Express Programme or, more precisely, the servicing and maintenance arrangements for the new fleet of Class 800/801/802 trains. The trains themselves weren’t designed on a clean sheet of paper. There’s Class 395 Javelin train technology in there, as well as Japanese Shinkansen practice. All built previously by Hitachi, and with ideas carried over to the new train.

There will be three new depots to house and maintain the trains – at Stoke Gifford near Bristol, Swansea Maliphant and Doncaster Carr. But Hitachi has also taken over the former Eurostar depot at North Pole, near Paddington, and will be taking possession of Craigentinny (Edinburgh) and Bounds Green (North London).

So the clean sheet of paper is now grey, with darker patches.

Still, it is a new programme, with new challenges, so Rail Engineer met with Ian Dawson, head of operations delivery at Hitachi, to find out just how much clean paper he had been allowed.

Development testing

Ian’s experience comes through introducing new vehicles and equipment to the army – in Iraq and Afghanistan – which was quite a demanding task. After 29 years of that, Ian was asked to take over Hitachi’s new operation.

“As we went into operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the army introduced a whole, complete new fleet,” Ian recalled. “So I’m quite used to introducing new equipment and that doesn’t happen very often in the railway. We’re going to replace 40 year old trains with IEP, so that’s certainly a skill set that I can bring to Hitachi.”

There are really two stages to the programme. The first is the testing of the new trains, particularly the prototype (early production) versions, to find out how they perform, and how they will wear. As the first trains run up and down the Great Western and East Coast main lines, they will be subject to rigorous testing. Any faults encountered will need to be understood and corrected, so that the test programme can continue uninterrupted.

Once the early failures have been eliminated, and designs tweaked, the next element is understanding how parts wear, and when they will need replacing. Some parts will obviously be prone to wear – tyres, bearings, couplers, pantographs. But how quickly will they wear? And when will they become worn out and need replacing or, in the case of the wheel profiles, re-machining?

“Depending how new the technology is, how new the systems and subsystems are and how new the train is, we’ll get an accrued set of failures across the various systems,”
Ian explained. “Some components, some of the bogie parts, are well known so we’ve got some evidence in terms of running experience. But other bits are new and then there’s the integration of the whole train, which will potentially bring its own sort of engineering problems.

“The initial spares inventory was largely based on information on expected wear-out rates, failure rates. So there was a challenge in understanding the train’s behaviour in the early days and the more testing we can do, of course, the further we can come along that early fault curve and the more confidence we’ll have in the train.”

That’s one reason Hitachi is running several test trains at once. Testing a single train would result in a narrow band of data, whereas testing several trains on different lines can give a much broader result.

Some of the results will be expected – it’s not whether a part will wear but how quickly. But the test programme will be bound to throw up some unexpected results – a part is wearing much more quickly than was expected, or is wearing when it shouldn’t really wear at all. That’s what happens with new machinery, and that’s what testing is all about.

Condition-based maintenance

And that brings us to the second stage of the programme, maintenance and overhauls. The more concrete evidence that Ian and his team have, the more they can make sensible decisions about maintenance intervals (for fixed-period servicing) and wear allowances (for condition- based maintenance).

This is complicated as the different supply contracts Hitachi has for IEP trains have different servicing conditions attached.

“Fundamentally, we’ve tried to make everything the same, so the core values, the core ethos of our maintenance strategy, is the same,” Ian continued. “But East Coast will have a distributed lay down in the evening for the trains whereas, with Great Western, the trains generally come back to the two main depots. So already you can see a difference in terms of where we can work on the trains.

“Great Western trains have to come back to the depot, so that’s fairly easy, we’ve got some people, we’ve got some material, everything’s around that train, that’s good. Trains on East Coast, however, may end up in Scotland or in Leeds or York, outside of that depot network, so we need a distributed inspection, maintenance or repair system.”

Hitachi will be undertaking all aspects of maintenance for the IEP trains. Cleaning, as well as the charging and emptying of tanks, will be carried out by the train operators or their contractors, but all aspects of maintenance, even the fairly trivial, will fall to Hitachi.

“When we talk about reliability with IEP,” said Ian, “we’re not just talking about what we would understand as major component reliability, we’re talking about the inside of the train as well. So in the kitchen unit, should the microwave fail, we need to go and put in a new microwave, the same with the lights and other equipment.

“On occasion, we’ll even have to send technicians to where the train is in service, board it and carry out the replacement while the train is still running.”

So even though most of the work will be carried out at the main depots, Hitachi will still have staff who can do minor repairs and replacements at stabling sites such as Leeds, York, Aberdeen and Penzance.

But if a major piece of work is needed, the train will have to go to a depot – Craigentinny, Doncaster or Bounds Green on the ECML, North Pole, Stoke Gifford or Swansea on the Great Western.

But aren’t Cragentinny and Bounds Green currently Virgin Trains’ depots?

“They will become ours,” Ian clarified. “They come across to Hitachi in August 2018, to do Hitachi work but also to do third-party work. So any servicing still being carried out on HSTs and other classes will be performed by Hitachi.”

Staff will transfer over seamlessly – with just a change of the brand on their clothing.

And there’s more…

In an interesting aside, Hitachi is building Class 385 trains for Abellio ScotRail (ASR) – the company’s AT200 model. These will also be maintained at Craigentinny. So, until August 2018, Hitachi will contract servicing and maintenance from ASR. From that date, Hitachi will undertake the maintenance itself, and ASR will instead contract servicing of the HST fleet and other classes.

With such a diverse geographical area, Ian is keen to establish one method of working across all of the depots. This will not only bring benefits in terms of efficiency and cost control, but will help the staff too.

“As the operating model, or the core of it, will essentially be standardised in terms of Hitachi’s processes and principles, so we can move someone from Stoke Gifford to Edinburgh if they wanted to go. I think it’s very positive to be a member of an organisation that’s got a depot network that goes from Bristol to Edinburgh.

“Also, with a network like that, we can hopefully create opportunities for promotion, filling a vacancy in one location with an applicant from another and creating an ability for people to move up the ladder.”

Training of staff will be a major undertaking. Virgin Trains staff at Craigentinny will be trained in advance, while they are still Virgin employees. And once they have become Hitachi employees, they will still be working on HSTs, Class 91s and other types of train so the Hitachi system will have to account for those as well.

A first for Hitachi

Going back to the “sheet of paper” analogy, one thing that will be new is the introduction of a condition-based maintenance system. Hitachi has never done it before, in the UK or in Japan. It has been coming, Ashford uses condition- based information to make decisions, but the

IEP programme will bring the first full-blown application of remote condition monitoring and a condition-based maintenance cycle.

Planning will be done differently as well. A Hitachi team will sit with Network Rail and the train operator in the ROC (rail operating centre) all day every day. That team will feed information to the central planning cell which in turn will be in contact with the depot teams, using that data, plus input from remote condition monitoring on the train, to plan maintenance work for the night ahead and for the future.

“Take the example of failing doors, a classic in the railway business,” commented Ian. “We will spot something failing and we’ll be able to monitor the reaction of the doors. So we will be able to plan to deal with it tonight, discover that it’s going to be in Inverness, plan to re-diagram it, or actually, because we know what that problem is, decide to send someone out to train.

“And as we get to understand the train better, over time, we’ll understand where we are in the parameters and we’ll be able to make a judgement of whether we must do it tonight, or whether we can wait until the train is in Doncaster in three days’ time as we know that it’s not going to fail before then.

“It’s all about empowering everyone, at every level, to make appropriate decisions, giving them the information to make good decisions and then supporting them once they’ve made them.

“We’re doing a lot of scenario assessment at the moment, and will continue to for some time. We’re trying to understand what scenarios would put the ROC team in a certain situation and what options would they have as there will be spare trains ready and positioned around the network. So we’ve got redundancy built into the fleet such that, if one needs to come out of service, we can then bring in one of the hot spare trains – there will be one at Doncaster for example.”

So with a condition-based maintenance regime, spare trains positioned around the network ready to go at a moment’s notice, and empowered planning teams making crucial decisions, it’s a whole new way of working for Hitachi.

Almost a clean sheet of paper…

Read more: Take a look around Hitachi’s Pistoia train production plant



  1. Will it be a seamless changeover for staff on the East Coast? Going from a TOC to an Engineering firm will mean loosing the benefits of working on the railway (final salary pension, discounted travel etc)


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