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How to Refit a Train in 9 days (Mid-life Refresh of Siemens’ Class 185 DMUs)

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Rail Engineer’s report on the 2017 RVE Exhibition (issue 157, November 2017) featured a paragraph describing the mid-life refresh of the Siemens Class 185 DMUs. This led to an invitation to see the work first hand and, in early March 2018, Rail Engineer visited Siemens’ Leeman Road Depot, York, to meet Lee Barron, who is leading the mid-life refresh project. Kirsty Maule, is project manager on site, and Simon Wildgoose, is responsible for day-to-day fleet delivery.


These trains were purchased for the former franchise specifically to provide Inter-City quality service on the trans-Pennine routes. 51 three-car units were obtained, the first of which entered service in 2006. They were so successful in attracting more customers that overcrowding was soon reported, but proposals to expand capacity (by lengthening the units to four cars) were unsuccessful.

Increasing capacity is a major objective of the new franchise awarded to First Group, which retained the TransPennine Express (TPE) name. This franchise commenced on 1 April 2016. TPE has committed to buying a number of new trains but will also retain some of the Eversholt Rail-owned Class 185 units, which will generally operate in six-car trains.

Class 185 cars are 23.8 metres long, with 1/3 and 2/3 door spacing. They are laid out to intercity standards and include provision for a trolley food-and-drink service.

To provide good performance on the hilly trans-Pennine routes, each car is fitted with a 560kW Cummins QSK19 engine driving through a Voith gearbox and final drive. They have a high power-to-weight ratio of approximately 10kW/t, which is approximately the same as a Voyager. They have a top speed of 100mph.

Lee said that, even before TPE won the franchise, Siemens and Eversholt Rail had been discussing how to maintain the value of these trains. They are reliable trains, and the mechanical equipment and bodywork are in good condition, but, after the past 10 years of intensive operation, the interiors and amenities were in need of a refresh.

TPE’s bid included retaining 29 units but supported the whole fleet being refreshed. Following the start of the franchise, the scope was developed to meet TPE’s aspirations. A contract valued at £32 million, or just over £600,000 per unit, was signed in early 2017. The first unit was taken out of service for the work on 9 June 2017 and completion of the entire fleet is planned by July 2018.

Mid-life refresh scope

The work involves renewing, repairing, repainting and recovering, as appropriate, all panelling, flooring and seats as well as providing or upgrading the following systems:

  • Providing Auto Passenger Counting (APC);
  • Providing mains and USB power sockets – one per pair of seats in standard and one per seat in first class;
  • Upgrading internal main and spot lighting to LED;
  • Providing Automatic Selective Door Opening;
  • Upgrading the Passenger Information System (PIS), including seven passenger information screens throughout the train that will show ‘Live’ travel data;
  • Providing Wi-Fi Ethernet backbone and media servers;
  • New livery (vinyl) and roof painting (which was completed early in an accelerated programme);
  • Upgrading the catering area with chilled food cabinets and cashing-up table;
  • Upgrading the headlights to LED;
  • Prepare the cab for a driver advisory system;
  • Providing new CCTV cameras, including forward and rear-facing CCTV (FFCCTV);
  • And a wholesale internal refresh – new seating, tables, floor finishes, vanity units, curtain and wall finishes.

Phasing of works

It is unusual for any operator to have enough trains to allow one or more to be taken out of service for extensive works such as these. Generally, those in charge of maintenance have to ‘tighten their belts’ for the duration of the work to make vehicles available. TPE requires 46 units in service (47 on Fridays). Lee Barron is allowed one unit out of service on weekdays and two at the weekend, leaving Simon Wildgoose with a worst case of three units to cover for casualties and planned maintenance, something that the team at the trains’ home base at Ardwick depot, Manchester, monitors constantly.

The works themselves are carried out on two purposely-modified roads at Siemens’ depot at York. Both the internal and external roads have been adapted with staging at train floor level to provide level and safe access/egress from the vehicles. There is also space for racking, workbenches and storage.

Lee described the production process for which nine days is allowed to complete each unit, the last two days being mainly used for on-train testing and the completion of return-to-service checks. Lee acknowledged that the first four units did take somewhat longer to complete due to the extent of learning being undertaken, but by units five and six this was down to two weeks.

The current schedule is as follows:

Day minus 3 (Wednesday prior) – Unit still available for service. A joint inspection is carried out to identify issues or faults on that unit so that issues can be identified and the work can be planned, for example, any signs of deterioration of the cab or toilet floors or the requirement for new mirrors in the toilets due to damage.

Day 1, (Saturday) – strip the interior – seats, grab poles, vanity units, panelling – with items planned for re-use carefully labelled so they may be refitted in the original position (lesson learned). This work continues into day 2. Seats are collected by Diamond Seating and poles collected by TBM, noting that a spare set of poles was purchased, but there is no float of seat frames.

Day 2 (Sunday AM) – the unit goes through an intensive deep clean of all the panels, heater grilles and doorways.

Day 2 (Sunday PM) – Icomera fits the Wi-Fi and PIS systems and passenger counting (APC) cables throughout the train.

Day 3 (Monday) – power/USB sockets and wiring fitted.

Day 4 to day 7 cover the re-build with specific items on particular days:

Day 4 (Tuesday) – APC sensors and LED lighting are installed; electrical testing of completed sockets and re-installation of ceiling panels are completed. At the same time, the new carpets are installed.

Day 5 (Wednesday) – seat frames (a lesson learned is that seat pedestals have to be fitted earlier, so they now stay at York and are cleaned/touched up on site), and grab poles are installed; Aura carries out spray painting and fitting of internal labels overnight.

Day 6 (Thursday) – standard seat frames and cushions are installed.

Day 7 (Friday) – first-class seats, frames and cushions, tables, bins are installed; the unit is cleaned.

Days 8, 9 (Saturday and Sunday) – pre-service checks and snagging are carried out.

Day 10 (Monday) – the unit returns to service, allocated to an out and back working from York.

Communication, relationships and just-in-time

There are some significant logistical challenges. There is little storage space at York, so the main stores for new items is at Unipart in Doncaster, with only immediate use items on site. Seats are on a critical path as some 180 seats are removed on a Saturday. There are just three days to repair/repaint the frames and just four days to provide totally new seat, cushion bases and backs.

Lee emphasised the close working relationship developed with his supply chain, which is absolutely critical to the success of the project and has led to much flexibility.

As an example, Lee highlighted that, during the recent appalling weather between 27 February and 5 March, just one day was lost. This resulted in unit 27’s seats not being ready to take away on Saturday 3 March and in Icomera coming in on Monday 5 March, rather than Sunday 4 March, to work on train 27. Lee was confident that the lost day would be recovered, and that the unit would be back in service on Monday 12 March as planned.

He also congratulated the supply chain on continuing to deliver safely in spite of the conditions faced because of the weather.

Whilst touring the site, a lot of people were working on the vehicles with plenty of opportunity to get in each other’s way, but there was plenty of good humour in evidence with the team working together. Kirsty Maule described the social media groups set up amongst the team to keep each other informed of progress and issues. (When your writer was involved with train repair and refurbishment, even text messaging was not available!) This communication is useful as the team members that start work on a unit will probably not complete it, in order to provide for proper rest breaks.

Engineering change and assessment

A significant effort was required to demonstrate that all the changes complied with the relevant standards and were fit for purpose. Every change – including changes of colour – required an Engineering Change notice to be agreed between Siemens, TPE and Eversholt Rail. Lee was pleased to report that they had streamlined the process from 40 to 20 days.

Formal assessment was required to demonstrate compliance with the Technical Specification for Interoperability for People with Reduced Mobility. There was also liaison with RSSB over LED headlights, and liaison with TPE staff representatives over the cab modifications (seats, FFCCTV and DAS).

There have been over 60 design meetings involving suppliers, Siemens, TPE and Eversholt Rail to collectively agree all the changes to the units. This just highlights the strong collaboration shown by all parties to achieve successful completion of the project.


Lee said it took 12 months and over 50 fire tests before they delivered seats (flat cloth, new foam) before the chosen material could be used in refresh programme. This was made more challenging as the customer required flat cloth and leather upholstery in standard class and full leather in first class.

Apart from the fire tests, the seats still have to be comfortable. Your writer can attest that the seats in both first and standard were supportive of his ample posterior – no ironing boards here! Moreover, a new suite of cleaning instructions has been developed and deployed by the Siemens presentation team to keep the new fabrics in good condition.

The various changes to the auxiliary electrical system provided some interesting challenges for the team. The provision of chilled food and drink cabinets, and the additional power sockets, would increase the load and the LED lights would reduce it. It was straightforward to show that all this was within the capability of the power subsystem.

An up-rated transformer is being provided to cope with the chillers’ start up load, but practical trials were required to determine the rating of the protection for the power sockets. They needed the MCB not to trip when everyone is charging their laptops, but to protect the system if higher-powered devices are connected despite the warning notices. Access to the MCB for the guard was also provided.

One imagines a “bring your electrical device to work” day for such a trial, which in reality is what Siemens did to test the system.

Unexpected discoveries

It seems to be a feature of refurbishment and refresh projects that problems are uncovered that no one was expecting. Lee was pleased that there was little to report on this aspect. Just a couple of toilet floors that had suffered severe water ingress, recognising that supposedly interchangeable panels should be refitted to their original location as they weren’t actually interchangeable, and some minor differences between the as-made drawings and the vehicles.

He also mentioned that TPE’s customer hosts found that their trolleys presented a tougher physical challenge to wheel across the new, thicker Axminster carpet, but another unexpected effect of the deeper pile was a quieter saloon environment than in the un-refreshed trains.

Vital statistics

Lee was pleased that most of the contractors were local, as was most of the on-site team. There are 27 different direct suppliers, 12 of which were involved in the design. TXM had supplied approximately 36 personnel for the site work and Lee said that, on average, the site team expended 1,600 hours on each unit. They would work 12-hour shifts, 06:00 to 18:00, and night work was confined to specialists (Icomera and Aura).

In addition, while completing the works, Siemens has also taken the opportunity to raise funds for the Railway Children Charity. Simply, for the duration of the modification works, each of the 51 units get renamed for a donation. The allocated name is installed onto the passenger information system and each contributor will be awarded a certificate, which includes an interesting fact about their renamed unit. All the units have been allocated names, raising over £1,000 for the charity.


Your writer made a point of travelling to York via TPE services and had the luck to travel on both original and refreshed units. The original train was comfortable but worn and lacked useful customer facilities such as Wi-Fi; it had an early 2000’s look and feel. The refreshed unit looked more contemporary, was comfortable for a journey of over an hour and Wi-Fi was a bonus.

Thanks to Siemens’ Emma Whittaker for organising the visit and to Lee Barron, Simon Wildgoose and Kirsty Maule for their patient explanations.

Read more: Northern’s trains from Spain


Malcolm Dobell BTech CEng FIMechE
Malcolm Dobell BTech CEng FIMechEhttp://therailengineer.com
SPECIALIST AREAS Rolling stock, depots, systems integration, fleet operations. Malcolm Dobell worked for the whole of his 45-year career with London Underground. He entered the Apprentice Training Centre in Acton Works in 1969 as an engineering trainee, taking a thin sandwich course at Brunel University, graduating with an honours degree in 1973. He then worked as part of the team supervising the designs of all the various items of auxiliary equipment for new trains, which gave him experience in a broad range of disciplines. Later, he became project manager for the Jubilee Line’s first fleet of new trains (displaced when the extension came along), and then helped set up the train refurbishment programme of the 90s, before being appointed Professional Head of Rolling stock in 1997. Malcolm retired as Head of Train Systems Engineering in 2014 following a career during which he had a role in the design of all the passenger trains currently in service - even the oldest - and, particularly, bringing the upgraded Victoria line (rolling stock and signalling) into service. He is a non-executive director of CPC Systems, a systems engineering company that helps train operators improve their performance. A former IMechE Railway Division Chairman and a current board member, he also helps to organise and judge the annual Railway Challenge and is the chair of trustees for a multi academy trust in Milton Keynes.


  1. Good article Malcolm. These sort of pieces are invaluable for advising the railway community of the lessons that can be learned from other’s experiences. This journal is becoming a very useful resource.


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