HomeEditor's ViewIssue 157 - Good news and bad news

Issue 157 – Good news and bad news

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Rail Engineer’s editor, David Shirres, gives his thoughts on some of the topics addressed in issue 157 – Bi-Mode Trains: Unlocking Opportunity?

The good news is that almost 7,000 new rail passenger vehicles are being delivered or on order. These will displace many of the vehicles in the current fleet, which consists of over 13,000 coaches. Some, like the Pacers, are at the end of their serviceable life and will be scrapped. Others will be cascaded to provide longer and more frequent trains. However, a few thousand serviceable vehicles will be surplus to requirement. Many of these will be EMUs that can only be used if there is further electrification of the network.

There are various reasons for this extraordinary number of orders. One is that the capital cost of new trains is about a third of their whole life cost. As modern trains become more energy efficient, cheaper to maintain and more reliable, there is a stronger case for the disposal of not-quite-so-new trains even if the result is miles of sidings full of unwanted yet serviceable trains.

Other factors are cheap finance, increased focus on quality in train franchises and the reduced cost of modern trains. In the 1990s, an EMU vehicle cost typically £2.2 million at 2017 prices. Now, the price is around £1.5 million and this includes modern passenger facilities and, usually, a maintenance contract.

In an industry often criticised for its increased costs, train manufacturers have shown how competition and innovation can keep costs down. So, where’s the bad news?

The answer is the cut back of electrification, with the consequent uncertainty over future schemes, and how this is based on the flawed claim that the new type of bi-mode trains is the “best available technology” to improve passenger journeys. Yet the traction power of a Great Western IEP in diesel mode is only about seventy per cent of that in electric mode. Malcolm Dobell explains this, and much more, in his comprehensive article about bi-mode trains.

Bi-modes are also much more expensive to run and maintain. Diesel fuel is significantly more costly than electric traction. The higher maintenance costs are reflected in the IEP’s procurement contract, which includes 27 years maintenance. This shows the contract cost of a GW IEP is 56 per cent more than an East Coast IEP, due to the higher proportion of diesel-powered miles done by bi-mode trains in the GW fleet.

Over the IEP train’s lifetime, these extra costs add up to billions of pounds. When these, and other factors such as unused surplus EMUs, are considered, the question that needs to be asked is – where is the business case for not electrifying core routes?

To be fair, Hitachi’s bi-mode IEP is an impressive piece of kit and, as Malcolm explains, is a good way of getting beyond the electrified network to, say Penzance and Inverness. Moreover, packaging diesel power packs underneath the train eliminates the need for power cars and so provides extra seats.

In Scotland, the Class 385 will also to provide much needed extra seats. We report on these trains and how they are being built alongside IEPs in Hitachi’s Newton Aycliffe plant.

Much must be done to ensure successful service entry of these trains. Clive Kessell explains why a simulator is essential if Virgin East Coast’s 400 drivers are to be trained on the complexities of their new IEP trains before their introduction in December 2018.

We also cover the construction of the new IEP depots, whilst Stuart Marsh also reports on a particularly challenging depot build for Northern’s new Class 195 DMUs in Blackburn.

Stewart Thorpe reports from our summit on sustainability, a topic that requires the right balance between the needs of the environment, the economy and society. A hot topic at the summit was the Government’s announcement that it is to cut back electrification and instead rely on diesel trains. In contrast, this was followed by a further statement a week later, that sales of diesel cars would be banned from 2040 on environmental grounds.

With the eastern end of the GW main line to be fully electrified to Didcot by December, Graham Combs describes his trip in Caroline’s front end to for see for himself how electrification and other enhancements have transformed the line.

The wheel/rail interface is a complex topic. In our second feature in a three-part series on railway accidents, Graham Taylor explains what can cause the wheel to leave to the rail. Another aspect of this interface is wheel-slide in low adhesion conditions, which can be prevented by sanding. We describe how this is being investigated at the Old Dalby test track.

The world’s first test track at Scherbinka is the setting for Russia’s biennial rail trade fair, EXPO1520 which, as we describe offered glimpses into the past and future. It also showed how the European rail industry is taking advantage of Russian export opportunities.

Just up the road from Old Dalby is Derby, which hosts the annual Rail Vehicle Enhancements show. Such is the success of this exhibition that this year it had to move to larger premises. We report on the new products on display as well as presentations on the implications of the large numbers of new vehicles and train refurbishment.

The show’s meet the buyer event put 76 companies in touch with train builders throughout Europe and was considered to be very worthwhile. The business generated as a result is certainly good news.


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