HomeEditor's ViewIssue 162 - New trains, feast and famine

Issue 162 – New trains, feast and famine

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Between 2016 and 2021, around £11 billion is being invested in seven thousand rail passenger vehicles, more than half the current UK fleet. Less than a thousand vehicles entered service in the previous six years.

These new train orders are due to cheap finance and, since 2015, a greater emphasis on quality in the DfT’s franchise specifications. Furthermore, the capital cost of these 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 them replacing not-quite-so-new trains.

The Rail Delivery Group estimates that these new trains will increase the number of vehicles in service from 13,000 to 15,900. Adding three thousand or so new coaches is undoubtedly good news for passengers. However, this also means that around four thousand vehicles will be surplus to requirement. If stored, these would require sidings around 50 miles long.

Whilst some of these trains, like the Pacers, should have been withdrawn years ago, it seems certain that thousands of perfectly serviceable vehicles will also be scrapped due to the high cost of storing them in an operational condition. Some of these will be electric trains that could have been used had electrification schemes not been cancelled.

Thousands of new trains are therefore not necessarily good news for the taxpayer or the UK rolling stock industry, especially companies that specialise in life extension and overhaul. This also has an impact on the original rolling stock leasing companies that provide an important stewardship role for trains beyond the life of the franchise. These companies are only financing a third of these new trains – the remainder are being bankrolled by finance houses which buy-in the required rolling stock expertise.

Beyond 2021, it is likely that a famine will follow the current feast of orders. Yet three companies have plans to build new train factories in Britain. However, for train manufacturers, there is the prize of trains for HS2 trains which enter service in 2026.

While the RDG figures are for mainline trains, one mustn’t forget the London Underground deep tube fleets, which will be replaced over the next few years on the Piccadilly, Bakerloo, Central and Waterloo & City lines. If replaced like-for-like, that’s another 1,400 cars in the next decade.

Although the long-term implications of the current historically high volume of orders are not fully clear, a feast and famine cycle of train orders cannot be a good thing. One consequence of these large orders is that some of them are being delivered by train builders that have not supplied trains to the UK on a large scale before.

One such company is CAF of Spain, which has previously supplied trains for Heathrow Express and trams for Edinburgh and Birmingham. We report on how they are building DMUs and EMUs for Northern Rail and how CAF sees the UK to be an important market as shown by its new factory in South Wales, which will open this summer.

Another new train order is the Hitachi-built class 385 EMUs for ScotRail. We explain the reasons why their entry into service has been delayed and show that, however thorough the testing programme, unforeseen problems can still arise.

Much needs to be done to ensure the successful introduction of these new trains, including depot alterations. To illustrate this, we explain the changes to both the role and fabric of Scottish depots where there is a significant interaction between the four new fleets being introduced by three train operators.

As well as acquiring new trains, TransPennine Express is also refurbishing its ten-year old DMU fleet. This includes the provision of facilities now deemed essential, such as mains and USB power sockets. Malcolm Dobell describes the challenges of this work, including its logistical challenges and ensuring sufficient units are available for service.

The new trains being delivered have passive provision for ETCS. This is just one example of a modern signalling system requiring in-cab equipment. Another is COMPASS, which, as Clive Kessell explains, is an innovative way of keeping trains moving during a signalling failure.

The increasing number of trains carrying containers between China and Europe was recently the subject of a conference in Vienna that, as we report, considered what has to be done to accommodate this ever-increasing traffic. This includes the need for the European rail network to accommodate ever-increasing numbers of long container trains from Asia, as well as the requirement for frictionless borders.

Rail Media’s Asset Management Summit had much to say on how to get the best value from both trains and infrastructure. Stewart Thorpe reports on the event, which included optimising maintenance of Voyager trains and the need to treat data as an asset.

The asset that is the signalling supply system is about to benefit from the new technologies of Distribution Interface Transformer Assemblies (DITA) and network modelling using the Target Earth Calculation Model, as Tahir Ayub explains in his feature on their safety and performance benefits.

With Infrarail only a few weeks away, much of this month’s magazine describes what’s on offer, including over 200 exhibitors and high-profile keynote speakers at Rail Engineer’s seminar theatre. Do come to see us there.

Read more: Rail Partnership Awards returns for 2018


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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