HomeEditor's ViewIssue 168 - Affordable trains, expensive infrastructure

Issue 168 – Affordable trains, expensive infrastructure

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Over 7,000 new rail passenger vehicles are to enter service between 2014 and 2021, representing more than half the UK fleet. These orders are due to a combination of factors including cheap finance, lower manufacturing costs, franchise quality requirements and new trains having lower operating and maintenance costs, as described in our feature on remote condition monitoring this month.

Whilst this is apparently good news, there are downsides. The Rail Delivery Group estimates that these new trains will provide an extra 3,000 vehicles in service. Thus, thousands of serviceable surplus vehicles are likely to be scrapped, as leasing companies are unlikely to pay for their storage. This adds cost to the industry and threatens rolling stock companies, which provide heavy-maintenance and enhancement services.

Only a small proportion of these new trains will be owned by the original rolling stock companies (ROSCOs), which provided a stewardship service over the vehicle’s lifetime. It will be interesting to see how this role will be exercised by the finance houses that will own the remainder of these new trains.

Over the years, the price of new trains hasn’t changed much. At today’s prices, in the 1980s, the East Coast electrification scheme spent £447 million on 299 passenger vehicles and their locomotives, representing £1.5 million per coach. The cost of recent train orders is just under £2 million per coach.

In contrast, current electrification schemes have cost seven times more per mile than the East Coast scheme. Given changes to standards and traffic levels, this is not a totally fair comparison. However, it shows that today’s electrification costs much more than it should, as we explained in issue 164 (June 2018). Signalling costs are also increasing. Ten years ago, the renewal cost of a signalling equivalent unit was £200,000, now it is around £500,000.

Mark Carne addresses the issue of project costs in his interview with Nigel Wordsworth, in which he points out that the Great Western electrification scheme was over budget because it was an immaturely planned project. Yet there must be other lessons that need to be learnt to reduce the rising project costs that led to the cancellation of many projects following Network Rail’s reclassification as an arms-length government body.

Nevertheless, Carne has done much to promote improved project discipline, including avoidance of bank holiday project overruns. His wide-ranging interview is an interesting read which highlights his belief that diversity and inclusion drives better business performance and shows his passion for safety improvement.

The safe operation of old rail vehicles has its own challenges, as Malcolm Dobell reports following his visit to the Severn Valley Railway. His article shows that, with the support of the Boiler and Engineering Skills Training Trust and Heritage Railway Association, this heritage railway has a modern approach to developing both competence and a just safety culture.

Another heritage railway, the Great Central Railway, is expected to be used for type approval testing of the class 769 Flex units which will be Britain’s first tri-mode trains. These are the result of an initiative by Porterbook Leasing to fit a diesel engine to surplus dual-voltage Class 319 units. Two articles describe these Flex units, how they are being modified by Wabtec at Loughborough, and why hydrogen is now of interest.

In contrast, the Velaro Novo is a development of the successful Siemens Velaro high-speed train which operates in Spain, Germany, Russia, China and Turkey. It is expected to use 30 per cent less energy than previous Velaros and will, no doubt, be a contender for the HS2 train tender.

As well as trains, we feature depots this month, with various articles on their construction and operation and how these have changed over the years to provide a better working environment. However, some work, such as carriage washing, fuelling and controlled emission toilet discharge, still has to be carried out in the open. There are about 160 depots with such facilities.

Maintenance and repair work is generally done inside. This requires depot doors built to a demanding specification and heating systems to overcome the cold sinks that are trains entering the depot in winter. Depot protection systems to ensure a safe working environment and signalling systems to control depot movements are also becoming the norm.

Signalling features in our reports on two capacity improvements at opposite ends of the country. The Cornwall Capacity Enabling Scheme provides 20 intermediate block sections between Plymouth and Penzance whilst, just north of Aberdeen, 16 miles of track is being redoubled. A three-month blockade has just completed the first part of this project, which will double the frequency of local services in 2019.

Bob Wright reports on another track renewal, the replacement of four life-expired crossovers at North Wembley – a project that closed Euston station for three consecutive weekends. His article describes the extensive contingency planning required for this high-profile project, which posed significant challenges.

Challenging times is the apt title of the address that Andy Mellors, as chairman of the IMechE Railway Division, is giving as he tours the Division’s centres. His theme is that railway engineering offers big challenges that bring their own rewards. Communicating this message to the next generation of railway engineers is a challenge that Andy feels has to be addressed.

Read more: Rail Engineer October 2018: Rolling stock and depots

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.


  1. You should expose these issues to a seminar or conference debate to see that all interests are allowed air time to express their views. Else you may be accused of partisan interests. An authority such as the IMechE may be in a position to arrange such a debate which is key to engineering progress and efficient UK transportation provision.

    V A Cole FIMechE


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