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New Era at Doncaster Carr

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“You’re in the wrong place, mate.” No, this wasn’t a further comment from the monotone Sat Nav voice that had moments earlier insisted on a left turn onto Ten Pound Walk. Indeed, the destination loomed large enough, right there, over the fence. Network Rail’s adjacent car park, your writer was loudly informed, does not give access. The widened and extended roadway that leads to a security barrier beyond the rows of parked vehicles ought to have provided something of a clue.

Coinciding with the 15 May advent of Intercity Express Programme (IEP) train services running on the East Coast main line, Rail Engineer had been invited to view the train maintenance facilities now in operation at Hitachi Rail’s entirely new Doncaster Carr depot.


Ten years have gone by since Hitachi Rail became the preferred bidder for the IEP; a programme aiming to procure mainline high-speed intercity trains to replace the aging HST fleet. Contracts were signed in 2012 for the first phase of the project, for trains for the Great Western main line (GWML). Agreement was also reached at that time on a second phase, for the replacement of HSTs and Intercity 225 trains on the East Coast main line (ECML). As part of the ECML contract, Hitachi was required to build a maintenance depot at Doncaster.

The initial specifications for the depot, submitted for planning application in 2010, called for a four-road maintenance shed able to accommodate ten-car trains, which would be 262 metres long. A single road shed would be used for maintaining diesel power cars and there would be facilities for refuelling, wheel re-profiling, carriage washing and toilet emptying.

The plans also included sidings for stabling four full trainsets and twenty half trainsets. Office space and warehousing were also to be included within the main building, which was to measure roughly 300 metres by 55 metres on a site of approximately 13 hectares (32 acres).

Modifications to the plans, submitted in further applications between 2011 and 2013, saw the removal of the separate power car maintenance shed and some of the cleaning facilities. Expected changes in the train timetabling also meant that the siding layout could be reduced to accommodate up to 24 five-car (half) train sets.

The 2013 plans reinstated a bio cleaning pit, extended the enclosed train wash and now included a second mainline connection at the south end of the site.

To state the obvious, the depot was designed to maintain the Hitachi AT300-series Class 800 bi-mode trains and Class 801 electric trains – collectively known as AZUMAs (in Japanese an archaic word for east) – that were to be operated by Virgin Trains East Coast, now of course superseded by LNER. However, the depot would also be used for the maintenance of Class 802 ‘Nova 1’ bi-mode trains operated by TransPennine Express (TPE).

Firmed up

The contract for the second phase of the IEP programme, including the running of trains on the ECML, was finalised in April 2014, allowing the construction of the Doncaster depot to begin. The main contractors were VolkerFitzpatrick, on behalf of Hitachi Rail Europe, with RPS Group acting as the project architects. Costs for the depot works was estimated at about £80 million.

There has been a railway depot located on the site since 1876; originally in the form of a 12-road steam loco shed built by the Great Northern Railway. Modernisation came in the mid 1950s, and, more recently, the facility had become the Doncaster Carr DB Schenker maintenance depot, which was closed in April 2014.

Work to construct the new Hitachi maintenance facility started the following December with the demolition of all existing buildings, the excavation of contaminated soil and the removal of a multitude of vaulted brick arches that had supported the original Doncaster Carr steam sheds on the soft ground (the word carr meaning an area of swamp or fen woodland).

After a century of servicing locomotives, the ground was, unsurprisingly, found to be heavily contaminated. Rather than being transported away, this was successfully treated on site and it was later re-used within the scheme.

Taking the place of the brick arches to support the new 11,000m2 rail maintenance shed and its ancillary buildings, a total of 2,250 CFA (continuous flight auger) piles were sunk. Steelwork, totalling over 1,000 tonnes, for the three main buildings was supplied and installed by Caunton Engineering of Nottingham. Some 26,000m² of cladding was needed to complete the structure of the buildings.

In total it’s reckoned that about 2,000 people worked on the project and that £22 million was spent on locally sourced parts and services from 37 local suppliers.

Nitty gritty

A total of 4km of new trackwork and overhead wire was installed by VolkerRail, which involved 25,000 tonnes of ballast being brought to the site. All of the yard points have point heaters and are power operated using clamp locks controlled from a central location within the office complex. The signalling system was installed by Bombardier, utilising a mix of axle counters and track circuits.

At present, the OLE within the depot area is powered from the local ECML supply. To improve OLE reliability, a second, independent, power supply, serving only the depot, is currently being installed. Completion of the new supply is scheduled for October 2019.

The non-wired fifth road of the maintenance shed is equipped with Mechan lifting jacks that are capable of lifting an entire 10-car train simultaneously. Not surprisingly, this track is called the lifting road. Two Mechan turntables allow bogies to be run out and moved easily into the adjacent workshop areas. There is also a three-road equipment drop, again supplied by Mechan. At present, the intention is to subcontract bogie maintenance off-site, but the facilities exist for this work to be done in-house.

Road 5 also has SchenckProcess Multirail® WheelLoad equipment that can simultaneously measure the individual wheel loadings of a train’s carriages. It is used to ensure equal weight distribution within bogies. The workshop area is also equipped with a Multirail® BogieLoad press that provides vertical force on bogies under test, whilst at the same time measuring the individual wheel loadings.

Within the depot, there are four raised maintenance roads that have overhead line equipment (OLE), monorail hoists and platform level access. The OLE lock off systems for these were provided by ZoneGreen. In addition, high level platforms allow easy access to carriage roof mounted equipment.

Into action

So much for the wherewithal, but how does Hitachi Rail intend to make use of its £80 million investment at Doncaster?

Replenishing screen wash.

Hitachi has responsibility for all aspects of maintenance for the IEP trains running on the ECML. Train cleaning, which includes the charging and emptying of tanks, will be carried out by the train operators or their contractors, but everything else, even the rectification of trivial faults, falls to Hitachi Rail.

On the ECML, maintenance of the new Hitachi trains will be shared between Bounds Green (North London), Craigentinny (Edinburgh) and Doncaster Carr. Bounds Green depot will maintain all thirty Class 801 electric trains, whereas Doncaster is responsible for maintenance of all the Class 800 bi-modes. In addition, nineteen TPE Class 802 ‘Nova 1’ trains will use Doncaster – with Hull Trains’ Class 802s being based at Bounds Green.

Capacity at the depot is measured in half sets – therefore a nine-car set would count as two half sets. Outside there are 14 stabling positions. The equivalent of 12½ Azuma sets return to Doncaster each night for servicing, maintenance or stabling.


The IEP trains are subject to comprehensive remote condition monitoring (RCM), coupled with a condition-based maintenance regime. This programme attempts to use RCM to link maintenance engineering, reliability in service and maintenance development.

There are essentially two stages to this, the first being the comprehensive testing of the new trains to find out how systems perform and wear. Faults or unexpected wear rates that arise need to be understood so that the maintenance regime can be tailored to eliminate costly failures in service.

Some obvious components that need to be monitored include brake pads, bogie parts, wheel bearings, wheel profiles and wheel wear characteristics. The Hitachi maintenance regime goes much further than this, such that the trains are festooned with sensors. Bearing temperatures, door mechanism performance, engine and transmission parameters are but a few of the items on a long list that are reported. Wi-Fi and 4G can be used to download the data in real time.

Data accrued as the trains operate can then be used to tailor the second stage of the programme: maintenance and overhauls. The more evidence that becomes available on how the systems operate and can potentially fail, the easier it becomes to make sensible decisions on maintenance intervals (for fixed-period servicing) and wear allowances (for condition- based maintenance).

Developing faults will reach a threshold at which an automatic alert is raised. This might for instance be due to a door operating system that isn’t performing to specification. If the failure mode is understood, a decision can then be made on whether to carry out repair work immediately, or on whether the problem can wait until the next scheduled depot visit, or perhaps on whether the train needs to be re-diagrammed in order to bring forward a planned maintenance intervention.

The introduction of a fully condition-based maintenance system is new to Hitachi, both in the UK and in Japan. Ashford depot uses condition-based information to make maintenance decisions on the Hitachi Class 395 fleet, but the IEP programme represents Hitachi’s first fully integrated application of remote condition monitoring and a condition-based maintenance regime.

Bathtub curve

Plot of MTIN and MAA shows the increasing reliability of the fleet.

Rolling stock reliability is measured as Miles per Train Incident (MTIN), in which a delay of over three minutes counts as an incident.

As with any complex engineered system, early component failures are inevitable – teething problems to you and me. As the train delivery phase nears its completion, Hitachi is close to achieving long-term levels of high reliability. In the most recent period, an MTIN figure of 10,308 was achieved and the best to date has been 12,172. The figures fluctuate, but by plotting the Moving Annual Average (MAA) of MTIN the increasing reliability of the fleet is revealed.


As has been widely reported, electromagnetic emissions from the new trains can cause interference to the railway infrastructure, especially to older signalling installations. It is for this reason that services on the ECML are currently operating only between Kings Cross and Leeds. The issue has been attributed to high frequency harmonics in the primary return current, as a consequence of switching the input converters rather than the traction three-phase inverter.

In conjunction with the ORR, both Hitachi Rail Europe and Network Rail are working to eliminate the interference problems. The work involves fitting isolation transformers to signalling equipment and reactances (filters) to the trains – adding an additional weight of about 750kg per affected vehicle. This programme should be complete by August, when the first service trains are scheduled to run to Scotland.

The IEP roll out on the ECML will see 65 new Class 800/801 Azuma trains in operation by the spring of 2020, bringing to an end the 40-year era of HST services and even the displacement of the Class 91 fleet. This represents an important step change, not only in terms of passenger service, but also improved reliability and reduced environmental impact. Within the IEP programme, there has been a lot to deliver – improved infrastructure, a new manufacturing facility at Newton Aycliffe and the investment in new and refurbished maintenance depots across the UK, not to mention the 866 new carriages (122 trains) being manufactured – 369 for the GWML and 497 for the ECML.

That shiny new depot at the end of Ten Pound Walk is vital to the success of the IEP programme on the ECML and, under the terms of the Hitachi Rail contract, will continue to be so for at least the next 27 years.

Except, it seems, for one Rail Engineer writer, it’s very easy to find, down there at the end of Ten Pound Walk. Easier still if you happen to be LNER or TPE with an 800 to service. Most definitely the depot is in the right place for that.

Oh, and what of that curiously named access road? Apparently, it was the route taken by drivers in the days of steam when they collected their weekly pay. Things have certainly changed at Doncaster Carr Depot!

Stuart Marsh
Stuart Marsh

New and innovative technology, signalling (particularly on narrow gauge and industrial networks), telecommuications and fibre-optics

Stuart Marsh has had a lifelong interest in railways, especially in railway signalling. He blames this on his grandfather and uncle, who were both railway signalmen.

However, having graduated from Bangor University with a Joint Honours degree, Stuart decided to pursue a career in business. He now finds himself the owner and Managing Director of two companies. Highblade Cables, which he started in 1985, produces cables, wiring looms, fibre optics and racking hardware for the electronics, telecommunications and data communications industries. Thirty years later his business is still going strong.

Unable to keep away from railways, Stuart has worked for many years as a volunteer signalling technician on several heritage lines. This outlet for Stuart's skills in electrical and mechanical engineering led eventually in 2008 to the formation of his second manufacturing company.

Signal Aspects Ltd designs and produces specialised and bespoke signalling equipment, mainly for minor and industrial railways. Its products include LED signal lamps, route indicators, train detection equipment and electric point machines. Indeed, it was his development of a new point machine, designed specifically for narrow gauge railways, that led to his debut article for Rail Engineer magazine.

Stuart has since become a regular contributing writer, covering a host of topics ranging from the capture of newts to major resignalling schemes.


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