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Thameslink on track

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In June, Siemens concluded the largest deal in its 170-year UK history. Steve Scrimshaw, managing director Siemens Rail Systems UK, reflects on a turbulent couple of years for the company and the highs and lows of one of the most important rail contracts of recent times.

It’s easy for me to say this now, but I never had any doubt that we would achieve contract closure on Thameslink. It is such a strategically important infrastructure project – for us, for UK Government and for the future of the UK rail industry. All the parties involved were 100% committed to getting it right first time.

I’ve said many times, and I’d still reiterate, that I don’t think it is unusual for projects of this size and complexity to take some time to finalise. Having said that, I’m not sure that the sheer complexity of the deal – commercial, operational and financial – was fully anticipated when we were appointed preferred bidder two years ago. And I think it’s fair to say that a large number of people have lived and breathed this contract for a long period of time; not only those who’ve dealt with the detail but also our UK employees who have been instrumental in keeping our business running efficiently day in, day out, without being distracted by speculation or gossip. After all, we play a key role in keeping UK passengers moving by putting 353 trains into service every day around the country. That requirement doesn’t diminish just because we have some additional challenges to deal with.

Contracts and more contracts

The significant number of stakeholders involved makes this project very different and challenging. In addition to the Department for Transport and other project partners, a key contractual relationship is with First Capital Connect, the current Thameslink route train operator. They are closely involved in the design and manufacturing process, ensuring the needs of the operator and passengers are met.

If we start to look at the financing aspects of the deal, well then we need to consider the teams from the three equity investors and around 20 banks, plus the various advisors, all of whom had to be completely aligned and in agreement at every stage of the process.

Although it’s easy to refer to ‘the Thameslink contract’ I think it’s also important to highlight that we’re not just talking about one contract,
we’re talking about dozens covering the procurement and subsequent maintenance of the trains, the construction of the depots and the financing related to everything! The number of different contracts and documents that needed to be completed and signed were laid out across eight different rooms. All with multiple copies. In total, the final contract signing process covered around 100 different documents, took two and a half days to complete and involved some 60 people. This was certainly not your average deal.

Depots as well as trains

Two of the contracts covered the construction of the new depots that are being built at Three Bridges (Crawley) and Hornsey (London Borough
of Haringey). It’s appropriate that I mention these new depots as they will play a key role in ensuring that passengers benefit from a greatly improved, more reliable service every day. We’ve appointed VolkerFitzpatrick as our construction partner for these projects as they have a huge amount of expertise in this area and over 70 years’ civil engineering experience in the UK.

Three Bridges depot, which is split into east and west-side facilities either side of the London to Brighton mainline, comprises a five road, 12-car maintenance building with associated stores, workshops and offices, eleven train stabling and servicing roads, two under-bridge widenings, two carriage washing machines, a wheel lathe and all associated depot infrastructure. It is due for completion in 2015.

Hornsey depot, which is expected to be completed in 2016, is being constructed within a live operational rail environment adjacent to the East Coast mainline and the current associated depot. As part of the development, work will be carried out at the existing site and the derelict railway sidings to the north. Work here involves widening two existing bridges, a new three road, 12-car maintenance shed, two carriage washing machines, offices and all associated depot infrastructure. It’s always tricky to complete works on an existing site so we’re working in close cooperation with First Capital Connect to minimise disruption throughout the project.

Second generation

Perhaps something else that’s not clearly understood by people looking in from the outside is the industry-changing elements of the Desiro City – the Thameslink train. I think it’s fair to say we see it as a game changer, the first second-generation platform that will run on our UK network. It has been designed to cope with the demands of high capacities and frequent stops and starts across diverse routes with an ‘out of the box’ implementation.

The McNulty report, published in 2011, focused on ways in which the whole industry could work together to deliver a safe and more efficient and technology for the train. It also means that, whilst it is truly innovative and state-of-the-art, it is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, building on the success and experience of the UK Desiro that runs a million passenger miles each week in the UK to make the best even better.

We have been making excellent manufacturing progress with the new platform following a €50 million development programme. The first production body shells will be manufactured this year. From mid 2014, the trains are scheduled to go through a comprehensive testing and commissioning programme on our dedicated test track that is designed to replicate the very latest standards.

The first train will enter service in the UK in early 2016. By the end of 2018, the full peak service of 24 trains per hour in the Thameslink London core comes into operation and, on such busy routes, minimising any downtime is key. Our objective for the Desiro City is to achieve best-in-class service performance with outstanding reliability and intelligent equipment railway whilst achieving significant savings. The use of innovation and new technology was a central theme, with a recommendation that the rail industry should be 30% more efficient by 2018/19.

By the time this report was published, Siemens had already spent several years developing the Desiro City with a focus on weight reduction, track friendliness and a broad drive towards energy efficiency (the Desiro City can reduce energy consumption by up to 50%). This means that this platform optimises whole life costs and provides significant benefits in line with Sir Roy McNulty’s aspirations for the industry.

Designed for the UK

The Desiro City is a train that incorporates feedback from UK train operating companies, cleaning staff, train crews, maintenance teams and technicians. We see that as essential to ensure that this is a UK train designed by and for UK people and we have sought to incorporate the UK supply chain where possible, selecting key suppliers to provide components redundancy to allow maximum availability.

One of the key examples of innovation in practice is the fact that the Desiro City features ‘fly by wire’ technology. Now this has been very successfully introduced into parts of the aviation industry, so much so that it is now recognised as industry standard. Applying this technology on a train, using coded digital signals to control equipment, reduces weight (far less cabling is required), increases precision and helps to lower maintenance costs (as electrical controls are less complex and easier to maintain than mechanical ones).

As a company we’re really proud of our new train and look forward to seeing it take pride of place on the UK network over the next few years.
It will not only change the journeys of the passengers who travel on the Thameslink routes, but will revolutionise the rolling stock and maintenance market. A more comfortable and technologically advanced train for passengers and drivers that is energy efficient and provides great value for money – I’d say it can’t come soon enough.



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