Straddling the Brighton Main Line, the UK’s newest train depot at Three Bridges is almost complete. And when the work is formally finished in July, it will have to wait only a few weeks before the first train arrives.
Three Bridges will play a vital role in the commissioning of brand new Siemens-built trains. The facility is the latest Siemens depot to be constructed in the UK, and follows the likes of Northam and King’s Norton in being developed specifically for new trains - in this case the Class 700s being built for the £6.5 billion Thameslink scheme. The manufacturer says that other trains can be serviced at the facility, although for now that is not the plan.
The first of the ‘700s’ is due to arrive in the UK in August, and will enter traffic in February 2016. Until then, the trains will be housed at the West Sussex facility, which stands on former engineer’s sidings and waste ground.
Today, every couple of minutes a mixture of Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Southern electric multiple units whizz by. In the near future, many of these will be replaced by the ‘700s’.
Two depots are being constructed for the 1,140 vehicles that will operate on GTR from 2018 (the second is at Hornsey in north London). They are almost identical in terms of capabilities, although Hornsey will not have a wheel lathe because the existing facility at the site already has one, and that will be modified to cater for the Class 700s.
The vehicles will form 60 eight-car and 55 12-car fixed-formation electric multiple units. These are being built at Siemens’ manufacturing facility in Krefeld (Germany), with several on test at nearby Wildenrath (RAIL 772). One of the trains (700101, a 12-car EMU) has completed more than 15,000 miles of testing, but will not be the first to be delivered - that honour will go to 700107.
Ruth Humphrey, project director depots, Siemens Rail Systems UK, says of the project: “Everything’s happening this year for us. We had some very critical works that we needed to carry out over Christmas at Hornsey - we managed to complete those. They were mission-critical to the programme. Without them, we would not be in a position to actually open the depot at Hornsey in July.” (By open, she means starting to move teams in, as Hornsey will open fully a year after Three Bridges.)
Speaking at Three Bridges on April 16, she said: “We completed another important phase to allow us to move onto the final phase at Hornsey just a few weeks ago, and we will finally be completing the Down side to the far side of the site here next week.”
“We are still aiming for completion here in July, so we can have an open and operating depot, with the operator actually in place running the operations and with Siemens here in a position to maintain trains.
“The first train shows up in August, and we’ll be out with a camera, no doubt. Then February 2016 is when we’re hoping to run the first services on Thameslink. So the next 12 months is going to be very interesting for all of us.”
Of the Class 700 deliveries, Humphrey says: “Our first unit is due August, and then the final unit is due in June 2018, and should be running out of Hornsey.
“I think what we’re trying to say is that we’re on schedule to get the trains into the UK on the timescales that we’d planned to, so we can get all the units in circuit by 2018, which obviously is essential to be able to deliver the 24 trains per hour through the core of London.”
Humphrey explains why the ‘700s’ are being tested in Germany, and not the UK: “Basically the UK network is really, really busy, and when you’re testing trains you have to try and slot them in. And it can cause quite a lot of disruption.
“We have this amazing facility that’s used not only by ourselves (Siemens), but also by all the other major manufacturers as well, which is in Germany. There all the other trains can be tested, as well as accumulate their full free mileage before they come to wherever they’re going, including the UK.”
Regarding Three Bridges depot, she says: “We have the Horsham lines running around here, and we have five sidings - the Tilgate as we call them. And so you’ve got us, the ROC , Tilgate… we’re a bit of a sandwich.”
These sidings are connected to the Horsham line, and can each accommodate an eight-car train. A five metre-high fence has been erected around them for the benefit of local residents, despite the fact that behind the sidings - next to the Horsham line - is a Balfour Beatty On Track Plant (OTP) site.