It will be all right on the nightshift

Neville Hill, north of Leeds, is a traditional depot. Sections may have been electrified, and steam and diesel sheds adapted to cater for modern trains, but it still feels very conventional - there is a turntable, for instance.

But a visit to the depot is not a step into the past (Depot Manager Linda Wain is implementing plenty of modern thinking, RAIL 766), it’s just that Neville Hill is home to a diverse, ageing fleet that needs a lot of TLC.

Luckily, there are some very skilled staff looking after the trains. And on the night shift, the depot ‘comes alive’.

Opened more than 100 years ago, Neville Hill depot is home to East Midlands Trains (199 EMT staff are based there) and Northern Rail. Wain says the average age of the staff is in its 50s, which represents a concern for the future of engineering in general in the UK.

However, the talent pool at Neville Hill is diverse. Skills perhaps thought lost remain at the depot, and are harnessed to ensure that the fleet of trains continues to provide a sterling service for their operators.

The depot maintains the EMT High Speed Train fleet, but also HSTs for CrossCountry and East Coast (EC Class 91s arrive with rakes of Mk 4s). Five or six EC HSTs are serviced at the depot each weeknight, along with 12 EC electric sets.

Overnight servicing such as washing, tanking (emptying and filling the water and toilet tanks) and small exams are completed by EMT staff. S-exams (safety checks) are also carried out. These are mainly done on the electrics, while the HSTs undergo A and B exams.

There is also an agreement whereby EMT power cars can be hired by EC if an EC Class 43 is unavailable. They are swapped over overnight.

EMT Technical Manager Simon Roberts is our guide for the evening. A cheerful Welshman, he joined EMT four years ago. He discusses his plans to get back in shape to play rugby, and bemoans the one-way system in the city. Most importantly, he provides the Werthers Originals needed to keep us awake through the shift.

When we arrive at the depot (at around 1600) it is the middle of the afternoon shift. This lasts until 2100, when the night shift arrives. After a chat with Wain and Roberts (RAIL 766), we head for the depot. There will be a lot of walking.

It’s about 1800, and Roberts points into the maintenance shed, where HST vehicles are scattered around: “There are preparations ongoing now for the night shift. We have three HSTs go to Derby Etches Park each night, and one to Cricklewood. The rest come here.” All of EMT’s HST vehicles, carriages and power cars, are based here.

Everyone seems to know Roberts, and seems happy to chat to him, each other and to myself. There is a sense of camaraderie… of team spirit. Some of this goes back to the efforts made by Fleet Manager Jon Veitch when he was seconded to manage the depot. He may have left (he is now Production Director at Hitachi Rail Europe following a stint in Australia), but his legacy remains, and Roberts is keen to improve it still further.

Thomas Matthews is a Team Member who has been at the depot for 28 years. That wealth of experience is not uncommon at Neville Hill, but what’s his best memory?

In a down to earth Yorkshire accent, he says: “I rubbed shoulders with the Prime Minister. We had a right good chat.”

What does his role entail?

“I do genuine work,” he chuckles. “I have just finished an exam on 43061.”

Matthews is stood with Michael Pelc. He’s been at the depot since January 2009, and was recently promoted to Shift Leader. He is responsible for five teams and five rosters, and will always be working with one of the teams, which number 14 when fully manned.

Pelc acknowledges that nights are “more intense” when it comes to workload: “You don’t know what to do until you come here. You get your details, and then concentrate and follow the plan.”

His background is military. “I was Royal Navy, and based in a helicopter base at Yeovilton in Somerset. I like working here. I never had to apply - I was told to put my CV up online, and work here was available.”

Nor is Pelc fazed by the HSTs: “They are not especially complicated. I worked on Sea King helicopters, and they are even older than the HSTs! It’s the same skill, and they don’t do too bad.”

In the main shed, several HST vehicles are undergoing different levels of work. Trailer Standard 42328 is undergoing a C4 overhaul (which includes a bogie overhaul) and corrosion repairs, while the couplers are also renewed. The bogies are sent to Unipart Rail in Doncaster.

Each Mk 3 takes about a week, according to Roberts. “We were doing three per fortnight,” he says, adding that 42328 needed considerable underframe welding.

Next to it is 43055 The Sheffield Star 125 Years, which is receiving modifications that include a cooler group repair and work on its cab. That work took three weeks (the ‘43’ was removed from traffic on November 5 2014, and was due back into use on December 10 2014).

The work is planned in advance, as are all exams for the HST fleet. Exams are completed on the ‘43s’ every 81 days, with S, B, X1, X2 and X3 exams replacing the old British Rail regime of A-F exams. These are cyclical and part of an attempt to streamline the process.

Another Mk 3 vehicle, Trailer Guard Standard 44041 is stopped while it undergoes a wheelset renewal.

EMT has a power car bay at the depot. This is home to three jack lifts, which means three vehicles can be lifted.

Also in that area is 08690, which is currently stored, although Roberts explains it will be returned to traffic as time permits. There are a further three EMT Class 08s in use at the depot, with one of the three (08525) hired to Northern Rail.

The Back Fitting Shop is where EMT carries out its heavy lifting work. In there on December 8 was 43047, which was having its cooler group removed. It had been removed from traffic three days earlier.

Roberts explains: “It will arrive, the cooler group will be removed and then there is a strip down process.”

He says the start to finish time for the cooler group is three weeks: “There’s nothing left in there at the moment. When it goes into use it will have a refreshed engine and cooler group.” He says that the day and afternoon shifts carry out this work. The engine is sent to MAN Diesel at Colchester.

Before he arrived at Neville Hill, Roberts had not worked on HSTs. He was based at Arriva Trains Wales’ Cardiff Canton depot, which is home to diesel multiple units.

“HSTs are a massive learning curve, but it is one I have enjoyed,” he says. “It struck me here in Yorkshire - the knowledge is very high, and there is a very proud workforce.”

Walking outside into the cold Yorkshire evening, there are two EMT power cars idling, with exhaust drifting into the night sky. “They are spare,” explains Roberts.

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