It will be all right on the nightshift

Back inside the main shed, and it’s time to meet the staff. Senior Team Member Graeme Rose and Steve Baxter are working on 43055, and Baxter explains: “I am putting back the fuel lift pump. It has been refurbished at Unipart and we refit it.

Rose says: “I have been here 16 years.” Asked what his job title means, he laughs: “It means I’m the bloke carrying out the work.”

He explains the process. “The ‘43’ comes in for an X-exam. We carry out the checks and tests. The defective components are changed as required.”

He shows me the component - the fuel lift pump - that he and Baxter are working on: “This bit may cause power issues. It could cause low power through fuel starvation.”

Before he started at the depot, Rose was an HGV mechanic in York. “I was born and bred there.”

Why move to this job?

“At the time it was a better job, better pay and less hours. At the time as well, I was a railway buff. I have grown out of that now,” he grins. “I do enjoy the job.”

His shift for this week is 1330-2100. “I’m back on nights next week. I don’t really have a preference. No two nights are the same and you are constantly on the go. We can get the same train back and it is a different story each night. It could be an exam, or it could just be a fuel point exam.”

Rose chimes in: “We have been equipped with new tools. We are still trying to improve the jobs. You do so much walking here. It is a split site even though there are only four roads.”

Senior Team Members Mick Mills and Andy Franks are working together tonight. Mills tells RAIL: “We do exams. There are some big rivets that need to be taken out and replaced. It is part of the modular exam. We’ll do as much as we can by 2000, and we have to get the job done. There are three coaches missing from this set.” (He points to the rake of five Mk 3s stood behind him).

“I have been doing this 36 years, two at Holbeck. I started as a motor mechanic, but I wanted to work on the railways. There was a job at Holbeck and I took that.

“Quite a lot has changed. I worked on the prototype HST. They said at the time the life span was ten years… they’re still here. All they need is a bit more TLC really. Will the new trains be as good?”

Franks adds: “I’ve been at Neville Hill nearly nine years. I was on plant before and fancied a change. I enjoy it. The lads are alright - some of the bosses are OK.” (He grins and nods at Roberts.)

“I was based at one place but went everywhere. Here it’s dry, and it’s safe. The times you are meant to finish are the times you finish. It is a better home life and a better standard of life.”

Mick Murray is the Service Delivery Manager. He is in charge of all the movements within the depot, and tells Roberts what is due to arrive: “Eighteen trains tonight, five electrics and 13 HSTs.”

The first is up at 2157. The last is at 0305 and is back out at 0623. It is fuelled and cleaned. All get a wash. Murray gives Roberts an ‘action sheet’ that lists all the planned arrivals and departures.

“When I have information we have a database,” he tells RAIL. “We have an operations database, and then we go for the action sheet. I then build a plan. We do this for all three operators. I set what is needed.

“East Coast will email me any defects overnight. They call it a defect sheet. If it goes to safety-critical, then we need to ask what we can do.

“There are a limited number of things we can do on nights. If it is a door, we will do a test and make sure it is tested to the correct spec. If it is bad, we take it out of service. We’ve had to learn East Coast’s maximo system.”

He sits back in his seat: “I wouldn’t mind it if the clock would go back at times. It’s the first job that I have said that for.”

Murray says the exam cycle means that there is something going on all the time, making planning essential. A ‘G exam’, for instance, can take a Class 43 out of use for up to two weeks.

Working across from Murray is Production Customer Services Manager John Clarke.

“I have to cover the costs, produce the exam paperwork and deal with prices. I deal with staff holidays, too. I’ve been here for nine years and I love it. I used to work for Yorkshire Bank but they made me redundant.” Clarke started work tonight at 1930 and will finish at 0700.

John Holroyd walks into the office, and Roberts pounces. Holroyd is a Quality Inspector (QI), which entails working on pre-exams, final run-ups and checking the quality of the work. There are two QIs at night, and his shift is finishing soon.

“We go through the repairs and I check things at random. Trains cannot go without my say so. I set the final approval. If the first train is on time, then it is fine. If it isn’t…”

It’s cold outside and getting frosty, but Holroyd says: “The night shift can sweat even on a freezing night.

“I have been here for 26 years, and started under BR. Things have improved, in terms of when BR was here. It’s a lot busier now and there isn’t much overtime. But there is more pressure for the final product. BR’s attitude was ‘it’ll do’.

“On nights there used to be six trains arrive. Now there are 18. It is a juggling act, and it’s all hands to the pump.”

Peter Holden is the Stores Issuer. An enthusiast, he runs the Bradford Railway Circle. He subscribes to RAIL and knows photographer Paul Bigland.

All the equipment goes through him. “This is the hub,” he says. “It’s where it all happens.”

What does his job entail?

“I issue all parts to repair the trains. We keep lots of safety-critical tools. There is a team of us, but only one working at a time.

“In the stores, the biggest item is an HST traction motor, which weighs 1.5 tonnes. There are literally thousands of items in here. The larger items such as bogies are recorded and then booked in and out. When an item is repaired, it is booked to a power car. Part of the job is to ensure people are not cut off. We do 1800 to 0600, and we have a good team here.”

Before this job, Holden was an auto electrician. “I’ve been at Neville Hill for 12 years. I was on the shop floor to start with, as a Team Member. I joined an agency here and went to Northern. Then I came back to EMT.”

How busy is he? “It comes and goes. Most of my job is to get the correct parts for the trains. If I wasn’t here then the engineers would be looking for things.”

His pride shows through: “Our Mk 3s are better than anyone else. That is a fact. (The bell on his counter goes off.) We have customers,” he grins.

Outside Holden’s office, Vehicle Builder Brian Athey is beavering away on a task seldom seen at depots nowadays: “I’m doing a door pillar. It’s for renewing parts on 41067. It was rotten.”

He points to the Trailer First, and carries on working on his vice.

“I’m time-served - been here 15 years, and on January 4 I will have been on the railway 27 years. I do all the interiors. I do the seats, the lot. It’s about replace and repair. I used to do painting, but not now.

“I wasn’t on the refurbishment of the HSTs. I do a lot of repair work. I just renewed the window on 41067 - it needed two new channels. I also do a bit for XC and EC if needed.”

It’s now 2005. Outside it is getting foggy, and Roberts takes us to the west end of the depot where West End Console Operator Andy Newby is busy. His job is to control the movements onto the depot. His office is in the dark, but his panel and screens are lit up.

“There are maybe 50-60 moves, and shunting. That number varies. Trains go up to the CET area and then the washer. After that we put them in place. Main line drivers bring them to reception, and depot drivers take over. There are nine of them and they drive all EMT, XC and EC trains.”

Newby has been at Neville Hill for 14 years. Before this he was a shunter and then a driver.

Roberts also has a role here. He tells RAIL: “I have to understand the issues. If there is a power car swap that Andy is doing, I need to know. The booked swaps are OK, but the failures create problems.”

Newby interjects: “It’s a juggling act. Fun? Yeah it keeps me busy. At the moment we are quiet, not got much at the moment. 2230-0030 is the bulk of the movements. You pass here during the day and it is empty. We are like vampires!”

Roberts adds: “These guys are crucial. Through the day we have maybe 100 movements, but at night it is 350-plus. They also control the Northern depot.”

The trains leave Leeds station (over a mile away) as soon as possible, as Network Rail wants them out of the way. They queue up on the approach to Neville Hill, but can only enter when space is freed on the CET roads.

“Everything moves because of us,” says Newby. “It’s a one-way system. Through the depot is eight moves per train. I don’t just control the trains, I have links to people on depot, too. There are lots of communications. Our success is if people have trains at Leeds.”

Back at the main offices, and Cleaning Manager Brendan Conlon has appeared. Conlon started at Holbeck in 1980, moved to Neville Hill in 1981, and from 1990 to 1997 was based at Leeds station before returning to Neville Hill in 1997.

“I manage shifts. 90% of my staff are on nights. I manage cleaners, and I have 71 of them. I have introduced them from an agency. They must work for three months and then they can join EMT.

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