On December 23 2013, South West Trains Desiro 450027 hit a fallen tree hard. The windscreen shattered, and the front of the cab sustained serious structural damage. The driver was lucky to walk away.
The Desiro is just one of 42 trains that needed repairs after the worst winter weather in 200 years. Seven months later, it is still being mended.
“A tree came through the front window, right into the cab,” explained John Burnside, a technician who is carrying out the work.
“There’s no way we could have repaired it. The cab had to be cut out and replaced.”
The front of an electric multiple unit is like the crumple zone on a car. In a crash, it is designed to fold up, absorbing the energy of the impact to protect people behind it. So the damage was extensive - the cab front shunted inwards by more than 20 centimetres. Specialised aluminium welders had to be brought over from Siemens’ factory in Germany to help, and new parts had to be manufactured.
“Soon after Christmas, engineers looked at the train to see what was needed,” said Eddie Milligan, production manager for Siemens.
“It took time for the new aluminium structures to be made, so we only started repairs on June 2. We had to cut out all the damaged parts of the train and replace them as new.
“Before we could do that, we had to strip the train down - that was two or three weeks’ work. After the cutting and welding we had to test it, then repaint it. Now the guys have to refit everything. That’s another three weeks’ work.”
Added Burnside: “This is a big job. It’s not been done like this for a long time, so it’s a lot of trouble. We keep finding things we have to work around. A lot of time, a lot of effort.”
RAIL watched him fit the air-conditioning and the headlight shroud. Next came the wiring for the lights, before the cab floor could be relaid.
“We have to pump the train up and test the air system for leaks, and check for any electrical faults. Basically we work from the floor up, and then we weld the floor into place. It’s like a very big jigsaw puzzle. Hopefully it will work!”
The job is being carried out at Eastleigh works, where Siemens has leased space in the giant sheds. That’s because the company’s modern maintenance facility a few miles down the track at Northam is not equipped for a task that takes months.
This is a twist of fate for the site, which formally closed eight years ago. Northam was built to service the Desiro fleet because Eastleigh (once the largest railway works in the country) and its staff were not considered suitable. Now a dozen people from Northam are working on the Eastleigh site.
Two Desiros are undergoing overhaul at the same time, with 450027 due to return to passenger service in mid-August.
“In repair terms that’s quick,” said Milligan, who is soon to retire after 42 years on the railway. “When trains get damaged this badly it can take a year to get back into service. Siemens is looking to halve that time, and we’ve nearly achieved that.”