THE prime mover

Alstom presented its double-decker train concept at the Palace of Westminster on May 24. This Very High Speed train, using concentrated power, would be available only in European gauge, precluding its use on the conventional national network. 

The double-decker trains (which could also be ordered in single-deck version for the conventional network) would be capable of operating at 224mph - the maximum speed currently required by HS2, and a higher speed than ever before on UK rails. 

Like the AGV, they will also be fitted with articulated bogies, which as well as improving comfort, can also enhance safety by improving rigidity of the trainset, reduce costs through fewer components, and save weight - meaning they could cause less wear and tear to the infrastructure. 

Speaking at RAIL’s National Rail Conference in November 2015, Alstom’s HS2 director Henrik Anderberg said: “Our unique articulated train design means each car is supported by the next car through robust articulation, and bogies are placed under the supporting end of each car. We build both articulated and non-articulated trains, but for very high speeds we prefer articulation. While the main reason is safety, it also means a smoother and better ride, less noise for passengers and wider interiors.

“Our articulation allows for fewer bogies, which implies lower maintenance costs for the operator. It also means improved aerodynamics and less weight, resulting in significant energy savings.” 

At the launch in Westminster, Alstom said that the double-decker trains would offer 40% more capacity than existing, equivalent trains, and that could translate into bigger and better seats for passengers, giving ‘business class’ levels of comfort. Its lower construction costs could also translate into cheaper fares for passengers.   

More seats could also prove attractive, due to HS2’s promise to bring two-thirds of the population of northern England (around ten million people) within two hours of the capital. 

With any procurement of Alstom rolling stock comes its customisable maintenance programme, called Health Hub. This provides real-time diagnostic information on train performance to ensure maximum availability.

An added option to Health Hub is TrainScanner, which has been installed at Manchester Longsight Depot to scan Virgin Trains’ Pendolino fleet with lasers and cameras. This system captures data about the condition of equipment on passing trains, and makes predictions about remaining service life. The technology not only reduces inspection time but also obviates visual inspection, improves safety, and reduces the possibility of human error. The system then initiates a cycle of predictive maintenance, further reducing the number of interventions by maintenance engineers. 

Alstom has also developed its TrackTracer programme for deployment on operational trains, enabling track engineers to monitor the condition of track through telemetry, which could be of particular value to HS2.

Alstom has also given strong indications that it is committed to bringing manufacturing jobs to the UK should its bid for new rolling stock such as New Tube for London be successful. The firm has suggested that it could build trains at its new £22.3m training academy and technology centre, currently under construction near Widnes. 

The 300,000 sq ft facility is being built to provide 15,000 days of training per year to Alstom staff, and those from its supply chain, and to carry out some of the company’s UK maintenance and modernisation contracts. First up, and following its opening in May 2017, 80 jobs will be created from a £25.3m contract to repaint Virgin Trains’ fleet of 56 Class 390 Pendolinos, with the potential for hundreds more jobs to follow, depending on future workloads. 

On October 7, the company held a ceremony to mark the beginning of work on the training facility. There, Alstom MD for the UK & Ireland Nick Crossfield told RAIL: “We are engaged in the development of rolling stock and are actively bidding in this area. If we had a significant amount of rolling stock to deliver (in the UK) then we would do a large part of that in Widnes.

“This is a significant investment in the UK, and it demonstrates Alstom’s continued commitment to the UK market.” 

It’s a commitment that will surely grow deeper if Alstom is given the opportunity to build the next generation of high-speed trains for the UK.


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