“I don’t think there’s any better industry to be in”

“I’m at that age where working for an organisation that didn’t have that fit culturally wouldn’t work - you have to know where you’re going to be able to excel at. 

“So really, what I’m doing is focusing the organisation onto the delivery. My reputation in the last job for about five and a half years was delivery. It wasn’t really delivery in just one area, it wasn’t just operations or safety or customer or financial, it was across the board. 

“I’m here to run a business that’s profitable, that’s successful, that will grow. What I’m bringing in now actually is that wider one-team focus on the size of the organisation, getting ourselves really really in shape for delivery and to continue to be greater, in five years.”

Boswell talks about the new train fleets. There are the 122 IEPs for Great Western from 2017 and Virgin Trains East Coast from 2018. These will replace the High Speed Trains that date from 1976, as well as the majority of Class 91/Mk 4 sets on the East Coast Main Line. 

The ‘381s’ will operate on newly electrified routes in Scotland as part of the £742 million Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP), and will enter traffic in 2017. Seventy trains have been ordered in a mix of three-car and four-car formations.

“I think that some of the innovations - whether you’re looking at the IEP fleet, the AT200, some of the concepts we’re starting to put out there for our British Bullet train - I’m very into the very, very high speed train solution as well. I think that the philosophy Hitachi has, its value system is into the long-term, getting close to its customers and understanding what customers are about to make its businesses more successful. So that’s what attracted me really.”

But not all the trains have been welcomed. Controversy has surrounded the IEP deal, with questions raised over its finances, followed by seats not lining up with windows. First Great Western staff have been on strike over the planned removal of catering facilities and the introduction of Driver Only Operation. How does Boswell, and Hitachi, deal with that?

“I think it’s an interesting question, because if we’re to take the challenge that Great Western is working with at the moment with industrial relations - that isn’t about the train, that isn’t about what we’re doing with the train, it’s not about the build. It’s about the operating matter. It’s how the organisation - a train operator - wants to structure its business.

“But in terms of views on how we’ve got to where we are in the build and specification of IEP, it’s before my time. And while I’m very well rehearsed now in all the detail - being involved in East Coast, I understand all that background - we are where we are. The contract is signed, the trains are being built, and they look great. I’ve got the contract to maintain those trains for 27½ years, and I’m damn sure I’m going to deliver that on time and to a really really great level. 

“So I think the way to counter the view on that, is to do what we do and execute it really well.”

With IEP, two five-car Class 800s and one nine-car Class 800/1 are in the UK. Construction in earnest begins in the North East in February, and the trains are due in traffic in 2017. The first ‘800’ will move to North Pole depot soon, giving staff the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the new train. So how is the IEP contract progressing?

“It’s going really well. You wouldn’t really expect me to be sat here, particularly with a Hitachi pedigree, and actually say I’m behind schedule, because we’re absolutely not. We’re ahead - we’re ahead with the factory, the planning the schedule, the build, North Pole is recruiting people, we’ve got some real opportunities to see how to fill all those depots up. What I’m particularly pleased with is the enthusiasm and the passion that I’m seeing from those guys on the ground.” 

Sources within Hitachi talk with great pride about the business, and a quiet awe regarding what the company is developing, and what could be achieved. Is this level of innovation something that could be seen on future orders, be it for signalling, TMS or trains?

“I’ve had a meeting this morning, talking over something similar in a very similar vein in many ways. In some ways, one of the very best kept secrets about Hitachi is the stunning level of quality in the engineering, and the innovation that it does. It’s evidenced by our reliability, by our ‘Javelin’ fleet, by the ‘Shinkansens’, the whole reputation. 

“But actually when you’re inside Hitachi - I’m not an engineer, I’m not Japanese, not male for that matter, so probably break all those rules - what I do see is the work that’s going on, the quality of the engineering, the design, the innovation. And having that happening here, I’m seeing what we’re doing in terms of trying to understand for the AT200, it’s phenomenal. 

“I think we have to lift the lid a little bit more on all of that and demonstrate exactly what we’re doing, because we’re an engineering organisation and a maintenance organisation. And people who are going to come into the maintenance part of our organisation, for example, the quality of engineering support is going to be absolutely brilliant.”

Newton Aycliffe is the Japanese firm’s first train manufacturing facility in the UK, and will lead from the front. But Boswell says the Hitachi depot at Ashford has also been working on innovation. 

“In terms of designing product, and manufacturing product, we have a global proposition. We build trains in Japan, and now we will be building trains in the UK, and that will be supporting the European market.

“When I look at the opportunities in the UK and Europe, it’s phenomenal what could be on the horizon for new fleets coming in. And I think the quality and the pedigree of what we’re going to do is so important.”

Talk of new trains is all well and good, but is there the money for it? After all, rolling stock leasing companies (ROSCOs) are developing ways to eke out longer careers for many second-generation EMUs dating from the 1980s. And the Southeastern Network fleet was retractioned eight years ago, and has not suffered a failure in traffic. The manufacturer of the traction package? Hitachi. 

“I think there are more inventive ways of financing,” Boswell replies. 

Like the AT deals? 

“Yeah. I’ve been up to Scotland - it’s really great. I’ve met with the Transport Minister and Transport for Scotland, Abellio, Network Rail - the enthusiasm about what’s going on up there is palpable, and a great financing deal. And that’s one of the most interesting ways. Those guys own the trains at the end of it. It’s really got into their mindsets. So I think it’s creating financial deals like that.”

But is that the way forward for the industry? 

“I think that in this world there’s never just one way, is there? I think there are always different ways of approaching it, and it’s about what set of circumstances you’re in at the time. So I wouldn’t ever be as arrogant as to say ‘well actually, this is the way you have to do it. What it does show me is there are different, flexible ways of thinking about how you want to crack a particular nut.” 

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