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

Regarding the AT300 deal, FGW Managing Director Mark Hopwood said that the caveat to the contract was the General Election, as Labour could have scrapped the GW franchise and train order. Was there a concern within Hitachi that the AT deal could have been put on hold?

“Until the deal’s done, it’s never done,” Boswell replies. “You can point to history on many occasions when people thought a deal was done, and then for all sorts of reasons took it off the table.”

Politically, cancelling that deal and telling the West Country they couldn’t have new trains would have been a nightmare. 

Boswell acknowledges: “It would have been tricky. As an MD previously of a TOC, I wouldn’t have liked it... yeah, that’s a tough gig isn’t it? But ultimately, fortunately for all of us, that wasn’t the case. 

“So actually, if you went and spoke to FirstGroup or to Eversholt, I think everyone’s tremendously impressed with how, with three parties, there was such a lot of collaboration to get that over the line. 

“That’s actually another Hitachi trait - getting close to your customers. Because there will be times when things are tricky. Having supplier arrangements, being in a win-lose situation is not an option actually. You have to work out how to get win-win.”

Boswell believes that is a challenge for the rail industry itself.

“With such a complex diversity of spec holders, how to ensure that we’re win-win. I see Hitachi’s role and my role in leading this company is making sure we reinforce, so we become a solution to our customers. But for us to do that, we need to understand our customers’ customers as well, because we give them solutions that make it easier to put that in place.”

She says Hitachi has researched what markets want, and designed accordingly. There is not a situation whereby the customer has to adapt to what the train manufacturer delivers. 

Boswell explains: “IEP, actually, is a really good case in point. There were so many people involved in designing that train - the driver’s cab, inside the interior, as well the external stakeholder market. I think there’s some phenomenal figure around that.” 

When the first Javelins arrived in 2007, it was nearly two years before they entered traffic. And they followed the A-Train, a converted Class 310 EMU used as a testbed for the Japanese firm to monitor what was required for the UK market. 

This seems to be a Hitachi practice, and has been replicated by the Class 800s arriving two years before entering traffic. 

Previously, when there was talk of a new train order, the initial reaction would be that the competition would involve two bidders. Now it is three bidders, and there is sometimes surprise when Hitachi isn’t successful. That’s a long way to have come in a relatively short space of time.

Boswell nods: “Yeah, we’ve definitely come in and mixed up the market in that regard, which I think is always a positive outcome. 

“If you went to Ashford right now, I’ve been hugely impressed. I’ve been spending time with the guys down at Ashford. This year they’ve put a new balanced maintenance regime in - it’s gone absolutely brilliantly. These things aren’t easy to put in place and change. 

“So we’re not running the Javelin fleet in the same way that we started it on day one - we are integrating and we keep learning, we keep innovating. 

“A lot of the maintenance stuff that we see built into the IEP, for example, is because we’ve talked to the guys down at Ashford. They’ve given us their views, and that’s gone into it. 

“So when people say this is all Japanese, actually the guys over in Ashford have had a really big part to play in how you maintain these trains reliably. Your - our - provenance is there to see. 

“When I look forward and look at the footprint of the UK, and we see the depots where we’re going to be operating and maintaining these fleets, that philosophy - taking the very best of everything we do at Ashford and translating that through our maintenance strategy through the UK - is going to be so important.”

One area Hitachi is working on is how the trains will be maintained, although there has been some resistance on the Great Western Main Line, as depots such as Old Oak Common and Laira face a vast reduction in workload when the new fleets arrive and the HSTs depart.

“I think this is our big change programme, and what we have to do - together with Great Western - is work out what the right plan is,” says Boswell.

“What you have to do if you want to bring new ideas in as well - people are human beings. Those guys at Great Western at the moment will be apprehensive. There’ll be agreement as well as other people thinking ‘Hitachi, are they a great organisation to join?’ 

“There’s a well-known understanding that there’s a massive skills gap in this country for engineers, and that’s an ongoing challenge for Hitachi or Great Western or Siemens. And that’s because we’ve got such great things going on with Crossrail, HS2, new fleets, and new trains coming in.

“My short answer is that you wouldn’t expect me to sit here and give you detailed plans. But actually there’s a philosophy about how you manage change effectively, and how you get the right outcome. My philosophy about people is making sure that you treat people well, because actually we need to be making sure they know the quality we’re trying to achieve as well.”

It has been suggested that should the GWML electrification programme run late, there is the potential for brand new IEPs to be sitting in sidings when they should be used. Of course, Agility Trains, which owns them, will only be paid if they are used. 

“In terms of our delivery plan, we’re completely on plan. There’s no worries in my head that we will not be delivering on time,” says Boswell. 

“In terms of what happens with Network Rail electrification, I think we will continue to see how that works through, and I’m interested to see what Peter Hendy’s outcome for the autumn statement’s going to be. 

“But from our perspective, we’ve not been told formally of any change to the Great Western. However, if there was a change, all I would say to that is: it’s great when you have such innovation in your company that you have products that are flexible. And we have a bi-mode product.”

So you can still deliver the Great Western upgrade even if the wires aren’t there?

“Well, I’m not saying that. I’m saying we have a flexible product, so I think our agreement is to deliver to our agreement, but we have in our portfolio a buyable product. That’s not for me to determine what or when that happens, that would be for Government to specify, but that’s the sort of innovation that you want, isn’t it? At the moment you talk about innovation - I’m very excited, we’ve got a lot on testing a battery train at the moment.” 

That is in Japan. 

“I talk about Hitachi globally.”

She discusses Hitachi’s UK presence: “I was doing some mapping the other day, and I was looking at the depot’s structure as well. And I was thinking we were going to have an IEP train up from Penzance all the way to Inverness and Aberdeen, going all the way through, then we’ve got our AT200s up in Scotland. So it’s great.

“We do deliver on time. Not delivering on time is just not part of it. I’m a delivery person. You can’t be arrogant, you have to keep pushing and working hard at that. It just doesn’t happen, you have to make it happen.” 

  • This feature was published in RAIL 783 (September 16 - 29 2015)

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