- This feature appeared in our sister publication RailReview Q2 2019. https://www.railreview.com/subscribe
On May 23 2019, passengers travelled on a Class 710/2 between Gospel Oak and Barking for the first time.
A brand new electric train, assembled in Britain and running on a recently electrified railway, with twice the number of carriages than the diesel train it replaced.
This is what new rolling stock should be about - capacity benefits and an all-round improved service. But problems with the introduction of the new trains on the Gospel Oak-Barking route merely exemplifies a poor recent record across the UK.
In July 2015, Transport for London ordered 45 four-car Class 710s for London Overground, having already ordered Class 345s for Crossrail. These orders with Bombardier were to use the Canadian manufacturer’s new Aventra platform, designed to replace the Electrostar that had first been introduced in 1999.
The Aventra is a modern, lightweight train available in various specifications, and it quickly proved popular with subsequent orders coming from Greater Anglia, South Western Railway, c2c and West Midlands Trains. TfL also exercised an option for a further nine ‘710s’ from Bombardier.
However, TfL had initially advertised that the Class 710s would enter Gospel Oak-Barking traffic from March 2018, with all services operated by the trains from that May.
The Class 710s would replace eight two-car Class 172/0 diesel trains, and when Abellio was awarded the West Midlands franchise in 2017, it was confirmed that LO’s displaced Class 172s would move there, with plenty of time to send them for refurbishment and the fitting of toilets ahead of their new careers.
But delays to the ‘710s’ meant TfL was unable to release the older diesel units. It eventually agreed to sub-lease the ‘172s’ back from WMT, but this was a short-term measure. In the meantime, user groups expressed concern about the delays.
To cover a shortfall, five-car LO Class 378 electric multiple units were reduced to four-car formations and redeployed on the Gospel Oak-Barking (GOBLIN) route.
In January, the first shortened Class 378 was tested on GOBLIN. Three were eventually converted for these duties and used to keep the line running, but that was not enough. Services were cut, buses replaced cancelled trains, and passengers were advised to seek alternative routes.
On the day of the launch, TfL Director of Rail Jon Fox said the new ‘710/2’ trains were using the 34th variation of the initial Train Control Management System (TCMS). He added that while this was acceptable for Gospel Oak operations, it would need to be further upgraded for operation of the AC-only Class 710/1 fleet serving London Liverpool Street, as well as for the DC route between London Euston and Watford Junction. Fox would not put a date on their introduction.
Bombardier spokesman Will Tanner explains: “In terms of Aventra lessons, it’s really two areas: securing sufficient standardisation and ‘read across’ from one project to another, so that we and our customers reap the benefits of the platform; and working more closely, and earlier, with our customers to determine software-based functionality and then undertake the software development itself, as early as possible.”
There has been a knock-on effect, with Greater Anglia due to be the next recipient of the trains. GA has 111 Class 720 Aventras on order from Bombardier, with 89 five-car and 22 ten-car trains due to have entered traffic from March 2019.
The manufacturer showcased vehicles in September 2018, at Derby Litchurch Lane. But until the beginning of May this year, none had moved to Old Dalby for testing, even though the GA franchise agreement stated that the first set was to arrive at Ilford for testing no later than January 2019, and that passengers would be using them from March.
On May 20, GA Managing Director Jamie Burles said the operator’s Aventras were “behind the queue” of Class 345s and ‘710s’, and that it had been viewing its order in a “glass half empty” manner. He said that Bombardier had been struggling with its Train Control Management System, but added: “Two weeks ago, Bombardier made a breakthrough, so it has re-planned the delivery map. It’s now at 90% of what we need, and could yet be 100%. Three months ago it was proposing a very small percentage.
“We are definitely aiming for the trains to be in service this year. I’d like to think October, and they should be with us for several months before that. That is still to be firmed up.”
However, clearly there will not be enough in traffic, as older trains go off-lease.
Burles explains: “Effectively we have some wiggle room. The Class 360s, Renatus ‘321s’ and ‘379s’ are all compliant , and 27 Class 317s will be by the end of the year. The ‘379s’ will replace the non-compliant ‘317s’ as the Stansted Stadler trains enter traffic.
“It would be fair to say we are working up a contingency plan for late-notice work, to make trains compliant if needed. But the message from the Office of Rail and Road and Department for Transport is no derogation. Plan A is to do the right thing.”
GA has 58 Stadler trains on order (38 bi-modes and 20 EMUs). They were contracted to enter traffic from May, but that is now likely to be the end of June (as this issue of RailReview went to press).
GA and Network Rail are working together to sort out the majority of the issues. A senior NR source close to the project explains: “As part of introducing any trains onto the network, the proponent of the change (in this case Stadler working with Greater Anglia), the rolling stock company is required to demonstrate compatibility with the existing infrastructure or to pay for any modifications as required.”
Some £270 million has been spent on the project, but the infrastructure has caused problems: “This is particularly common with gauging, where the train manufacturers take our asset data to analyse whether their train will ‘fit’ on the track. If any issues are found, this information is then used to design and implement modifications, such as changes to the shape of platforms, and slightly moving track.”
One problem was that while NR photographed the entire Anglia network from the air, the junction at Liverpool Street proved impossible - because an office block had been built above it in the late 1980s.
Our source explains: “Certain design features which are increasingly common with modern rolling stock make this more complicated than it has been previously. In this instance, with the nosecone, the issue is how much the cone of the train sticks out when the train passes over a curved section of track. If long enough, you could theoretically be in a position where it could knock into something , as both the track and train are designed to a prescribed set of standards to start with.
“This is something we fully risk-assess before authorising a train to pass over any set of points. We follow the same process when any new train is introduced.”
NR has been working with Stadler over the past few months to rectify the issue. The source says: “This type of issue is easily resolved using a variety of existing asset data, photographs and (crucially) aerial imagery.”
Restrictions were placed on the Stadler trains, but a 12-car Class 745 visited the terminus in mid-May, so work has been progressing.
RAIL visited Bussnang (Switzerland), where Stadler was building the first trains, in May 2018. Technical Project Manager Martino Celeghini said of the GA trains: “The major challenge was the gauge, especially around the bogie - we need to shrink it for the UK. And these seats are adjusted for UK fire standards and safety. We are used to building a tailored design.”
Another major headache for the rail industry has been the compliance problem. From January 1 2020, all trains in traffic must meet disability access regulations. This requirement has been in place for many years, with the deadline well-known, and yet it still seems likely that derogations will be needed.
The matter has really come to a head on the Midland Main Line, where new electric trains were due in traffic before the end of the decade once the line had been electrified, enabling the withdrawal of High Speed Trains owned by Porterbrook.
However, those plans changed in 2017 when Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling announced that electrification would go no further than Kettering/Corby, and that bi-mode trains would be ordered and enter traffic from April 2022.
This presented a big problem. Compliance regulations dictated that the current HST fleet (99 vehicles) would have to be withdrawn by the end of 2019, creating a major shortfall in the main line fleet. Porterbrook had a plan in place for the modifications, but the capacity was taken up by CrossCountry, Great Western Railway and ScotRail HSTs being modified to meet the deadline.
Awarding the new East Midlands franchise to Abellio, the Government said the decision regarding rolling stock lay with the Dutch operator, although it told RAIL at the time: “The East Midlands will have a fully accessible fleet by the end of 2020. The bidder has, as part of its bid, included the use of Class 180s from the May 2020 timetable change. The base plan has a fully compliant fleet from December 2020.
“For the period before December 2020, we are also developing alternative short-term plans, including one or more of the following: the inward cascade of high-quality HSTs from LNER once the new Azuma trains allow for their release from this autumn; the earlier deployment of the bidder’s December 2020 fleet; the upgrade of some or all of EMT’s existing fleet via a procurement process that EMT is running on the Department’s behalf; and possible short- term, customer-facing mitigation measures which Abellio has committed to working with DfT to develop.”
The LNER HSTs are not due to start being returned by the operator until November and December this year. Nor do they meet Disability Discrimination Act requirements. Porterbrook has previously claimed it would cost some £50m to ready the HSTs to cover the period for which their careers would be extended.
Even cascades of older stock following the introduction of new trains can be problematic. Great Western Railway HSTs were to be withdrawn from spring 2017, to be cascaded to ScotRail, but this was affected by well-publicised delays to the Great Western Electrification Programme.
GWR Managing Director Mark Hopwood explains: “In terms of the introduction , they went in in October 2017, and it was hoped to be May 2017.
“The testing was a factor. Hitachi’s contract entitled it to use the test track that was Reading-Didcot. Because that was not ready, it had to use elsewhere.
“There were also a number of things on the trains that needed testing. And training also had a big impact. We had plans to phase the introduction of new trains. The plan was ‘387s’/‘365s’ a couple of years ahead of the IET. Instead, we ended up doing everything.
“The driver training was difficult, and we recruited extra drivers. We compacted it all to one place and we had no pre-planned cancellations, but there were a few issues here and there. One challenge was around Sundays, as per the terms and conditions of driver contracts, which meant they had to use a rest day.”
The final ScotRail-bound HSTs left GWR towards the end of last year, and subsequent withdrawals have entailed vehicles being sent for storage. GWR’s operation of long-distance HSTs finished on May 18.
The last of the new Hitachi Class 802s had only been in the UK for around six weeks when the last of the 43-year-old HSTs were withdrawn. At one stage, the popular veterans may even have soldiered on.
Says Hopwood: “There was an option for an HST in the Direct Award, and cascades were also an option - we looked at the ‘222s’ from East Midlands.
“There is no reason why the HST was not able to carry on, but the age and the money needed to upgrade them had to be considered. Also, there is the capacity. The East Coast sets are 2+9, but realistically that would affect our acceleration. Also, it would mix IET and HST, and each HST has effectively two IET paths to Reading.
“The closure of Old Oak Common meant there was no natural place for HSTs in London, as North Pole is not really configured for them and Reading has limited space.”
HSTs will remain with GWR, albeit in smaller form on different duties. The short-set ‘Castle’ Class features two power cars and four Mk 3 coaches. These vehicles are modified to meet DDA requirements, and allow GWR to meet capacity targets.
Hopwood explains that their introduction resulted from delays to the Great Western Electrification Programme in the Thames Valley area: “None of this is easy. It helped that ‘387s’ were running before, but nothing had been tested for compatibility with Series 1 overhead line electrification that Network Rail was installing on the Great Western.
“Lord Adonis originally said he wanted 2016 running for electrics, but we revised that and went for September 2017. We took it as far as Hayes initially, as no new wires had been switched on at that point. We didn’t have to make the trains compatible. Initially we launched the peak service to Hayes before extending that to all day as we needed units for other routes.
“That is where the short HST proposal came from. It was attractive because it didn’t rely on other operators, we had them already, and they took on the duties of Class 158s and ‘166s’ that have been cascaded to the west.”
The NR factor also became apparent as plans for the trains changed. Hopwood and his team were at the mercy of things completely out of their control. At the start of the GW Direct Award in March 2015, the initial plan was for 29 Class 387s and 21 Class 365s from Govia Thameslink Railway.
“It became apparent that it would not happen, and that was down to the Thameslink Programme delay. We spoke to both Porterbrook and Bombardier. Porterbrook had already bought 20 Electrostars speculatively, but we were speaking to them anyway.
“The DfT confirmed that the initial plan would not happen, and there was sufficient uncertainty that we had done some digging. We formally confirmed the plan on the Monday, and the order was made on the Friday.
“If GTR had been on time, then we wouldn’t have made the ‘387’ order. But it was also at the same time as the GWEP descoping, and when that was apparent we reviewed the plans anyway. We were always slightly unhappy about having two small fleets. The decision was made by the DfT to keep the ‘387s’ on Great Northern, and they have to sign off rolling stock leases. DfT will never leave a train operating company in a position where it has no trains. But with the plans for the ‘700s’, GN needed to retain the ‘387s’.
“That suited us as we learned that operators’ cascades relied on others. We did the thinking, which the DfT was happy with, and we took the decision to expand the order to 45 Class 387s.”
Subsequent scaling back of electrification led to Didcot Parkway-Oxford being cancelled. Hopwood explains: “The disappointing thing is Network Rail and DfT didn’t consider the stabling strategy, but actually in a way it was good because we ended up with a strategy in that area anyway.
“We had West Ealing initially, and then the original plan after Oxford was Didcot Parkway. But those sidings are landlocked - we wanted access, but it was busy and reversing wasn’t a good idea. We looked at other options, and while Swindon is further away the timings are not that different to the shunting at Didcot.”
This is another element seemingly overlooked when introducing new trains - the infrastructure required.
Says Hopwood: “Depots, stabling, upgrades and passenger train interface has to be considered. We go through route clearance, too. Network Rail has most systems in place, and to be fair the IETs were not that challenging.
“Generally, the issue is platform edge interface. Signage and signals are also things to consider. Network Rail has a challenge, and the scope needs to be easier. The process is the theoretical and the actual operations - for example, we were told Turbos wouldn’t fit through Southall Down platform, but they had done it for 26/27 years. In fairness, NR is working hard to fix this.”
This even affects older fleets that have been cascaded following the introduction of new trains. GWR has experienced challenges in getting its Class 16x Turbos cleared for various routes, and Hopwood explains: “We helped with a modification that raised the body slightly higher from the bogies.”
GWR sources suggest that more needs to be done regarding the performance of the bi-mode trains.
On May 22, there were 78 sets diagrammed in traffic, of which ten had diesel-only restrictions in place.
This follows a situation last year where (at its worst) GWR was forced to operate 30 services per day formed of five-car trains, rather than nine- or ten-car. That was caused by pollen intake (seeds/pollen get stuck on radiators, which requires unblocking), but that situation has been resolved and on May 22 there were only three short-formed trains.
An IET performance improvement plan has been created, which covers more than 100 items aimed at improving reliability. Network Rail and Hitachi are also involved in this process, because if the problems are not resolved then GWR cannot introduce its new timetable.
For 2019-20 Period 1, GWR sources revealed that the Class 800s recorded 762,789 miles for the month, with 74 Technical Incidents (TINs). The main issue was with the engines, specifically with the coolant.
GWR’s ‘802’ fleet covered 430,167 miles and recorded 44 TINs. The main issue was with the exterior doors, although this is expected to improve as the trains, which are mostly newer than the ‘800s’, settle into service.
For passengers north of the border, there remains a wait for refurbished HSTs cascaded from GWR. This follows the delayed introduction of new Hitachi Class 385 EMUs - caused initially by unavailable infrastructure and then by problems with the windscreens that necessitated a redesign.
ScotRail Operations Director David Simpson explains that delays with the HSTs were two-fold: “Firstly, later-than-expected delivery of vehicles from GWR, and then the level of work required on the coaches, primarily corrosion-related, to enable the power doors to be fitted.
“ScotRail should have had 26 refurbished HSTs in December 2018, and had received two at that point. That meant we had to have ‘Classic’ HSTs in to cover, and also meant we had to use ‘158s’ and ‘170s’ on diagrams originally planned for HSTs, resulting in delayed cascade of these units for strengthening on other routes such as Fife and Borders.”
Simpson says the operator became aware of the problems last year, at which point plans for the ‘Classic’ HSTs were developed. But was there a chance that the refurbished HST deal could have been scrapped? SR Alliance MD Alex Hynes told the Scottish Parliament earlier this year that this option had been investigated.
Says Simpson: “Given the scale of delay and impact on customers, it was right that alternative options to HSTs were explored. But it was concluded that delivering the planned fleet was the best option, and securing Classic HSTs as a stop-gap, given the requirement in December 2018 to hand 19 DMUs back to their owner for redeployment on other TOCs.”
He adds that a review of alternative options showed there was no practical alternative available, declaring: “There needs to be more realism around the challenges of refurbishing older vehicles, and a recognition that if this is dependent on other train introductions and resultant cascade there is risk.”
While there were no alternatives for the Inter7City sets, ScotRail was able to introduce a short-term fix while the ‘385s’ underwent a redesign.
Ten Class 365 EMUs were leased for a year to operate on the Edinburgh-Glasgow via Falkirk route, allowing ScotRail to introduce an electric-only timetable as planned. These commuter units had been made redundant by Govia Thameslink Railway, following the introduction of Class 700s.
Simpson explains: “This was identified as a solution to capacity problems due to the ‘385s’ being late - ScotRail needed a fleet of electric trains, and with ‘365s’ being off-lease they were the obvious option. A project team was formed, and some excellent teamwork by all involved meant they were introduced into service in record time.”
He describes this as “an outstanding example of industry collaboration”. As the ‘385s’ entered traffic on the E&G, so ScotRail used the ‘365s’ on newly electrified services to Stirling and Dunblane until enough of the Hitachi EMUs were available.
Is this the solution, perhaps? Could fleets bound for storage be used in this way in the future?
Simpson thinks so: “Given the known issues with delays to delivery of new fleets, whether new-build or refurbished, the example of ‘365s’ shows what can be done to put customer needs first - there must surely be scope for more short-term solutions like this if delays cause capacity issues affecting customers. The ‘365’ example shows what can be done with the right mindset and industry teamwork.”
How about authorisations? That’s the responsibility of the Office of Rail and Road, and made the headlines last year when Hitachi Azumas had their authorisation denied owing to the design of the inter-car connectors, following an incident in Manchester in December 2017 when a drunken man climbed similar fittings on a Class 390 Pendolino, came into contact with the overhead wires, and died.
ORR Deputy Director Steven Fletcher explains the processes: “We are driven by the TSI regulations, and inter-operational regulations do not touch all they need to. First and foremost, we must follow the due process. As the ORR, what we could do is sign off the trains and let others deal with it, but our bigger role is for health and safety and identifying things that we must be fully aware of and which could be a detrimental TSI risk.
“We are more informed, and that early engagement is beneficial. There is a focus on these products coming online, and some have long processes. We feel we are going to involve ourselves more fully and be much more robust.”
But while trying to do that, Fletcher says the ORR faces challenges. The Azuma authorisation highlighted this.
“One of the issues we must deal with is that the TSIs lack agility to change pace. In the UK we have recognised this, working with Hitachi. We had recognised there was a trend of surfing on trains and that this was becoming more prevalent, and because of the fatality and understanding of YouTube so the risk profile changed. We have a duty of care, and standards change.”
This meant that while GWR could use its Class 80x fleet, LNER was unable to do likewise until a plan was agreed. The trains have since entered traffic, albeit with restrictions that must be adhered to within 12 months. Hitachi IEP Director Andy Rogers says that work is ongoing, and that 38 designs are currently being evaluated. No date for the start of the work to modify the trains has yet been confirmed.
In May 2016, the Department for Transport published a Rolling Stock Strategy calling for standardisation across fleets. Just four days later, TransPennine Express ordered different kinds of trains, taking the number of fleets it would use to four.
Fletcher believes that standardisation would certainly help with authorisations, but is it achievable?
“I can’t say. There are extended factors - for example, in the procurement process trains come from around the world.
“All trains will have a problem being compatible with the British rail network. There is no one solution that fits all scenarios - clearances, stepping distances and so on must be considered when procuring, and you have to manufacture for a legacy infrastructure.
“I have sympathy with fleet and Network Rail teams, and understand that they have a million things to deal with. Will the trains be 100% compatible? For me, the rapid change in technology and the proven kit abroad doesn’t always mean they will work in the UK.
“Go to Madrid, Tokyo, Melbourne, and it will be different. There are exceptional things we’ll learn from, and there are processes to improve designs, but are you going to stop the technical processes?”
Fletcher suggests committing to a date is a problem: “The volume of refurbishments and new fleet introductions are not understood. It’s OK putting a date if you’re confident. What will happen years in advance is nigh-on an impossible task to predict.”
For actual authorisations, Fletcher explains that ORR legally has two months to preview and review the technical files submitted for the trains, but that it hopes to do this in a month.
“It would be nice to deliberate for two months. Early engagement is key - we meet with bodies early to see what’s needed, but we want to be more intrusive.”
Trains can run on the network without authorisation during testing, but authorisation is required for driver training and passenger service.
Karl Watts, chief executive of Rail Operations (UK) Ltd, runs a company that delivers and tests the new trains. He highlights the differences between trains that his company must contend with.
“The market has increased in recent times with more rolling stock owners, and we have a former BR word - standardisation - that has gone. The situation now is that there are eight different couplers. All trains have Dellners, but different ones.
“We have five different height couplers. The lowest is 925mm, the highest is 1,054mm. Then there are the different mechanics. Different controls. And you can bet that mechanical couplers will not work manually.”
These are merely the technical issues. Watts believes that overambitious manufacturers and the “chaos” around franchising do not help the situation:
“We will always have problems introducing new trains, but that is why you do testing and commissioning.”
ROG is contracted to help with the testing and commissioning of a number of new fleets, such as GA’s Stadler units and LO’s ‘710s’, and to act as support for CAF’s Northern units.
“Approvals are very, very stringent and they can take a long time, but we are not involved in that,” explains Watts.
“It varies from contract to contract for us - Bombardier did the deal with us for ‘345’/‘710s’; Greater Anglia appointed us for Stadlers; Porterbrook did the FLEX deal.
“CAF did CAF, but there is CAF Spain and CAF UK, who are very different. We will be the test operator for the re-engineered Class 442s for South Western Railway.”
All told, ROG is involved in some 30 projects at the moment. “Our work includes all train manufacturers, engineers, and 60% of TOCs,” says Watts.
By the start of this summer Northern should have disposed of more than 80 of its hated Pacers, but as this issue of RailReview went to press none had left. Eight Flex bi-mode trains should have been delivered, but none has so far entered traffic. The first of 101 new CAF trains that are currently being delivered should already be in service.
The operator was let down last year by the May timetable chaos, which resulted in driver competency being lost on routes such as Blackpool North after Network Rail delayed the electrification project. Meanwhile, electric trains only began serving Bolton earlier this year, instead of December 2016 as planned. Its Pacers are non-compliant with the forthcoming disability regulations.
“The deadline has always been there - as an industry we knew that,” says Engineering Director Ben Ackroyd.
“We are getting the legacy fleet that we are keeping modified, and works are stacked up as a result. I calculated we have 75% of the legacy fleet PRM-compliant.
“We have looked at the timeframes. We should have had Pacers out by now, and October 2018 was when we should have accepted the first ‘195’. Instead, that was February. Four months of delay on a brand new product isn’t bad.”
The first DMUs are also being assembled at CAF’s new facility in Newport, South Wales. Says Ackroyd: “That was a concern, because would you want to be first? But the quality is good, and the fact that they have mobilised the plant in little over a year is impressive.”
Regarding Flex, which involves fitting diesel power to Class 319 EMUs, Ackroyd explains: “Flex was a mitigation for the non-electrification of lines, but with that we are still going through final approvals. We have this ‘elephant’ of gauge issues.”
He says that Northern, Caledonian Sleeper and TransPennine Express joined forces to put various projects together, to speed up the processes.
“We looked at which routes would have the biggest train operator, and then proportioned the finances required. That example has meant gauge clearance has been quicker.”
Ackroyd also says there have been a number of issues, including lineside infrastructure, requiring a wide range of interventions: “Network Rail’s gauge engineers then whittle down the risks. Having the best data was always a challenge, but we turned hundreds of fouls into positives.”
For Northern, it’s about focusing on getting the basics right and the train services running. Statistics show that in the past 12 months more than 30,000 trains were cancelled for various reasons, and local politicians regularly call for Arriva to be stripped of the franchise (although whether they fully understand what causes the problems is open to debate).
Says Ackroyd: “Performance is improving, and passengers have recognised that. If we get the basics right then we can introduce the new trains. It does link up all the different functions. We’ve a plan on building acceptance and putting them into traffic.
“We have 150 drivers and conductors from seven depots learning the trains for the initial plan to introduce the electrics in Yorkshire, and then deploy the diesels in the North West from Barrow and Liverpool to Manchester Airport.”
However, as can be expected, delivering 101 new trains poses logistical problems. Ackroyd explains: “We made a conscious decision to work away from home depots because they were busy.”
Northern recognises a ‘hump’ in fleet size, whereby new trains and legacy fleets will be fighting for depot space until the leases on the older trains expire.
Says Ackroyd: “We’ve projects such as at Ardwick, where we are looking at space, while we are investigating third-party sites to release the Pacers for store. We are working desperately with CAF, Porterbrook and industry partners to confirm the December timetable plan.”
That plan relies on both space and the new trains, and with the CAF trains Northern has experienced a problem that has put main line testing on hold for a month.
“The intermediate couplers were contacting the aperture, and it was just catching the body. It’s quite a straightforward fix, but needed certain tooling. That’s under way and off the critical scale.”
Leasing other trains wasn’t an option for Northern, with Ackroyd explaining: “There’s a shortage of diesels, and we don’t have the option - and neither do other operators - to be able to train staff quickly.”
However, he remains confident: “I think if there’s a managed programme we will succeed. I have no doubt. Yes, we’ve been knocked back by the lack of infrastructure, and that caused pain. But I think we are showing a new product and new entrant to the market that can work in the UK. Performance is what we need to focus on.
“The investment is to be applauded, and we had to get rid of Pacers because there had been false promises.”
Finally, what of the train owners?
A senior source at Angel Trains tells RailReview: “I think it’s a big picture. There is a lot of surplus rolling stock coming off-lease. Some are life-expired beyond economic repair, and some will be relatively modern and sit in a siding - as is the case with the Class 707s. We have irons in the fire for them, but given the current suspension of franchising that could be frustrating.
“It is one of the challenges of the Williams Review, but that must not bring to a halt any of the investment opportunities. But we need a medium to long-term solution.”
He suggests that the solution is about making long-term business decisions that last 30-35 years, rather than operational decisions made for individual franchises.
“What we need is a long-term coherent strategy. Remember there was a White Paper strategy for electrification? Then it was cancelled, and then it came back again before being cancelled. I suspect it will be back. So we are trying to make long-term decisions against the lack of a strategy.”
Since the privatisation of British Rail, Angel has spent some £5 billion on new rolling stock and refurbishments, and RailReview’s source reiterates: “We need a long-term strategy to make long-term business decisions.
“I have 785 new vehicles in production, and their introduction is key. I have major projects - for example, ScotRail. But you have to look at cause and effect. Everybody talks about overbidding, and I think you are seeing some of that now. If you look at the situation it has heightened competition in the rolling stock sector, and there is the bubble of new versus refurbishment.”
Angel Trains is the owner of a significant number of trains that are due to go off-lease. These range from High Speed Trains, to Pacers, to the South Western Railway Class 707s delivered as recently as 2015-17. None yet have a home (and are unlikely to in the case of the Pacers).
“For the benefit of the industry and Angel Trains, we have tried to defer the maintenance beyond the planned end of their careers. But one of the challenges then is if something is delayed, the industry picks up the cost. We’ll then have to undertake maintenance, and of course that work may only be for a short period.
“It’s not just storage costs that must be considered. Older trains don’t sit well, especially if made of steel. There are reintroduction costs. We will explore every opportunity for low-cost additional capacity, but there’s a point when we will scrap - and if we cannot find that in the short to medium term, then they will go.
“We will already send some to scrap. These fleets have no kind of realistic future. Pacers… we’ve no plans beyond the end of this year for them. We will offer some to community railways, but failing that there will be a symbolic scrapping of them. They are not loved.”
He says that the result of this is threefold: it has driven competition, driven down maintenance costs, and driven down lease costs, which ultimately is better for the industry.
“But that also manifests in the delivery profile. If bidders encourage a deadline, then the difference can be if they win, how that slots into the production line. It’s a function of the competitive nature of bidding.
“The other thing to bear in mind with the new trains is the interaction and interface with infrastructure. Network Rail is not involved, but you need to manage the infrastructure risk. We don’t have the capability - sometimes the TOC will do it and sometimes the builder has to do it, but who is really best, particularly where new manufacturers come into this? NR should do it.”
The Williams Review, it seems, is the key for the industry. Certainly RailReview’s Angel Trains source believes that’s the case: “The industry needs it, and I think the industry would agree with that. What that change is, I have no particular view. Angel Trains wants to invest - we are a conduit. We have seen that UK rail has been successful in attracting investment into new trains. Is that good? I think it is.”
But have there been too many new trains in too short a period?
“I would not package it that it’s too much too soon. The industry must ensure investment remains. Williams must not block that. Franchising needs to remain ongoing, and I want Government to continue that.
“I’m keen that the West Coast Partnership and Southeastern franchises follow through. We have been looking to invest in the Pendolinos since 2012. We want to take them through their half-life overhauls, and we have ideas for them. There is an opportunity to invest for the rest of their life, but we need that degree of certainty.
“Therein lies the challenge: we need that certainty, and I would like to think we can more than hope for that.”