VTEC’s HSTs: life begins again at 40

EC61 was the first set to undergo refurbishment, being released back into traffic on December 31 2015. The time it takes to refurbish each nine-car set has been getting progressively quicker, with EC63 taking 20 days, EC51 13 days and EC57 just 11. EC60 is the latest set to return to traffic (March 6), and the target completion date for all 15 sets is by this September. 

RAIL is shown around the depot by Phil Buck (Head of Fleet 125) and Paul Charles (Project 21’s project manager). Operation of Craigentinny will pass to Hitachi in August 2018, and work has begun to convert the depot to accept the first IEPs. Concrete foundations are currently being laid for a £5m carriage wash, track renewal will also be required, as will modification to the overhead wires and a new fuel delivery system. VTEC will become a customer at this time, and Hitachi is likely to retain the depot’s HST handling facilities to offer servicing to operators including ScotRail. 

One of three 265-metre roads in Craigentinny’s servicing shed has been set aside for Project 21, with ample vehicular access for just-in-time delivery of new fittings and for disposal of the old. VTEC has hired 41 contractors from TXM Group to complete the work, while many of the suppliers and materials are resourced from within the UK to minimise transport time.

Leather for the newly upholstered seats in First Class is supplied by Andrew Muirhead in Glasgow, the powder-coating and painting of seat parts is conducted by Euro Spray in Fife, while Standard Class seat covers come from Sheffield and the carpets from Ripley (Derbyshire).

TXM’s staff work in four teams in eight- to 12-hour shifts, taking two coaches per team, and with an additional team member working in First Class. 

“Everything here is set up to get the job done as quickly as possible,” says Buck. “People said that 21 days would be impossible, and we’ve got it down to 11.

“Historically under BR this was a level four depot and the HSTs would have gone away to main works, but we undertake our own work now. That’s one of the reasons we’re able to deliver a high rate of availability - 93%. Normally we only have one set out of traffic for maintenance or overhauls. 

“Doing the refurb here avoids moving them to Wabtec or Bombardier and lost days. With our project we don’t lose control of the process, by keeping it in-house.”

RAIL steps aboard the train into a Standard Class coach that is in the latter stages of completion, having been stripped out eight or nine days previously. 

The universal access toilets throughout the train now feature new shiny floor coatings and large murals of picturesque Scottish vistas. The new door control system includes a voice message telling passengers when the door is locked and unlocked. 

“Since the first set, we’ve paid more attention to the toilets,” says Buck. “We’ve re-coated most of the components and installed new toilet seats, because the attention to detail in the first one was not good enough. There’s a different picture now in every toilet.”

A new thicker pile carpet lies in the vestibule areas, which is sufficiently abrasive to scrape the dirt from shoes before entering the saloon area.

In the saloon, the lighting strips installed during the Mallard project remain, but they have been extensively cleaned to remove the yellow tint that sometimes affected the levels of light in these coaches. Interior panels removed to install new power sockets have been cleaned and repainted white before being bolted back in.

Gone are the old seats, replaced with new ones in Virgin red colours, supported by the old seat frames and arms that are newly repainted. There is little in the way of Virgin branding, because of the short amount of time these coaches will remain in VT service, although the Virgin name does appear on route maps and other signage stuck to the doorway bulkheads. 

Moving through to First Class, again there are new carpets and repainted side panels throughout. This time the seats have been replaced with leather, and the Virgin name is now present via removable leather bands on the headrests, making de-branding an easy job on handback. The tables have received new table-tops, and the legs have been powder-coated grey.   

It is impressive that the coaches can be completely stripped, modifications made and a deep clean applied in only 11 days. TXM Group Engineering Director Bryan Bennett is delighted with the pace and quality of the project, telling RAIL: “When you look at an unrefurbished HST, it’s like night and day. Initially the plan was for six weeks per unit, but that didn’t fit in with VTEC’s new timetable, so we upscaled the manpower from 24 to 41. 

“To turn a nine-car set around in 11 days without reducing quality is unheard of in the industry, and the fact they are old units adds to the complexity. This is the most complex job we’ve done, but one of the most satisfying. The standard of work going out is very pleasing, and the units look a lot brighter. We move from strength to strength.” 

It’s time to gauge the effects of the refurbishment on a set back in public service, and so RAIL heads north to Aberdeen for a night’s sleep before joining the 0952 departure for King’s Cross the following morning. At over 523 miles and a scheduled journey time of six hours and 59 minutes, there’s plenty of time to take in the new customer environment and assess its visual impacts. 

Power for the nine-car train comes from 43272 and 43306 on the rear, which had formed the 1400 King’s Cross-Aberdeen the previous day. It is one of four HST departures from Aberdeen, with three running to London and the last to Leeds. 

The light-coloured internal livery helps the Mk 3 coaches look bright and spacious, while the new seat number signage (a continuous band running the length of the carriage at head height) makes seat reservations easy to find. The seat frames have not been changed, so there is no problem with legroom. In Standard Class the deep-cleaned flip tables (which so often let down the interior cleanliness of trains) is apparent, while many on the heavily loaded departure make use of the new power sockets for laptops and mobile phones. 

At Dundee, RAIL is treated to a cab ride until Edinburgh, along some of the most scenic parts of the route and the mighty bridges crossing the Tay and the Firth of Forth. This presents an unmissable opportunity to ask the driver what he thinks about driving these 40-year-old workhorses and the prospect of IEPs. 

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  • Andrewjgwilt1989 - 02/05/2016 21:34

    Some of the MK3 carriages could be used for AGA's Intercity fleet as there wont be any new trains (except Vivarail Class 230 DEMU's) to be built for AGA and also the Class 230 for Great Western Railway and London Midland and Great Western Railway, Virgin Trains East Coast, Hull Trains and Transpennine Express are ordering the new Hitachi to build the IEP Class 800, Class 801 and Class 802 trains and other new trains such as Class 700 for Govia Thameslink Railway Thameslink Great Northern, Class 707 for South West Trains, Class 707 for London Overground, Class 345 for MTR Crossrail, Class 387/2 for GTR Gatwick Express, Class 387/3 for GWR and c2c and Class 385 for Abellio ScotRail.

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  • Rob Lewis - 23/03/2017 08:11

    Surely the best use for displaced HSTs would be to use them on long distance Cross Country services, so that the dreadful Voyagers could be cascaded to secondary routes.

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  • cobol qanon - 31/05/2021 22:38

    Don't be under an illusion that 50 years of HST working that the frames, roofs and floors of the coaches and power cars are seriously corroded, I worked for a time on the upgrades to the coaches and they were showing there age and needed extensive welding. However on a brighter note? the current crop of new trains seems as their "lightweight" alloy frames are already cracking at the lift points so I would guess that they will never reach 50 or even possibly 10, if you look at the original Eurostar trains - these have already been built and scrapped in the lifetime of the HST. Some times a design is just right and the idea is to repeat and improve not replace with "new design" which has new problems that turn out to be fatal flaws....

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