Vivarail’s depot at Long Marston is not exactly a hive of activity. The work being carried out there is being done by just a handful of people in a couple of old sheds.
Yet the small team at Long Marston has already designed a train, installed almost everything needed to get it working, and is now in the process of re-installing several components and interior elements before the train can finally run outside the works fence.
Vivarail has a programme in place to introduce its D-Train test unit to public passenger use next year. As it stands, the test train is timetabled for testing on Network Rail’s Cotswolds line to Evesham at the end of November. The runs will be operated on behalf of Vivarail by GB Railfreight (RAIL 782).
This is a tight deadline, especially as expressions of interest in the new trains are coming thick and fast, according to Vivarail Chairman Adrian Shooter. Successful testing and final developments will almost certainly result in orders for them next year.
But despite the rapidly approaching deadline, everyone at Vivarail seems positive that things will go to plan. Shooter has no doubt that the test train will be completed in time for testing in November.
“We have a programme in place, and I see no reason why we shouldn’t meet that programme. Testing will begin at the end of November,” he tells RAIL.
The updates are also coming thick and fast. A new hybrid engine for 2016… testing to be carried out by GBRf in the Chilterns… the layouts and interior options are ready. Yet despite these progressions, the train isn’t ready. Why not?
“The gensets are still being tested in the Netherlands, otherwise it would have been ready this week,” says Shooter.
Testing the engines seems to be a little over cautious, bearing in mind that they have long been used in Ford Transit vans. But then everything on these trains is tested, re-tested, proven and then inspected. The refurbished bogies are completed by Strukton Rail in the Netherlands, and then installed at Long Marston. Incidentally, the works is currently little more than a refurbished old army locomotive shed.
The crash test footage RAIL is shown contains so much extra data and footage it could almost be made into a feature film. But the crashworthiness tests revealed that a reinforced cab structure designed and installed on site performed admirably. The impact test caused a 20mm deformation, whereas 120mm would have been the acceptable limit.
So, now that crashworthiness has been tested and the mechanical aspects are being finalised, what about the interiors?
“We can offer a basic interior, or an upgraded interior. It’s what the client wants,” says Design Manager Neil Bates (director of Creactive Design). “It’s modular. You can choose.”
The oft-spouted complaint that the D-Trains are already seen as unpopular London cast-offs is casually shrugged off by Vivarail. Shooter cheerfully says that “everything below the solebars is new”. Technically untrue, of course, because the bogies are not new but refurbished sets from the early 2000s onwards, but they’re certainly newer than the bodyshells.
In fact, after seeing all the options available, the image that the D-Train is simply Tube stock with new upholstery seems to be a massive oversimplification.
These trains are quite capable of being given an almost endless variety of customised interior features, from table seats to iPad holders. Folding bicycle spaces (designed specially for the ubiquitous Bromptons of London’s square mile) have been designed to allow further capacity solutions. A lack of toilets in the D-Train design is also apparently a myth. There is, in fact, a dedicated space within the trailing cars for toilet installation.
And the latest development is a buffet. Rather than a trolley service, the D-Train can now potentially have a small bar at one end, similar in design to the bistro car available on Amtrak’s Acela Express services in the US, or the second-deck buffets on France’s TGVs.
Even the moquettes and seat fillings are custom fitted. If a client wants a cheap and easy fix they can be given a firmer, cheaper filling, but a more luxurious padded seat is also available. The impression that is being drilled into visitors here is one of flexibility. It seems very much to be the case that the clients will design the trains with Vivarail’s help, not vice versa.
Vivarail’s plan has always been for the D-Train to be a cheap, quick alternative to expensive new-builds. The Japanese principle of ‘half the cost, half the speed, half the life’ is applied rigorously.
The D-Train is designed and intended to be cheaper - if a little slower - than a new or existing commuter or suburban DMU. It will never beat a Class 175 or a ‘Voyager’ for speed, but it’s not supposed to. It is supposed to outperform Pacers in the fuel consumption and comfort stakes. The engine has a good deal of torque, meaning the train will be well suited to accelerating quickly away from stations (a key feature on busy suburban lines). And the lower speed is irrelevant, considering their commuter target market.