Britain’s new look rolling stock

Posted: 3 November 2005 | | No comments yet

During the last few years, Britain’s railways have seen a massive investment in new rolling stock to replace around 40% of the national fleet.

During the last few years, Britain’s railways have seen a massive investment in new rolling stock to replace around 40% of the national fleet.

During the last few years, Britain’s railways have seen a massive investment in new rolling stock to replace around 40% of the national fleet.

This is in complete contrast to the last years of the nationalised railway, especially in the lead up to privatisation when government policy allowed no new rolling stock to be ordered for more than three years. Since 1996, train operating companies (TOCs) have, together with the rolling stock leasing companies (ROSCO), been at the vanguard of a £4.5 billion investment which has seen the introduction of more than 4,700 new train carriages, transforming the travel experience for passengers on many routes up and down the country. Of course, introducing complete new fleets across the network is challenging and not problem free.

New trains have also been a contributory factor in Britain now having the fastest growing railway in Europe. Their introduction has allowed operators to revolutionise services by introducing more innovative and reliable services.

They are a key driver used by operators to attract new passengers to more punctual and more comfortable journeys by increasing standards of passenger care on the railway, and then bolting on other service elements such as improved travel information, greatly improved catering, WiFi facilities to allow people to work on board in comfort and a range of fares to suit all budgets.

Without this investment, Britain’s railways would have struggled to cope with providing the additional train services and coping with the 35.1% rise in passenger journeys that has been achieved since 1995.

The beginning of privatisation marked the start of massive investment in rolling stock, when in 1996 Chiltern announced the first new order with Bombardier to bring an end to the drought in orders for new rolling stock.

Since then, the TOCs have transformed passenger services. Britain now has one of the youngest passenger fleets in Europe, if not the world. The average age of rolling stock has dropped from 23 years in 1996 to a fleet which will have an average age of 14 years by the end of this year.

A number of TOCs have completely renewed their fleets, moving away from the traditional locomotive hauled trains to a ‘unit based’ fleet. Perhaps this is best illustrated by Virgin Trains, which committed £1 billion to renew its entire Cross Country fleet with new Class 220/221 Voyagers. This was divided between £390 million capital costs and a further £670 million for a maintenance contract that runs until 2012.

In total, 78 of the 125mph diesel multiple units, 44 of which have an in-built ‘tilt’ capability, were built by Bombardier in Bruges to operate Virgin’s Cross Country routes centered out of Birmingham. The Voyagers have allowed Virgin to replace its entire ageing Cross Country fleet of High Speed Trains (HST) and locomotive hauled fleet, some dating back to the mid 1960s and raise the standards of service and appeal of train travel.

Britain’s Cross Country network is one of the most intensively used in Europe. The Voyager fleet covers a distance of 55,000 miles a day and requires 70 units a day to cover all diagrammed services. Their introduction has allowed Virgin Cross Country to increase its week day services from 110 trains a day in 1997 to 215 trains in 2005. The benefit for passengers is that they can now take advantage of faster, more frequent services.

Virgin, also with its ROSCO partner, has invested a further £1 billion with Alstom in a new fleet of 53 9-coach Class 390 ‘Pendolino’ tilting trains and maintenance package for its flagship West Coast franchise – linking London with the West Midlands, Manchester and Glasgow.

The original contract was for 44 8-coach sets and nine 9-coach sets but an additional 44 vehicles were ordered in 2000 to make all sets 9-coaches. Each has 441 seats and fully complies with the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act. On-board facilities include a self-service shop, a serving galley, at-seat audio equipment and electronic on-board information and reservation systems.

The fleet was fully introduced in September 2004 and with the £7.5 billion investment by Network Rail on the West Coast Mainline, to raise line speed to 125mph fully tilting on what is a winding line, significant savings on journey times have been achieved. London-Manchester now takes 2 hours and 6 minutes compared to a previous journey time of 2 hours and 41 minutes. Journey times to Birmingham have been reduced to 1 hour and 21 minutes and journeys to the North West of England and Scotland will be reduced further in December.

When the West Coast modernisation is completed north of Crewe, there will be further significant reductions in journey times to the North West of England and Scotland with the fastest London-Glasgow journey time becoming 4 hours and 18 minutes. Even on that long distance, the train will begin to squeeze the airlines and will certainly easily beat travel by car to the midlands and south of England from Scotland. Passenger numbers between London and Manchester have already increased by 30%.
Other Intercity routes have also seen significant investment in rolling stock in recent years. Midland Mainline (MML), which operates services from London to Sheffield and Leeds, has introduced 16 4-car Class 222 Meridian diesel electric units and is in the process of introducing seven 9-car sets, representing an investment of £238 million.

Similar to the Voyagers operated by Virgin and built by Bombardier in Belgium, the introduction of these new trains has allowed MML to increase the number of services from 65 to 130 trains a day, offering an extra 10,000 seats. New trains have also contributed to better punctuality – from a low point two years ago when punctuality hit approximately 65%. By working closely with Network Rail and better train dispatching, punctuality levels now regularly top 90%.

Open access operator Hull Trains which operate between Hull and London’s Kings Cross have just invested £24 million in four 4-car sets of new trains. This, like MML, has allowed the company to accelerate services and provide greater capacity than the class 170 Turbostars they replaced.

The Bombardier built Turbostar Class 170 DMU has proved to be an extremely popular and versatile piece of rolling stock and is currently in service with five companies (One, Southern, Central Trains, ScotRail and South West Trains) all placing orders for the Turbostar. Overall, 464 coaches were ordered in two, three and four-car formations, an investment worth in excess of £400 million.

The Turbostar first rolled off the production line in 1998, with Midland Mainline the first train company to put the Turbostar into passenger service. The air conditioned Turbostar runs up to 100mph, providing First and Standard Class accommodation with buffet area, storage for cycles, wheelchair space, and customer information screens. The trains are fully accessible for those with special needs and compliant with the latest Disability Discrimination legislation.

Rolling stock investment has not been confined to long-distance and cross country routes. On suburban routes into London, and in particular the ‘third rail’ network south of the river Thames, Southern, South East Trains and South West Trains have all invested heavily in replacing all their old so-called ‘slam-door’ Mark 1 fleet, which will be completely withdrawn by November 2005.

This investment presented a challenge to Network Rail who has invested over £600 million in upgrading the electrical supply. It was only late in the day that the industry realised the existing power supply was unable to deal with the new trains. The new stock have sophisticated electronics, air-conditioning and power operated doors, all adding to the weight and electrical needs of the trains.

South West Trains have spent £1 billion on the Class 444 and 450 Desiro which consist of 177 new trains (785 new carriages) and have successfully replaced the Mark 1 ‘slam-door’ fleet. This also included a maintenance package which allowed the company to recast its timetable in December 2004 to provide increased and better services which together has enabled punctuality to recover from the mid-70s to around 90%. On other lines, 30 sets have been diverted to be used by Central Trains and Silverlink for high speed services along the West Coast mainline. First Great Eastern, now part of ‘One’ railway in East Anglia, successfully introduced its fleet of 21 Class 360 Desiros at a cost of £70 million in 2003.

The Desiro, built by Siemens Transportation Systems, received extensive testing on the Siemens’ test track at Wildenrath in Germany before entering service. They have air conditioning, automatic sliding doors, audio and visual passenger information displays and dedicated facilities for disabled passengers.

Bombardier’s Electorstar was chosen to replace the Mark 1 on both the Southern and South East Train franchises network. The first of Southern’s new Electrostar Class 377 trains officially went into passenger service in December 2002, heralding a new traveling experience for passengers in the Sussex commuter belt.

Southern has now successfully introduced, despite some teething problems over compatibility with couplings on the 182 new trains, the equivalent of 700 new carriages at a cost of £856 million and included 100 extra carriages to help with overcrowding on many services and provide more capacity on its busier routes.

This has been the biggest order for new trains to be manufactured in the UK since privatisation, being built by Bombardier in Derby. The final Class 377 entered service in September 2005 allowing Southern to meet the target of withdrawing all its remaining Mark 1 fleet by November 2005.

These new trains can travel at speeds of up to 100mph and are equipped with state-of-the-art technology. Modern features on the new trains include an integrated audio and visual passenger display information system throughout all trains, which is all linked to a Global Positioning System that accurately transmits the train’s position during its journey.

For the South East Train franchise which covers Kent, the Electrostar was also chosen. Their order, made by their predecessors, Connex, comprises 618 coaches ordered at a cost of £560 million. This consists of the Class 375 in three, four and five-car formations which are able to run at up to 100mph. The order also consists of 36 5-car Class 376s. While essentially the same as the 375s, they have been re-geared to operate at a top speed of 75mph for inner suburban duties and feature high density seating with wider aisles and more standing room for shorter-distance commuting.

The SET franchise will form part of the new Integrated Kent franchise which will include the operating high speed domestic services into St Pancras from Kent in 2009 using the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. As part of the franchise the Strategic Rail Authority placed an order worth £250 million for 28 new high speed ‘A’ trains with Japanese manufacture Hitachi.

The trains, which will be known as the ‘Javelin’, are expected to come into service in 2009 and will operate high speed commuter services capable of speeds of 140mph. They will also play a key role in moving visitors to the 2012 Olympics linking central London with the Olympic village at Stratford.

Britain’s railways are changing fast: more track maintenance and renewal is being undertaken than at any other time since the1980s, which also contributes to the improving performance of our new trains. The trains, which require a heavy investment of finance, hard work and careful planning to procure and introduce successfully onto our network, are a key driver for improvement and for attracting more passengers more often to rail.

The hard work and effort by the whole industry is now beginning to bear fruit. Not only are services more punctual and reliable, but rail is enjoying a period of revival in Britain as people see the benefits it brings. Passenger satisfaction levels are at a five year high and continuing to improve. And that is our ultimate measure of success: if passengers are being convinced that things are getting better, then train operators, with their industry partners have succeeded in driving positive change across Britain’s railway.

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