Mid September General News Roundup

A summary of the most relevant rail news this September so far...

Reduce Overcrowding

Franchise train operators London Midland have announced that it has selected preferred bidders for the manufacture, maintenance and financing of new rolling stock. This is intended for use on London Midland services and the Manchester to Scotland services operated by First TransPennine Express.

The order will reduce overcrowding on some of the busiest sections of the rail network. The preferred train bidders are Siemens for the manufacture and maintenance of the new rolling stock, expected to be based on the ‘Desiro’ family of EMUs. The deal is being financed by Angel Trains Limited and all Parties now begin a period of exclusive negotiations with each other.

If successful and parallel discussions with the Department for Transport confirm the business case and the necessary amendments to the London Midland franchise agreement, a firm order should be placed by early 2012.

Heading off Contract Award Criticism

In an obvious attempt to stall any accusations that another train order has been placed overseas, (IE: not to Bombardier in Derby), The Government said that the deal started with an EU-wide competitive procurement process led by London Midland commencing with the publication of a contract notice in the OJEU in April 2009. This sought prices for between 40 and 120 vehicles, and attracted responses from a number of interested financiers and suppliers from both UK and wider European markets.

Current expectations are that the new order will be for approximately 72 Class 350 vehicles, probably in the shape of 18 x 4 car formations, the final number of vehicles partly depending on the outcome of negotiations with the Department for Transport. These may have 110mph capability and tests are about to take place on the West Coast Main Line with existing class 350s certified for 100mph running at the moment.

Electric and Diesel Units

It is expected that approximately 32 of the new vehicles (probably 8 x 4-car units) will be for use in expanding London Midland’s existing fleet of electric multiple units providing additional seating capacity on their services.

In addition to the above, as a result of a request later in 2009 by the Department for Transport to include within the procurement requirements new electric rolling stock for use on the Manchester to Scotland route, approximately 40 of the new vehicles (probably in 10 x 4-car units) are to be procured and subsequently transferred by London Midland to First TransPennine Express (FTPE).

The transfer is intended to take place in early 2012 via a novation to FTPE of the relevant contracts between London Midland, Siemens and Angel Trains. FTPE and the successors to the TransPennine franchise will run these vehicles on routes between Manchester and Scotland following the electrification of routes in the North West of England .

Negotiations with the manufacturers for the Manchester to Scotland service may include interior design changes to reflect the longer distance journey patterns on this route. The deal could be finalised and signed within 6 months.

Delayed Delivery

The original target for introduction of all the new vehicles into service was May 2011 and now, delivery of the first unit is expected 30 months later than planned in two years time (autumn 2013) and it is anticipated that that FTPE will receive its vehicles before London Midland.

The maintenance arrangements being negotiated with the preferred supplier and financier for the new vehicles to be deployed by FTPE on the Manchester to Scotland route are likely to include development of existing depot facilities in the Manchester area and the making of arrangements to provide out-station servicing and stabling at other locations on the route.

Railcare and The VTG Rail (UK) Group sign Five Year Maintenance Deal at Wolverton Works

A multi-million pound contract was signed on August 28 at Wolverton Works, the World’s longest continuously operating Railway Works. The contract took two years to come to fruition and now means that 300 wheelsets a year for five years will be refurbished at Railcare’s Wolverton and Springburn Works.

Work associated with the contract has already commenced and will run through the Works’ 175th anniversary year in 2013. The wheelsets belong to the 100 ton bogie tank wagon fleet owned by the VTG Group and the contract was contested by many other wagon maintainers.

VTG Rail UK, a subsidiary of VTG Aktiengesellschaft (SCN: VTG999), is Europe’s leading wagon hire and rail logistics company. Following the end of its previous maintenance contract, VTG completely reviewed the way it maintained its fleet and in particular was keen to learn from the success achieved on the passenger side of the rail industry.

The objective was to find a maintainer with a very proactive approach to managing wagon availability, obsolescence, and the unplanned problems that can happen on the rail network.

VTG implemented a new structure incorporating separate maintenance packages for Wheelsets, Airbrake Equipment, Bogies and RID Tank Testing.

Three of the four – Wheelset, Airbrake and Bogie Maintenance – have been awarded to Wolverton-based RailCare, with Tank Testing to be awarded later in the year.

VTG’s Managing Director, Rob Brook, said: “The key thing is improving fleet availability. It’s not just about replacing a bogie, but doing it in a time and manner that ensures our customers get the best possible availability from their wagon fleet.

“I’m confident that the deal with RailCare will help VTG deliver even better wagon availability.”

The five-year contract is a strong, performance driven deal with demanding KPIs, and a focus on continuous improvement to service.

Rob Brook from VTG and Rob Baxter, Managing Director of RailCare, signed the contract and celebrated the deal with a specially-baked celebratory cake in the shape of a VTG Tank wagon. The contract came into force on 1 September.

Wolverton’s Second Contract Win

Portebrook Leasing have awarded Railcare another contract which is to refurbish class 153 and 156 Diesel Units. This will see the trains carry a revised seating layout and providing priority seats and spaces for two wheelchair spaces with “call for aid” buttons.

A new universal toilet ensuring adequate wheelchair access will also be fitted with a “call for aid” button, and a passenger information system. In addition the interior doors between the vestibules and passenger compartment will be removed, external door sounders will be fitted and handrails replaced.

Porterbrook suggest that this project concerning the first of the Sprinter/Super Sprinter series of trains to be made compliant with the regulations and demonstrates that modification is an economic and viable alternative to replacement.

Consideration was also given to undertaking similar work on the Class 153 stock but it was felt that, currently, it was more difficult to make the economic case because of the level of work needed on a single car unit. However, further investigation work will be carried out as will the possibility of reconfiguration into fixed 2-car units. The first of the refurbished trains will emerge from the Works in 2013.

Newport Station Upgrade Still Unfinished a Year After Opening!

Newport (Gwent) station had a makeover costed at £20m last year and was declared ready a year ago in time for the Ryder Cup Golf Championship which took place at the nearby Celtic Manor Course 12 months ago.

The works provided a new entrance and ticket hall and lifts and a revised parking and taxi layout. A commemorative plaque was fixed in the booking hall last January, three months after the re-opening, despite complaints arriving at Arriva concerning the leaking roof, lifts not working and ticket barriers holding passengers up. Passenger information displays were also what is best described as limited as well and this was exacerbated by the removal of printed departure timetable posters around the station.

Remedial work has been undertaken this year and most of the faults remedied. There remains one final job, the platform surface!

Fishguard New Train Service

The Welsh Assembly is funding five additional trains to/from Fishguard Harbour, Monday-Saturday, starting from 12th September 2011. The service was be launched by Carl Sargeant, the Welsh Government Minister for Local Government and Communities.

The trains offer new commuting and leisure journey opportunities for local residents while visitors from further afield can also take advantage of the new services with days out or longer breaks. For the last few years, the only trains have been two a day meeting ferries to and from Ireland and have been of little use to anyone apart from passengers travelling to or from Ireland.

Partnership Platitudes

Mike Bagshaw, Commercial Director of Arriva Trains Wales said “We are delighted to be working with the Welsh Assembly Government on introducing this new important rail link and will be involving local communities as we develop details of the new service.”

The extra 5 trains which run in both directions every day between Mondays and Saturdays are in addition to the two current boat train services that connect with the midday and midnight ferries.

Speaking at the official launch, Carl Sargeant said: “The new train service to Fishguard is a big development in public service improvement for North Pembrokeshire. These additional services will not only play a vital role in improving links to the region - that will in turn provide a boost to the area both in terms of tourism and the economy - but also support our drive to encourage more people to use rail rather than road.”

He also emphasised that it was essential to ensure that these services are used regularly and are a success story as a review of the extra services will be carried out after the third year of the scheme to identify demand and passenger numbers, the nature of trips taken, and will at that time seek further community and user views.

The trains are costing £1.4m annually and are linked to the town from the Harbour station by a bus. Michael Vaughan, Head of Franchise & Stakeholder Management for Arriva Trains Wales commented: ‘We have been extremely pleased to work with Welsh Government for the provision of the additional services for Fishguard Harbour, and we wish the service every possible success.”

“ I am confident that the timetable will make access to the whole of the UK rail network so much easier for the residents of North Pembrokeshire and for helping bring extra visitors into the county by rail’.

Mark Langman, Network Rail:

“Wales relies on rail. Rail is a key driver and enabler of economic growth, it is environmentally sustainable and connects communities. Today's achievement owes to a shared vision and demonstrates the importance of partnership in creating similar successes for the railway in Wales.”

Severn Valley Railway NOT to Run Commuter Trains To Birmingham

The Severn Valley Railway has formally distanced itself from newspaper and some magazine reports which inferred that commuter trains could be run on its line, to and from Birmingham.

Headline stories first published in one regional daily newspaper last month and copied by Steam Railway Magazine claimed that the Kidderminster - Bridgnorth steam heritage line was ‘considering’ the reintroduction of commuter services after ‘more than 40 years’.

Not on the SVR Agenda

SVR General Manager Nick Ralls said: “Commuter trains are not on our agenda and never have been” he emphasised – “and neither have we been approached with proposals for them by any of the main line train operating companies. But that doesn’t appear to have registered with some of our media friends, who seem intent upon setting a different agenda for us.

We’re very disappointed by the standard of some of the reporting we’ve seen on this issue.”

The false stories came in the wake of an announcement by the railway in August that its points connection with Network Rail at Kidderminster is to be upgraded within the next 12 months, and re-signalled to allow the free flow of passenger trains in both directions between the 16-mile steam heritage railway and the main line.

Erroneous Media Reporting

“Whoever has translated this to mean ‘commuter trains’ has grasped the wrong end of the stick” said the Severn Valley Railway General Manager. “Our interest is entirely in the running of occasional steam and diesel-hauled charter trains – both from the SVR to destinations on the main line network, and incoming excursions onto SVR metals”.

“There are many reasons why commuter trains aren’t a viable option for us” he said, “not least of all that we’re governed by the standard 25mph speed restriction applicable to heritage railways which is set by Her Majesty’s Railway Inspectorate (HMRI). That’s hardly condusive to the commuter ‘ethos’ of getting people to work and home again in the shortest possible time.

“ As a railway whose trains and stations are still run by volunteers, we are simply not set-up to handle commuter traffic, and if our car parks were to be used by commuters, where would the families who form the core of our business park their cars?” he questioned. “I hope we can put this ‘non-story’ to bed now” he said.

Newly-elected Severn Valley Railway (Holdings) Co. Chairman Nick Paul gave unequivocal support to the railway’s General Manager. “There is no thought in anyone's mind of running commuter trains as described in the media” he said.

Buckinghamshire Railway Centre Rotting Away!

The Buckinghamshire Railway Centre (BRC) at Quainton Road Station has been seriously hit by rotting wood and damp in the 10 year old Rewley Road Station Extension funded by the National Lottery. The extension was built onto the remnants of the Grade 11* listed building which was relocated to The BRC in 2000 from its original Oxford location.

The relocation was funded by The Oxford Business School and the trainshed extension attracted a Lottery Grant of over £1m. This was spent in somewhat controversial fashion with Lance Adlam taking up the role of Project Manager and Architect to the scheme and he was appointed without a tendering process being carried out by the then Chairman, Andrew Bratton FCA.

Rotting Woodwork

The woodwork has had to be replaced, over a kilometre of planks, alongside the Rewley Road station just ten years after being newly built. This has been reported as being due to ingress of water and lack of weather boarding provided as specified. The BRC declined to comment how much the repairs had cost but merely said that the work was being done by volunteers.

The £100k maintenance fund created in 2000 is understood to have been spent a few years ago when attendances plummeted by 40% from a decade ago and the paid staff were made redundant.

Dates with a Princess

The group who own LMS Stanier Prototype Pacific No. 6201 Princess Elizabeth has issued their 2012 calendar with some superb photographs illustrating the month to a page view. It costs £7 inc. p&p (Cheques payable to: Locomotive 6201 Princess Elizabeth Ltd' from PO Box 6201, Millom, Cumbria, LA18 4GE or from www.6201.co.uk. ALL proceeds go towards the locomotive’s upkeep.

Isle of Wight Steam Railway Boom

The Isle of Wight Steam Railway is experiencing a record year to the end of the main holiday season with passenger numbers and income 20% up on last year. This was a record in itself and cannot just be put down to ‘staycation’ holidaymakers as other IOW attractions are not reporting similar increases.

Brading Passenger’s Long Wait

In the last news bulletin, we carried a picture of a passenger facing a long wait at Island Line’s Brading station. The passenger is on a bench on an island platform which is not served by any trains, having been taken over by the Brading Station Visitor Centre along with the Signalbox.

This is the culmination of a decade of work by the Town Council, Network Rail, South West Trains and volunteers including from the nearby steam railway. The work has won awards and is well worth visiting with an ever growing railway museum at the station and the re-opened signalbox to visit.

Swanley Park Miniature Railway Gala Success

The Railway’s 25th Anniversary Gala on September 10/11 was deemed to be a huge success attracting crowds who travelled on the many trains operated.

Southern Railway Schools Locomotive Restoration Update

No. 925 Cheltenham is at Eastleigh Works being overhauled as reported on this website recently. Progress continues with the engine’s Bogie being refitted on August 24. The draincocks are now fitted, frame cracks welded and repaired, the driving wheel axleboxes are now at The Mid Hants workshops at Ropley being remetalled and remachined.

The horn guide liners are back from Ropley ready for use again. Frame painting is now complete and due to moved into the main part of Eastleigh works next month into same bay as erected. The boiler could hopefully be back this year as well.

Only one superheater element needed repairing and they are now ready for fitting to the boiler. Two backhead cracks have been ground out and weld repairs done. The Injectors are also ready for fitting.

Freightliner New contract with Celsa Steel

Freightliner Heavy Haul Ltd has started multi-year contract with steel giant, Celsa Steel UK. Three trains will transport scrap metal from Dagenham to Cardiff each week for recycling. David Israel, Commercial Director of Freightliner Heavy Haul Ltd, commented 'We look forward to bringing our new customer the reliability, flexibility and customary high service levels we promote throughout our business.'

Gauge Clearance Project Boosts Freight

The completion of the Southampton to West Midlands gauge clearance project has increased container traffic by 25% and other routes are also experiencing growth. Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff and Leeds are all seeing more trains as Low-Liner wagons are being used and Freightliner has added two more services between Southampton, Manchester and Leeds.

Voyagers to Be Electrified?

Bombardier Voyagers could become electric trains if plans announced by Transport Secretary come to fruition. He announced at a Select Committee Hearing that it was being looked at to see if the trains could be dual diesel and electric powered. This will be a technical challenge as the driving cabs vehicles do not have brake reservoirs and each carriage has an engine underneath already not leaving a lot of room for more equipment to be carried.

Each carriage carries different equipment with different functionality so merely re-arranging where equipment could pose consequential problems to resolve.

Forth Bridge Painting Completed at Last!

Network Rail has announced the end of a long project when painting the Forth Bridge comes to a conclusion by the end of the year. It has taken a decade and coast £130m in partnership with Balfour Beatty and should last 20 years before repainting starts again.

The scaffolding is now being removed and a celebration is planned for March next year. The paint used has been commonly applied to North Sea Oil rigs so its durability is known. The bridge was shotblasted back to the original 120 year old metalwork removing much paint.

Repairs were then carried out before three coats of paint applied on the 2467 metre long, 110 metre high bridge (above sea level). The structure is 137 metres high and weighs 53,000 tonnes and is held together, Network Rail say, by 6.5 million rivets and carries 200 trains a day.

23,000 square metres of steelwork was painted using 240,000 litres of paint which will be appreciated by the millions of passengers and visitors alike.

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