Published: 9th November 2015
Porterbrook Leasing, one of the big three rolling stock leasing companies, has announced that it has ordered 80 Class 387 Electrostar carriages from Bombardier in Derby. This order is in addition to its other 256 class 387 vehicles already ordered. The carriages will be built at Derby with delivery commencing in October 2016 and completion by June 2017.
The Department for Transport (DfT) wants more and new carriages to be built for the ever growing passenger numbers carried on UK railways forecast for the next 30 years. They have previously looked at what they perceive as a monopoly in the rolling stock market but as there are three major players and several smaller ones, this is clearly a misguided view, as was demonstrated by several investigations.
The trains can operate at 110mph on overhead electrified lines and 3rd rail routes, south of London so will not be short of a user. This type of train makes up around half of the UK rail fleet for mid-distance electric trains and will be used on lines yet to be electrified. When electrification of a route is completed, the ‘Sparks’ effect always generates a huge increase in passenger numbers so longer and more frequent services have to be run to cope with demand and to help relieve overcrowding.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “This deal is fantastic news, both for East Midlands' booming rail industry, and for passengers, who will benefit from more British-built trains on the rail network in the future.
These ‘Electrostar’ trains are currently used on the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern, Essex Thameside and South Eastern franchises and after electrification, the Great Western franchise. It is likely that when the next round of franchises are announced, bidders will seek to include these new carriages in their bids.
Porterbrook had previously in 2015 signed an agreement with First Greater Western to supply an additional 32 Class 387 carriages which will join the 116 vehicles due to be transferred to them from the Thameslink route when the new Siemens Class 700 trains are delivered.
The Class 387s will be used on commuter services along the Paddington to Thames Valley destinations and Oxford during 2016/17. Each Class 387 has four air-conditioned carriages with two by two seating, and the latest on board service information and facilities for people with disabilities
The end of Pacers has been announced endless times by The Chancellor and Transport Secretary over the last year as trains that are awful, outdated and just not fit for service. But as the railways enter a funding crisis, what are the chances that money will be saved by retaining these trains and not having to cancel services due to no replacement trains being available.
Especially as one has been refurbished as a demonstrator train to show how they can be improved and made fit for years more service and crucially, at between a third and half the price of a new train.
These trains were introduced 30 years ago as a cheap lightweight solution to replace aging trains built in the 1960s and designated as Class 14x by the rail industry. The demonstrator has been reclassified as a Class 144E by owner Porterbrook Leasing and refurbished to demonstrate to the rail industry how the passenger experience can be transformed by developing an existing vehicle making it comply with the technical standard for People with Reduced Mobility (PRM TSI) in the process. The demonstrator has also been fitted with a retention toilet rather than continuing to discharge onto the track.
The project is a collaboration between Porterbrook, RVEL, Lloyds Register Rail and other suppliers, took a 2-car Class 144 unit, 144012, and transformed the interior with a new bright and welcoming interior, new seats, luggage and bicycle storage, draught screens and flooring. The overhead luggage rack has gone but new luggage and bike storage areas provided.
One of the problems was the impending deadline for compliance with disabled passenger legislation so a new universal access toilet, wheelchair spaces and priority seating was included.
Technology has provided a new Ethernet backbone which enables new operational systems such as saloon and forward facing CCTV, Wi-Fi and LCD information displays and automated passenger announcements.
Olivier André, Commercial Director for Porterbrook said “Self powered DMU vehicles will be required for the foreseeable future and it is generally accepted that there is and will be a DMU shortage for some years, part of which will be relieved by electrification. Porterbrook sees the Class 144e project as a demonstration of how to efficiently bring existing Rolling Stock up to date with the public expectations at a fraction of a cost of new vehicles, offering very quickly value for money to the industry.”
Andy Houghton, RVEL's Commercial Director said: “We are delighted to have been asked to work with Porterbrook and other regional suppliers on delivering the 144e project. It is our hope that the 144e will showcase how the railway can properly meet the exacting demands of today's passenger; so that the customer is able to experience the same levels of quality whether on existing or recently manufactured rolling stock.”
Martin Giles, Managing Director for Ricardo Rail said “Having started this project as an initial feasibility study, Ricardo Rail (formerly Lloyd's Register Rail) were pleased to then be asked to develop the client requirements into a complete design solution. The key challenges included increasing the equipment installed on the vehicle, such as a Universal Access Toilet (UAT), without adding any weight penalty or reducing the passenger carrying capacity.
These trains do have a serious image issue and are not liked by passengers, but they would rather have a train than none and it would be a brave Minister to withdraw these ‘Pacers’ when they can be refurbished for another decade of used and be made compatible with new legislation.
After all, why would the Chancellor and Transport Minister sanction spending double the money on a new train in times when they are looking to save money from the rail budget?
The latest news on the introduction of the Hitachi built Class 800 IEP electric trains on the Great Western forecasts that these will run to Bristol in August 2017 and to Cardiff and Swansea in 2018. The trains will be on time, but their operation obviously depends on the electrification being completed in time.