December 04, 2014

British inter-city fleet renewal gathers pace

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The project to develop a new-generation long-distance train for Britain has suffered a lengthy gestation but with production facilities, depots and the first trains taking shape, the Intercity Express Programme (IEP) is now making rapid progress. Keith Barrow reports from Hitachi's plant in Kasado, Japan, where testing is now underway on the first pre-series train.

IT IS now nearly six years since Britain's Department for Transport (DfT) announced that it had selected Agility Trains, a consortium of Hitachi Rail Europe (70%), John Laing Investments (24%), and MetLife Private Capital Investors (6%), for a public-private partnership contract to replace the fleet of High Speed Trains (HSTs) on the Great Western Main Line (GWML) and East Coast Main Line (ECML), the first phase of the Intercity Express Programme (IEP).

Under the controversial "total train service provision contract" Agility would finance, supply and maintain a fleet of Hitachi Super Express Trains (SETs) for 27.5 years, with payments from train operating companies based on rolling stock availabilityHitachi. However, the decision to electrify the GWML from London to Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea, together with a value-for-money review into the project following the 2010 general election, meant the £4.5bn phase 1 contract was not concluded until July 2012, more than five years after the DfT published the tender notice in the Official Journal of the European Union.

Phase 1 comprises 36 five-car bi-mode (diesel/25kV ac electric) and 21 nine-car electric trains for the GWML, together with 12 five-car electric, 10 five-car bi-mode, and 13 nine-car bi-mode trains for the ECML. The delivery of the ECML trains will enable the replacement of all HSTs currently used on services from London to Leeds, Hull, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Inverness, although on the GWML a residual fleet of HSTs will be retained for London - Plymouth - Penzance services. The bi-mode SETs will be designated class 800 and the electric trains class 801.

In July 2013 the DfT exercised the £1.2bn phase 2 option for 30 additional nine-car class 801s to replace the fleet of class 91 locomotives and Mk 4 coaches used on the ECML. This takes the total number of vehicles on order to 866, which will form 122 trains (see table).

IEP-tablesDespite a protracted procurement phase, IEP is now moving quickly towards fleet introduction. On November 13 Hitachi celebrated an important milestone for the programme with the unveiling of the first of three pre-series SETs at its Kasado plant in Japan. The first train, a five-car bi-mode set for the GWML, has undergone extensive static and slow-speed dynamic testing at the plant and is due to be shipped to Britain next month. The train will arrive at the port of Southampton in March and trials are expected to start at the Old Dalby test track near Nottingham in April.

The second pre-series train, a nine-car bi-mode set for East Coast is nearly complete while production is well underway on the third set, another five-car bi-mode train for Great Western.

In addition to the three pre-series SETs, the first 10 production trains will be built in Japan before assembly switches to Hitachi's £82m Newton Aycliffe plant in northeast England, which will assemble the remaining 109 trains. A topping out ceremony was held on October 30 to mark the completion of structural works on the 43,000m2 purpose-built facility. Hitachi Rail Europe also announced in October that it will base its British design office at the site and this will initially employ 12 staff.

Hitachi says the transfer of skills to Newton Aycliffe is a step-by-step process, and around 20 assembly staff from the British plant are currently at Kasado as part of the preparations for series production.

Construction of the Newton Aycliffe plant will be completed by the middle of next year and the facility will start assembling class 800 vehicles in mid-2016.

The GWML trains will be introduced from December 2017 and the ECML trains from 2018, with the entire fleet due to be in service by February 2020. As both of these lines are due to be resignalled with ERTMS, all 122 trains will be delivered with Hitachi onboard ETCS equipment.

SET uses Hitachi's proven monocoque extruded aluminium carbody construction, which employs friction stir welding, a solid-state joining process that provides a clean and robust weld between bodyshell sections. Bodyshells for all phase 1 and phase 2 IEP vehicles will be fabricated at Kasado, and Hitachi is investing in additional production facilities at the site to accommodate IEP, which is expected to use around half of the plant's production capacity at its peak. Kasado will also ship the bogies to Britain as complete units.

In the longer-term, Hitachi is keen to expand Newton Aycliffe's capabilities to include friction stir welding, although this will be dependent on securing further orders for the facility. Abellio has selected Hitachi as preferred bidder for a contract to supply 234 AT200 EMU cars for the ScotRail franchise, and it has also been shortlisted for contracts to supply 156 suburban EMU cars for the London Overground network and up to 250 metro trains for London Underground. Hitachi says it also hopes to secure business from mainland Europe for Newton Aycliffe.

Depots

The IEP contracts require significant investment in new depot infrastructure, together with the upgrading of existing facilities.

On the GWML, new depots are under construction at Stoke Gifford near Bristol and Maliphant in Swansea, both of which are due to be completed by next May. At the London end of the route, the former Eurostar depot at North Pole has been extensively rebuilt for IEP, with two new links to the GWML and more reception tracks. North Pole was handed over to Agility by the contractor in April.

The main depot for the ECML fleet will be located south of Doncaster and preparatory works are currently underway on the 7-hectare facility. Minor modifications will also be made to existing depots at London Bounds Green and Ferme Park, together with Craigentinny near Edinburgh to accommodate the new trains.

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