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01.05.18

Running the new train marathon

Source: RTM April/May 2018

Andy Rogers, IEP programme director at Hitachi Rail Europe, provides a snapshot of the progress being made in building and delivering brand-new trains for the Great Western and East Coast main lines.

One of my team described delivering the Intercity Express Programme (IEP) as “a sprint to the starting line of a marathon.” As you are about to see, this description is very apt!

My job is to ensure Hitachi Rail delivers 122 intercity trains for the Great Western and East Coast main lines as part of the government’s £5.7bn IEP. I first started working on this project in 2012 and, six years down the line, it is amazing to see the progress made.

The trains are being built in our British factory at Newton Aycliffe, County Durham. Established in 2015, Newton Aycliffe’s very first project was to build these intercity trains.

As part of the IEP contract, we are also maintaining the two fleets for the next 27-and-a-half years. To meet this requirement, we have set up a countrywide network of depots. In total, over £200m has been invested in building new depots at Swansea, Doncaster and Bristol, as well as upgrading existing sites across the country.

With new trains, new depots and a new factory, the delivery of IEP is a large-scale operation. Yet the prize at the finish line makes it all worth it.

Our trains are delivering thousands of extra seats every day on main lines which have long reached their capacity. Passengers will once again be able to get a seat and enjoy more legroom and additional luggage areas in a spacious modern carriage. Each new train is fitted with the latest wi-fi routers as well as new digital display screens designed to keep passengers updated during the journey.

I wanted to give you a glimpse into our world and the hard work our teams carry out day and night to make this a reality.

The first hurdle: Great Western introduction

In October 2017 our intercity trains carried passengers for the first time on the Great Western Main Line (GWML). Since then, we have entered almost a train a week into passenger service whilst the HSTs are phased out.

The run-up to October was very challenging for our testing team. Gaining access to the UK network for testing is a struggle at the best of times given the busy nature of mainline routes. Yet in this case, it was harder still given the GWML is going through a large-scale modernisation, including electrification.

We had to take any slot we could get, squeezed in between the demands of passenger services and engineering works.

The other unique challenge was introducing a hybrid train on a main line which was only part-electrified. Our hybrid trains, the first of their kind to carry passengers, switch power source seamlessly mid-journey, without the passengers noticing.

When the trains were first introduced into passenger service, the only piece of electrified track was between Paddington and Maidenhead. This therefore meant testing our compatibility in electric mode on a stretch of track which, during weekdays, boasts traffic levels more associated with metro lines.

Thankfully, the train performed well with the new infrastructure, and today runs much further in electric mode.

Our test team deserve a huge amount of praise for overcoming this hurdle. They worked at unsociable hours and altered plans to fit around network availability. For me, this epitomises the biggest necessity of introducing new trains: being flexible.

Our innovative hybrid technology helped us out, but the flexibility of our test team was the big reason for delivering these trains ready for October.

Focus turns east

Whilst our work continues in the west of England, we are now moving apace to introduce our trains on the East Coast Main Line (ECML). Our 65-train fleet will start being introduced into passenger service this December. We now have five test trains for this route currently on the network, including our first purely electric intercity trains.

We have already made great progress testing along the route, reaching as far as Inverness in December 2017, as well as regular visits to major calling points such as Kings Cross, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh.

Just last month, two new test trains arrived from Japan at Teesport, Middlesbrough. These will shortly begin training Virgin Trains East Coast on-board crew ahead of December passenger services. Driver training is already in motion, both using the trains themselves on the network and driver simulators at stations.

Our manufacturing team are also getting into gear, starting production of the ECML fleet at Newton Aycliffe this summer.

A team effort

This is just a tiny snapshot into what it means to get new trains into service. Hitachi is lucky to work with fantastic teams across the industry. The list of organisations and suppliers involved in IEP is endless. Considerable work is carried out on a daily basis alongside our main delivery partners – Agility Trains, the DfT, Network Rail, Great Western Railway and Virgin Trains East Coast.

Being at the heart of it, I’ve really seen the best of the rail industry pulling together to deliver for passengers.

By the end of 2020, all 122 trains will be in service, yet on the Great Western we are lucky to already see passengers enjoying the trains. The positive feedback we receive spurs us on to keep delivering and working hard until we reach the finish line.

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