Interviews

01.09.13

Fleet cascade

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Aug/Sept 2013

Gerry McFadden, fleet director at Southern, talks to RTM about an order for 116 new Electrostar carriages.

Intermediate rolling stock to extend electric services across the country is well on its way. Southern has now confirmed an order with Bombardier for Class 377/6 carriages to operate from May 2015, allowing the current fleet to be cascaded to other electrified routes.

The £180m deal is for 116 dual-voltage Electrostar carriages, and follows the confirmation of a contract for 130 carriages in 2011 and an additional 40 in 2012. 

RTM spoke to Southern’s fleet director Gerry McFadden about the deal and what it would mean for the operator, as well as the wider network. 

Meeting deadlines 

He said: “The infrastructure and electrification work has been going at great pace; that’s going to be ready. The new order allows the planned cascade of rolling stock, to work under that new infrastructure, to happen on the timescales originally planned.” 

Once Thameslink rolling stock begins to arrive from 2016, the new Electrostar carriages will in turn be cascaded, to the Midland Main Line and to electrified TransPennine North services. 

McFadden described the carriages as “highly adaptable”, capable of operating at 110mph, and said: “We are delighted with the result that we have achieved.” 

The order will be completed at the end of Southern’s franchise term, ahead of its absorption into the Thameslink, Southern & Great Northern (TSGN) franchise. The trains will provide “an awful lot of extra capacity for the industry”, he said.

“We had a very competitive procurement, and the winning margin here was quite narrow.” 

Growing demand

Network Rail has been conducting infrastructure works to further ease congestion – platform lengthening on the West London Line from Clapham Junction to Willesden Junction and up to Watford Junction will allow new longer services to run from next May. Another 40 vehicles in five-car formation will operate to make the most of this capacity. 

But it’s not just providing capacity for the rapid increase in passenger numbers – McFadden highlighted how creating new services could attract business, and future-proof growth for the network.

He explained: “One of the lessons the railway has learned is that when you offer more capacity and better units, you stimulate demand. One of the success stories of the industry has been that wherever we have introduced new rolling stock, we have stimulated demand, and we are busier now as a railway than we have been in history.” 

High expectations 

Meeting the capacity challenge requires both new trains and refurbishment programmes, McFadden suggested. 

“I think you need to do both, and we’re doing both in this franchise. By the end of this franchise every piece of rolling stock we have will either be new or fully refurbished. 

“There’s a problem going forward but from a customer’s point of view it’s a very good problem to have, where customer expectations on our railway and on our line in particular, are incredibly high. They expect either brand new trains or trains that effectively appear to be brand new. They expect very high class interiors, and that’s an increasing challenge to meet those expectations.”

Keeping their options open 

The new order includes an option for an additional 140 vehicles, allowing the DfT some flexibility to respond to demand elsewhere on the network. 

McFadden said Southern had “absolutely no idea” whether this option would be called, but noted that “we’ve always procured with options and every time we’ve procured with options, the options have always been called”. 

A separate order, confirmed with Bombardier in 2011, will see 130 new carriages brought into operation in Southern’s metro area. The new five-car units will start to officially operate in December, although some services could start ahead of this date. 

McFadden said: “We are very hopeful that will begin a small element of passenger operation with these trains in September, starting to roll out progressively from then.

“Fingers crossed of course, because this is a brand new build and lots of difficulties could always emerge. But we’re looking forward to that.”

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