Rail Industry Focus


A new-look Class 156 fleet

Source: Rail Technology Magazine October/November 2012

RTM talks to Greater Anglia fleet manager Steve Mitchell about the upcoming £3m upgrade to its Class 156 fleet as part of its C6 overhaul.

Greater Anglia, the Abellio-owned TOC which took over the franchise to run services across East Anglia in February, has announced an overhaul of its nine two-carriage Class 156 vehicles.

Alongside the engineering work being undertaken as part of the trains’ C6, such as corrosion repair and repainting, there will be more extensive interior refurbishment and reconfiguration to ensure they can continue running past the deadline for compliance with the Technical Specification for Interoperability for Persons with Reduced Mobility (TSI PRM) at the end of 2019.

Steve Mitchell, fleet manager at the Crown Point depot in Norwich, explained: “In order to do that, there are some quite significant changes that are required for the units to reach that standard. A strategic decision was made about the units being used beyond that date and actually achieving the TSI PRM with minimum downtime for the operator, so they don’t have to take the units out of service at another point before that date.

“Even though TSI PRM doesn’t strictly say we must have a CET tank if they’re replacing the whole toilet, I think quite sensibly they’ve gone down the road of adding the CET tank to the vehicle as well. There’s a significant level of work required to rip out the old toilets: in fact we have to lose a couple of seats as well, so the toilets are slightly bigger with a little bit more space in order to fit in a new toilet module.”

Another key point in the disability legislation is around passenger information systems needing to offer both visual and audio information, which will also be part of this upgrade, ordered by asset owner Porterbrook.

Mitchell added: “Also, because the 156 is occasionally coupled to a 170 – albeit not normally in service, but even out of service the destination blinds have to be consistent – they’ve gone for a system which is fully compatible with our current 170s. The current 170s only have visual, but they are compatible from the point of view of display, and they can pull up the same databases and so on.”

In addition, the disabled ramps are getting locating lugs, and will be located in a particular place of the car near the disabled toilets, so it can be easily located. A revised seating layout will provide priority seats and two wheelchair spaces with ‘call for aid’ buttons alongside the new universal toilet, which will also be fitted with a help button. That module is manufactured by Phenolic Ltd.

As part of the main C6, the carriages are being recarpeted and getting new dado panelling. The seating is going to be dry-cleaned and re-covered and will “look like new”, Mitchell promised. The Super Sprinters were built in 1987-89 at Washwood Heath, and Mitchell told us: “They’re looking tired in places, so the new carpets and cleaning will give them a bit of a boost: that’s similar to what we’ve done with the 153s, they have had that as part of their C6 and it’s made a good difference.”

The luggage racks have not worn well, Mitchell said. “We’ve locally procured some covers that need to be fitted and the ideal opportunity to fit them is during the C6, so we’re hoping those luggage racks will neaten up as part of the process as well.”

Each unit will also be repainted in Greater Anglia’s red and white livery.

Unit 156402 was delivered to Railcare at Wolverton on the Monday after the Olympics finished. It is due out towards the end of November.

Mitchell told us: “That first one is predicted to take longer, because it is such a major change that they’re looking to do, which they haven’t done on other units yet. The subsequent units should take less time: by the time we get to the third one, there will be a more normal eightweek turnaround time.”

The whole refurbishment programme should be complete in late 2013.

The 156s run on routes such as Marks Tey – Sudbury, Ipswich – Cambridge, Ipswich – Lowestoft, Norwich – Great Yarmouth and Norwich – Sheringham.

Asked about the effect on service patterns, Mitchell said: “There’s absolutely no doubt that that’s always a struggle but we have looked at our service patterns and worked with our train planning department to minimise the effect and we have a further change in the timetable.

“When the 153 went away, we juggled the services to effectively throw up a ‘spare’ 153 to cover the one that was away. At the moment that’s not much good because it means unfortunately we’re regularly running a 153 instead of a 156 in certain diagrams. In December we correct that: we have to hire in another 158 for one round trip a day, from East Midlands Trains, which we already do in the morning on the diagram anyway, but that does throw up a spare 156 to mitigate the loss of the 156 which is away being worked on.

“We operate on very small margins anyway because we haven’t got a massive diesel fleet. At the best of times there are only two or three units which we would have out of traffic at any moment of time. That includes doing regular, planned, level four maintenance. To try to mitigate the effect of one being away, we have made timetable changes and we have done so, so far, without actually affecting the number of services. Some of them have been about reutilising stock that was standing spare during the day at stations and things like that.”

One engineer at Crown Point is basically dedicated to the project, working with Porterbrook on heavy maintenance and visiting Wolverton regularly. Mitchell said: “He is a single point of contact – he’s a lynchpin in that regard – and that works quite well for us. People in the depot always know who to go to if they’ve got a query.”

The dedicated engineer also looked after 156417 after its well-publicised collision with a slurry tanker at a level crossing near Sudbury in August 2010.

That unit was out of service for a year for repairs, and Mitchell said: “He worked very closely with Wolverton, with the same people, to get that vehicle back in traffic, which was quite a challenge.”

'Major improvements'

Therese Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal, whose constituency includes the Ipswich – Lowestoft East Suffolk Line, one of the routes on which the Class 156s are used, said: “I’m delighted that passengers on the East Suffolk Line will benefit from refurbished trains with a nicer travelling environment, better information provision and upgraded toilet facilities.

“Coupled with the introduction of an hourly service on the route from December, it means passengers along this vitally important corridor are seeing major improvements to their train service over the coming months, which will also support the local economy, help local communities and make our region more accessible. I’m pleased to see Greater Anglia delivering on their commitments to enhance train services on the Ipswich to Lowestoft line.”

Greater Anglia’s punctuality, according to the latest PPM statistics, was at 94.5%, just above the national average. Its moving annual average stood at 91.5%. Abellio also runs Merseyrail and Northern in a 50:50 joint venture with Serco.

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