Rail Industry Focus


Depots must be seen as ‘key strategic assets’

Source: RTM Dec/Jan 16

Christian Roth, engineering director for South West Trains, discusses the importance of investing in depots to deliver increased outputs for a more reliable railway.

Delivering a punctual and reliable railway will require depots being seen as the “key strategic assets” they are, RTM has been told.  

Christian Roth, engineering director for South West Trains (SWT), told us that while traincare depots across the UK have a very important role to play, a large proportion of them are underfunded. “You cannot expect to have a high-performing railway if you have one link [depots], which is underfunded and doesn’t have the right attention,” he said. 

Over the last 15 years, many purpose-built maintenance facilities for new trains have been built, delivering “good quality and excellent” facilities, especially for new projects like Crossrail, Roth said. “Then you have the legacy depots. What we have seen over the last 20 years is that in a very small number of depots there has been sufficient investment because it was driven by the introduction of new rolling stock,” said Roth. “But quite a large proportion of depots around the country are still underfunded and, therefore, the quality of output is not as good as you get from the purpose-built facilities or those depots where there has been investment.” 

He added that SWT has been “reasonably successful” in demonstrating to the DfT and Network Rail that there was a capacity requirement for additional rolling stock. But instead of building new depots it was more cost effective to improve existing facilities. 

Wimbledon depot and Class 707s 

Roth, speaking to RTM shortly before Christmas, added: “There is not a lot space in the London area and building new depots is very expensive, and has the downside of recruiting a completely new workforce. It is an engineering and management challenge. 

“So, it is better to invest the right amount in existing facilities. Wimbledon is a classic example. Just two years ago, Wimbledon had 121 trains to maintain. We now have 151 trains and in two years, with the new Class 707s arriving, we will have 181 trains.” 

DG214302. Fitting the AC traction package to 62778 from 5870. Wimbledon Park. 20.5.15 edit

In September 2014, SWT announced that it was to order 30 five-car trains from manufacturer Siemens and leasing company Angel Trains. Fast forward to the end of October 2015, and all the design work for the new fleet, which will run between London Waterloo and Windsor, had been finished, with the first unit due to be built by the end of February this year.

The first Class 707 Desiro City train will begin testing in May before being delivered by Angel Trains to SWT’s Wimbledon depot in time to start passenger service in June 2017. It is expected that all of the new fleet will be delivered by the end of 2017.  

To accommodate the new fleet, SWT has also started improving the Wimbledon traincare facility. 

“In the last three years we built a bogie truck facility, an additional CET facility, and we have added side pits to one of the roads in the maintenance shed. With more modern trains, you need to have side pits. We have also replaced the wheel lathe with a modern double-headed wheel lathe, which is securing the output of the higher amount of trains,” he said. 

“With the Class 707 introduction there will be additional stores facilities. There will also be extra office capacity, because we will have Siemens on site as well. We will also extend the three eight-car roads in the shed to 10-car roads. That is all just starting now. That is the investment in the depot.” 

SWT is also investing in training and recruiting a highly-skilled workforce, using a mix of apprentices and talent scouted from other industries, as there is a shift away from old DC-type technology to modern train control methods. 

“Equally, you also need to put investment in place to upgrade your maintenance management system and IT support systems,” said Roth. “We are moving towards, let’s say, a ‘paperless depot’. We are moving away from check sheets to using iPads or smartphone technology instead. 

“By doing this you get a lot more information out of the train and the maintenance because you can start trending information and analyse which train is performing better than another.” 

These are the three “fundamental” investments needed to secure and deliver higher outputs, according to Roth.  He added: “It is vital, from an industry point of view, that we get a much higher level of awareness that depots are key strategic assets. 

“Depots need to have the right amount of investment in the right areas to be able to deliver a better quality, punctual and reliable railway.”

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