Rail Industry Focus

01.05.14

Fit for the future

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Apr/May 2014

First Capital Connect’s fleet of Class 365s is undergoing an extensive refresh and engineering overhaul at Bombardier’s Ilford depot. RTM spoke to the train operator’s engineering director Robin Kay and project manager David Payne.

When Railcare went into administration in July 2013, First Capital Connect (FCC) and Eversholt had to act quickly to ensure a planned engineering overhaul of its 40-strong four-car Class 365 Networker Express fleet was not severely delayed.

Two units had already been through a C6X overhaul at Railcare’s Wolverton works (now owned by Knorr-Bremse) under that £13m contract.

In November 2013, Eversholt and FCC announced that Bombardier would now undertake the works at its Ilford depot in Essex, as part of an extended £31m contract that also included an extensive interior refresh, a new livery, PRM (persons with reduced mobility) accessibility modifications, a C4 overhaul for some units, and other enhancements.

FCC engineering director Robin Kay told us: “We’re getting Bombardier up to speed to carry out the overhaul and the refresh. When we started this, it was almost a ‘hot start’; we couldn’t just tell Bombardier: ‘Do the overhaul, do the refresh, do the driver’s cab, do the PRM modifications and the universal access toilet’. There had to be a phased introduction, and support for them in the early stages.

“Now they’re up to speed with that and bringing down the time to carry out the works, ultimately to 20 working days for everything.”

Back in service

The first two units to have the interior refresh and livery were launched at Cambridge (pictured overleaf) as part of a ceremony supporting the Red Balloon charity, which helps bullied children. One of the trains was named after the charity, while FCC, Network Rail, Eversholt Rail and Bombardier agreed to fund research to quantify the financial benefit to society of recovering severely bullied children.

When RTM spoke to Kay and project manager David Payne in late April, unit 3 was back out in traffic, while unit 4 was being worked on, due out in late May. They both had their C6X overhaul, were repainted inside and outside, had their seats re-covered and interiors enhanced, as well as an improved driver’s cab, and their C4 overhaul at the same time. Unit 5 was due to get the same full overhaul and refresh, plus LED lighting upgrades to brighten the carriage and make maintenance easier. Unit 6 is due to be fitted with the universal toilet and to get other PRM modifications.

Kay said: “As with any overhaul and works programme, there’s a ramp-up of the specification: we started out at an eight-week downtime, and we’re currently getting towards four. Once we’ve got up to speed with the full scope – the interior refresh to the saloon, the cab, interior works on PRM, the universal access toilet, etc. and the external livery, all that will be done in the four weeks.”

Feels like a ‘brand new train’

He continued: “If you go inside the vehicle as a customer, you’ll see that every surface has been painted, renewed or re-covered. We’re particularly pleased about that, as the customer will look and see and feel a ‘brand new train’. Obviously, we know it’s a train that’s been around since the mid-1990s, but they’ll see new flooring, repainted grab poles, in the saloon they’ll see that all of the window surrounds, dado panels and surfaces have been repainted. It’s really good – bright and fresh. We’ve lightened the floor covering, the lino, and it looks really bright and grabs you.

“There are better seat covers, dado panels, re-coated grab poles and handles, and in the door vestibule area an extended grab pole that meets the PRM requirements. People more familiar with the train will notice that difference.

“Outside, there is the bright new livery. We’ve still got the ‘smiley face’ on the front of the train [the cab air conditioning gives the appearance of a very happy train], and the cab front is still yellow, but there’s a new neutral ‘Thameslink’ colour with the demarcation on the doors in blue. This is moving away from strong brands associated with specific TOCs to a more neutral colour – part of the government strategy not to repaint everything every time.”

Accessible

The PRM modifications include wheelchair bays and the call-for-aid systems, the accessible toilet, seat realignments to accommodate priority seating arrangements, hinged tables in first class, and new external door push buttons meeting the PRM regulations on the force that needs to be applied.

Some of the universal toilet control systems will be retrofitted into the existing standard unit, to make maintenance easier, rather than having two completely different generation toilets on the same train.

There are plans for a new passenger information system, but those plans haven’t been sealed yet. “That won’t go in until later until all of the supply chain and engineering changes have been finalised and tested and implemented,” Kay said.

Payne said fitting a new system will be complex – “not a five-minute job” – and said the team did not want to repeat the mistakes made on some other rolling stock where the passenger information system clearly “isn’t right”. “We want to make sure this one’s good,” he said.

Project management

Discussing the relationship with the ROSCO and Bombardier, Kay told us: “We’ve worked closely with Eversholt to get the project management right. Obviously there was a bit of a challenge with bringing a new supplier on board, but with Bombardier, we’ve taken an inclusive and proactive approach. We’ve had guys on the ground helping them get up to speed, and to iron out some of the problems – it is quite a significant piece of work. Our guys have helped them through the first sets of changes and given feedback, and aided with snags.

“It hasn’t been without ups and downs, but we’ve had a good relationship with Bombardier and Eversholt – and a few late nights!”

Payne said that he and his counterparts at the other two companies have been determined to “leave the contracts in the drawer” and to work together to resolve issues, not “chuck rocks at each other”. “The main thing is for us to get them back out in traffic for our passengers,” he said.

Improving door reliability is an important aspect, Kay said – one which the operator has “extensive experience” with. There are plenty of pitfalls that could have tripped Bombardier up, Kay said, so the team passed along their ‘inside knowledge’ about the doors to ensure their reliability can be improved, both in factory testing and once in service with up to 300 people and a slightly flexing train.

‘Sense of pride’

Passenger feedback on the aesthetic aspects of the refresh has been very positive. FCC spokesman Chris Penn told us that some passenger had been tweeting about the ‘new train’, assuming it was one of Siemens’ new Class 700s for Thameslink, when in fact it is 20 years old. Penn said: “We send that sort of feedback back to Eversholt and Bombardier, and it gives a real sense of pride in the job.”

Payne added: “It’s good for everyone involved to see how the work they’ve done has been received out there on the network. We’ve had good internal feedback too.

“One member of the management team walked on and said it was much bigger than they realised, because it’s now so light, airy
and clean.”

Deep clean

FCC has long been one of the lower performers in the national passenger survey, and the most recent figures for overall satisfaction (autumn 2013) put it on 79%, third from bottom – though with some improvements on the previous year. The proportion of people satisfied or happy with their train overall stood at 73%, with their train’s upkeep and repair at 62%, toilet facilities at just 32%, seating comfort at 62%, internal cleanliness at 67% and external cleanliness at 63%.

The TOC listened to this feedback and spent £350,000 on a ‘deep clean’ process for its whole fleet from September 2013, with the Class 365s and other Great Northern fleets now on a 36-day heavy cleaning cycle ever since to keep standards up.

Kay told us: “This gives customers confidence that we’re cleaning trains, improving the fleet, and it’s positive all round. Hopefully people will notice the difference, not just on these trains, but also the ongoing efforts we’re putting in elsewhere.”

It will be interesting to see if the Class 365 improvements are reflected in future survey results – though it will be early 2016 by
the time the whole fleet has been through the programme.

Fleet availability and franchise change

In February, FCC was awarded a franchise extension until 14 September 2014, the anticipated start date for the new combined Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise.

Kay said: “We are going to go through a significant period of change, especially because of the cascades into and out of FCC. They are part of the wider strategy to cascade trains to the likes of Northern for their newly electrified routes. But some people aren’t so aware that many of the FCC fleets are going through their scheduled overhauls, the Class 365s being one of them, and some of the cascades in and out are supporting fleet availability during the ongoing heavy maintenance programme,
and the changes in the franchise. It’s going to be an interesting time.”

The cascades include 14 four-car Class 319s leaving to operate Northern services between Liverpool and Manchester on the newly electrified line via Newton le Willows, while a further six Class 377/2s are coming FCC’s way, released from Southern.

Kay said: “The [Class 365] fleet being away impacts on availability, but using the relationships we’ve established ensures we can maintain availability and throughput at as high a level as possible.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com 

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