Bombardier plans digital takeoff with Heathrow Express fleet

Source: RTM Feb/March 2019

Chris Parker, UK business development director, rail control solutions at Bombardier Transportation, outlines the work being carried out to digitally enhance the Heathrow Express fleet.

Last month, it was reported that Porterbrook and Bombardier had signed a contract to upgrade a fleet of 12 Class 387 Electrostar units for the prestigious Heathrow Express service. The scope involves fitting the European Train Control System (ETCS) and a number of other passenger-focused upgrades. Importantly, this is the first time that ETCS will be retrofitted to a fleet of passenger EMUs in the UK, and so is a major milestone in the implementation of the Digital Railway.

For Bombardier, the contract builds upon other digital signalling projects that the company is already delivering in the UK – the new Aventra units being delivered for Crossrail and South Western Railways – and it also allows us to continue to leverage the global experience which Bombardier has in the field of ERTMS and digital signalling.

As the UK rail industry continues its digital transformation, Bombardier is actively working with all stakeholders to find ways to translate our global digital signalling expertise to meet the needs of the UK market.

With this project, Bombardier is doing just that. Alongside the rolling stock engineering teams already based in Derby – the people who, of course, engineered and delivered the many Electrostar fleets in the first place – Bombardier is expanding its team of Derby-based signalling engineers. Many of these bring international experience from recent digital signalling projects across the world. Indeed, there is a growing team of signalling and integration engineers based in Derby and across the UK. And in 2018, Derby-based Richard Hunter, formerly Bombardier’s UK managing director, was promoted to become president of Bombardier’s global signalling division.

Implementing this project will also involve the vast experience of Bombardier’s operational team based at our heavy maintenance and refurbishment facility at Ilford, which has recently been upgraded to undertake Crossrail maintenance. This combination of skills and resources will ensure that our extensive UK expertise is coupled with our global digitalisation experience.

In addition to the ETCS upgrade, and working with Porterbrook, First Great Western and Heathrow Express, Bombardier is also installing a number of functional upgrades to serve the specific needs of customers on the Heathrow Express route. These include fast WiFi, at-seat power, on-board TV, improved seating, and additional luggage space.

Mary Grant, CEO of Porterbrook, said: “I am delighted that Porterbrook and Bombardier can lead the way in the fitment of digital signalling to Heathrow Express Electrostar trains that connect London to the UK’s gateway to the world.”

“This first-in-fleet fitment will enable us to accelerate ETCS fitment on other Electrostar fleets, as and when our customers require it.”

Through close collaboration with all stakeholders, an integrated programme has been devised for this project, which combines the ETCS upgrade work alongside the installation of these upgrades at Ilford. Downtime is minimised by taking this integrated approach and the project is scheduled to be completed before the end of 2019.

As well as being a landmark project for the UK industry and for Heathrow Express passengers, this is an important project for Bombardier as we continue to grow and develop our signalling capability in the UK. Bombardier’s signalling division has long had a position at the forefront of the global industry, and the market demand and opportunity in the UK – including the Digital Railway – is now enabling us to focus our investment into digital signalling on these shores.

Digital technology promises to transform Britain’s railways in the next decade, and Bombardier UK has the capability and commitment to be at the forefront of it.


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