Class 144e: A case of evolution and collaboration

Source: RTM Apr/May 16

Helen Simpson and Chandra Morbey, engineering and supplier development managers at Porterbrook, explain how close collaboration with the supply chain can help deliver prototypes impressively fast and with greater freedom for all parties involved.

The Pacers are a hardworking fleet and well used across several TOCs, but in recent years have had a poor passenger reputation. This led Porterbrook to develop a new evolution of the design and create a radically different customer experience of these vehicles. 

The Class 144 fleet, owned by Porterbrook Leasing, was the final design iteration of the Pacer fleet. These units are lightweight compared to other DMUs and this contributes to their cost-effective operation and good acceleration. 

The aim of the project, called Class 144e, was to develop a transformational interior, trial and develop new technology, be compliant with the new PRM-TSI legislation which requires trains to provide a range of facilities for people with reduced mobility, and to do all this at a fraction of the cost of a new DMU. Given increasing ridership and the timescales of the electrification programme, Porterbrook considered there was a market for these units with the right combination of specification and commercial offer. 

New approach 

However, a new approach was needed to deliver this ambitious transformation in the timescales, and so Porterbrook entered a collaborative partnership with the supply chain. Two key partners were Ricardo Rail, who led the whole design, integration and independent approval, and RVEL, who led the physical equipment installation and testing, providing the workshop and labour. With Porterbrook, Ricardo Rail and RVEL all based in Derby, a strong team ethos developed and enabled quick decisions to be made. Dg8 design carried out the interior visualisation work, which gave the team a clear and early vision of the transformation that was expected. 

The collaboration continued throughout the supply chain, and several companies agreed to support the project with new or innovative products. Having a demonstration project allowed suppliers to showcase some new developments. Several companies agreed to support the project, including: 

  • The first installation of a new type of accessible toilet module from Birleys. This module was innovative as it can be delivered in two halves for easy installation
  • A new full colour LCD passenger information display screen and media screens from TrainFX. This system is linked to the train’s Ethernet backbone and can provide real-time updates, automated visual and voice announcements and video images
  • New seats were fitted throughout based on the Fainsa design used on other Porterbrook vehicles and new flooring was supplied by Altro
  • A new lighting gondola supplied by Invertec
  • R2P supplied a CCTV system for both the saloon and forward facing cameras, which links in to the Ethernet supplied by UR Group 

New Flooring Seating 

Significant transformation 

Working collaboratively, a new design was developed and a demonstration unit 144012 was transformed to become the 144e ‘evolution’.  The transformation was significant – a light, bright and airy feel was created, which is comparable to a new build. And the joined-up approach delivered this new concept in impressive timescales: from starting design work to the completed unit re-entering service was only 10 months. 

The feedback from passengers has been extremely positive and the team has been delighted. Comments included: “well done on your refurbishment, and not before time”; “a huge improvement”; “would be fantastic to see this standard on all carriages”. 

Working as a single team has been a learning curve for all parties, and has overall been a positive experience for all partners. Ricardo’s design team better understand Porterbrook’s business objectives and RVEL has implemented process improvements following the work on Class 144e, which mean it is well placed to deliver future projects for Porterbrook.

System suppliers in particular appreciated the freedom the approach gave them to develop the design or trial new technologies during the project, rather than needing to have everything finalised before they could even tender, as is the case typically.  

Porterbrook has tangible benefits too – new products ready for the next refurbishment and suppliers ready to deliver them. 

As the franchise process continues, the ongoing role of the Pacer fleet will become clearer – but for anyone considering the future of the Class 144s, unit 144012 is currently operating in passenger service in the Northern area and is well worth a visit to see the transformation that can be made.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]



Marc Cherry   20/01/2017 at 17:33

Only a Pacer unit however a vast improvement to travel on. If other Pacer units refurbished to this standard they could still have a future. No fan of Pacers but 144e is really good. What must really go are the 153's in today's overcrowded railway just what is the point of a single car unit? Horrific overcrowding on them and passengers regularly left on platforms due to lack of capacity ala EMT grimsby to Newark services

David Knowles   04/02/2018 at 23:10

Was surprised to see this unit at Preston Station last night. Only got a look from the outside, but pretty impressed by what I saw. Only problem not addressed though is the inherent 'roller-coaster' like ride experienced on Pacers due to their wheel arrangements being based on a Leyland bus.

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