Keeping the future in mind

Source: RTM Apr/May 16

Adrian Shooter, chair of Vivarail and former chair of Chiltern Railways, discusses the possibilities of using the bespoke Class 230, a refurbished and re-engineered model of London Underground’s District Line stock, in upcoming franchises.

The wealth of franchises currently in progress at the DfT gives operators, manufacturers and lessors plenty to think about. Not least the ever-present conundrum of how to cater for the growth in passenger numbers whilst keeping costs low. Bids should also be environmentally friendly, enhance the passenger experience and, of course, be compliant with current and forthcoming regulations. Quite a lot of balls for an operator to juggle. And like a Dutch dike, when one hole is plugged the water spurts out elsewhere. Reduce overcrowding, provide better trains, and what happens next? Passenger numbers grow and the problem starts again. In fact, the recent East Midlands Route Study forecast passenger numbers to increase by phenomenal amounts in the near future: 

“The railway network is an important economic and social asset for the East Midlands; this is demonstrated by a 40% increase in its use by passengers over the last 10 years … Looking to the future, significant growth in passenger numbers is forecast to continue – up by 31-40% by 2023, and between 53-114% by 2043.” 

Of course, HS2 will play a big part in handling these numbers, and with central money already allocated it would be easy to say that the job has been done. But behind the glamorous façade of high-speed travel are the numerous local routes crying out for increased service and improved quality. These are lines where passengers can feel entirely left out of the planning process, indeed that the only power they wield is their feedback on the passenger satisfaction surveys!

What travellers want 

At Vivarail, we have talked to pressure groups, local MPs, councillors and LEPs from across the country and the message comes back the same: they want trains suitable for their journeys, not to be told that the cast-offs from regions with more money will suit them. Or even that their current unsatisfactory stock has life left in it until electrification occurs. 

From Sudbury to Skegness, Cornwall to Cheshire, it’s clear that they feel fobbed off with promises of jam tomorrow. The conversations we have had with visitors over the past year, who have put in time and effort to review the Class 230, have demonstrated that. Many have spoken freely with us about the lines where our train could solve immediate problems and become a welcome asset to their fleet.  

MPs have concurred, with at least one question tabled in the House of Commons: 

Matt Warman (Boston and Skegness) (Con): “I recently visited Vivarail, which is refurbishing Tube trains for main line use. Does my hon. Friend agree that those trains could make an excellent replacement for the decrepit rolling stock on the line from Boston to Skegness?” 

Claire Perry: “Like my hon. Friend I have also visited the Vivarail facility, and there are fantastic innovations with rolling stock that is made of aluminium, is rust free, and could run for many more years. The East Midland franchise competition is coming up this summer, and the successful bidder will be required to bid based on the rolling stock they will provide. We expect them to be innovative and to consider each and every opportunity for rolling stock. We want to improve the rolling stock in my hon. Friend’s region.” 

Improving rolling stock? Well, for many years, our team have been on the other side of the table as operators dealing with behemoths of the industry! So from the start, the Class 230 project has been a little different. We have been flexible and the train has been developed with input from users and operators, and we have been happy to take advice and feedback and make best use of it.   

Power Pack Replacement

Bespoke designs for every route 

When we were asked just why someone would buy a diesel unit at this point in time, we were able to reply that the Class 230 has been designed to take account of future requirements and is perfectly able to run as a diesel, an electric or even a hybrid unit.  

But we are not magicians, and we have always been realistic about the Class 230 and its potential application. Indeed, the designs we have put together have specifically taken account of the needs of the lines where the train would fit best.   

They are made for local rail services, where the requirement is for fast acceleration, minimal station dwell times, easy movement through the train for passengers and staff, and capacity combined with comfort. The crowd-busting City version draws on the expertise of London Underground in moving lots of people very quickly, ideal for commuter lines. For remote rural routes, the train has been designed to require minimal maintenance that can be done trackside to alleviate the need to return to depots. For tourist routes, the interior can be configured to make the most of the wide doors to give roomy vestibules, ideal for those travelling with pushchairs, bikes or wheelchairs.  

And this brings us neatly to PRM-TSI 2020, because change is a-coming and plenty of trains serving local routes are just not equipped to deal with it. Many operators freely admit they have no intention of upgrading current, nearly obsolete stock, to run for a few more years whilst they await electrification. An entirely rational decision if electrification could be guaranteed on all the routes for which it’s promised! 

833 20150817 121426 edit

Promising upcoming franchises 

Perhaps, when realism is the order of the day, our reasoning could be seen as idealistic – to build a train cheap to acquire and run, future-proofed technology-wise and quick to slot in to the local routes where the need is greatest.  

But maybe, just maybe, the new franchises will provide the impetus to bring about the radical change in the industry that we so often speak of, but that can be slow to materialise. Let us wait and see.

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



Marshlinktrains   12/05/2016 at 16:07

My thought are quite clear from trains could immediately ne used to increase capacity Ashford to Brighton. by replacing current 2 car Rye to Ashford peak evening shuttle with vivarail train. Which would allow 4 car morning and evening peak Ashford to Brighton servixe to be created. Both goverment and Southern say it is up to the other to sort out and pay for so basically nothing happens.

Alex   13/05/2016 at 14:17

The class 230s could be used on the Bidston-Wrexham Line with a half hourly service. If the engine speed could be increased from 60mph to 75mph it could be used on other lines around the country.

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