Keeping the Caledonian Sleeper as fresh as can be

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Feb/March 2015

Serco is soon to take over the operation of the Caledonian Sleeper service between Scotland and London, but has kept on Alstom as fleet maintainer. RTM spoke to Alstom’s Rob Whyte, managing director of its main line operations.

Alstom has won a 15-year, £92m contract to maintain the 75 passenger cars on the Caledonian Sleeper trains, and the new fleet when it arrives from 2018.

The current fleet is made up of Mark 2 and Mark 3 British Rail stock, but according to Rob Whyte of Alstom, “they’re in really good condition for their age”.

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(Photo credit: Ed Webster. Creative Commons)

“They are of a certain vintage, but they’ve led a charmed life – they haven’t been operating on a main line backwards and forwards all day, for example.”

Even so, Transport Scotland clearly liked Serco’s idea of procuring a new fleet, which is to be provided by Spain’s CAF – the two losing franchise bidders, Arriva Night Trains and FirstGroup, which operates the franchise currently as part of ScotRail, both proposed refurbished rolling stock rather than new.

The business case, produced by Atkins for Transport Scotland, showed that procuring an entirely new fleet was actually potentially cheaper than refurbishment, “and actually produces the lowest overall subsidy requirement of the three bids received”.

c. Dauvit Alexander                - caledonian sleeper cufflinks resize 635623570716152000

(Photo credit: Dauvit Alexander. Creative Commons)

Alstom has been providing maintenance services for the Caledonian Sleepers for more than a decade, at its depots in Polmadie in Glasgow, and Wembley in London. Whyte said that Serco’s maintenance requirements are similar to FirstGroup’s except that Polmadie will have a bigger role to play.

Discussing Alstom’s successful bid, he said: “We’ve been doing it very well for the last few years, and that always puts you in a strong position. We’re very open and engaging about working on other people’s equipment: it doesn’t frighten us. We do it in Nottingham on the Bombardier and Centro vehicles: we took over three years ago and that’s working a treat.

“It’s a good opportunity for us to show that we don’t just have to look after our own things, we can look after other people’s equipment as well.

“We are fortunate in the location of our depots – they do suit that route. Both Wembley and Polmadie are on the patch and in the right places.”

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(Alstom crews working on a Pendolino at Wembley)

CAF’s contract award includes technical support and spares, so Alstom will of course be working closely with that company.

“We’re responsible for the maintenance of the trains, but obviously there’ll be a period of introduction and a period of warranty, and all those sort of things. That’s for us and CAF to sort out in the next couple of years as the vehicles are being built, to decide how we want to do that. That is another area where Alstom has quite a bit of expertise: the testing, commissioning and bringing into service of vehicles onto the UK network.”

The Caledonian Sleeper trains run to and from London Euston to five Scottish termini – Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Fort William, Glasgow and Inverness – and carry 270,000 passengers annually. From April, Class 92s and Class 73/9s provided by GB Railfreight will haul the coaches, instead of DB Schenker Class 90 and Class 67 locos as now.

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(Photo credit: Ed Webster. Creative Commons)

For the existing passenger fleet, Alstom will continue to be responsible for the regular maintenance and deep-cleaning – they get ‘A’ exams every eight days, plus more detailed checks every 66 days.

The new fleet will not require such constant maintenance, of course. “That is what we like to see, and allows for a balanced maintenance regime, which is obviously how we tend to do our maintenance for things like the Pendolino,” Whyte said. “But on the CAF vehicles we’ll also take on the [heavy] level five maintenance.”

Whyte added: “We see it as a good opportunity for us to showcase our ability to work on other people’s equipment, and for people not to think of us as just an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) maintainer. We want to do work on things we didn’t build.”

Indeed, 20% of the trains maintained by Alstom were built by other manufacturers.

Whyte said: “That’s important, given the timing of things like the Northern [franchise], and who’s going to supply it, and the existing old British Rail stock that’s going to be moved around – who’s going to look after that? Well, we’d like to do it.”

Alstom already maintains Northern’s Class 323s at Manchester Traincare Centre under a ‘total fleet management’ contract, for example – and the team at its new bogie workshop in Manchester is also hoping to do work on other manufacturers’ bogies.

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

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(Photo credit: Paul Lloyd. Creative Commons)


Jeds   24/04/2015 at 13:00

Recent reports that the West Highland train, after the Serco take over, was operating without heating. Of all the possible faults, that is surely the worst. And point about the above article, we are don't have "cars" in the UK - we are not Americans. Coaches or carriages, please.

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