The legacy of Agility

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Aug/Sept 2012

Hitachi Rail Europe’s managing director, Keith Jordan, talks to RTM about the IEP contract, which encompasses so much more than just buying trains. 

The Intercity Express Programme (IEP) contract has now been officially awarded to Agility Trains, a consortium made up of Hitachi Rail Europe (70%) and John Laing (30%). Hitachi believes the agreement is much more than just an order for rolling stock, with a legacy of service delivery planned for the next 27 and a half years.

The July announcement of the financial close of the Great Western Main Line elements of the £4.5bn deal, and commercial close on the East Coat Main Line elements, means that 596 rail carriages and a new manufacturing plant and depots will be constructed, as well as provision of maintenance and support. Financial close on the ECML elements, assuming no more delays, should happen next year.

This is broken down into 21 nine-car electric trains and 36 five-car bi-mode trains for the GWML (369 carriages), and 12 five-car electric trains, 10 five-car bi-mode trains and 13 nine-car bi-mode trains for the ECML (227 carriages), with an option for a further 30 nine-car electric trains (270 carriages).

A mix of electric and bi-mode Super Express trains, able to operate on both electrified and non-electrified parts of the network, will replace the ageing Intercity 125 fleet with higher capacity, passenger comfort and impressive environmental credentials, Hitachi says.

The bi-mode trains are expected to achieve 45,000 miles per casualty, and the electric fleet 60,000 miles: which, if managed, would not be far behind the best-performing EMUs currently on the network, South West Trains’ Siemens-built Class 444 Desiros.

Hitachi’s only other current UK fleet, the high-speed Class 395 (Javelin) trains on Southeastern, which did such sterling service during the Olympics, achieve just over 50,000 miles per casualty. The industry average is around 13,000 miles per casualty.

Job creation

RTM spoke to managing director of Hitachi Rail Europe, Keith Jordan, about the deal and what it would mean for the UK. Jordan said between 500 and 730 ‘direct’ jobs in the manufacturing plant in County Durham will be created – depending on whether single-shift or double-shift working is required.

Apart from this headline figure, there will be many more jobs created in the supply chain throughout the UK, and around 200 people will be employed to build the factory itself. But Hitachi is also looking to the long term and is taking steps to ensure it has a sustainable workforce for the future.

Long-term legacy

Jordan said: “We will be taking on apprentices. We’re already talking to universities and schools about [getting] training in place so that people can actually learn the right skills to be able to have a job within the factory or within our supply chain when they come out of school, or graduate.”

This involves ensuring the skill base is there when the factory opens in 2015, as well as for future impacts around multiple industries. And it is not just a case of finding people to fill jobs; Jordan specified that certain skills would be highlighted as necessary for the work that would become available.

He added: “We’re looking at a long-term legacy as part of the IEP project. Overall the project is contracted for 27 and a half years of support and supply of the trains, so one of the things we’re desperately trying to do is get the skills available to make sure that we have everything available for a guaranteed 27 and a half years.”

The response from these schools has been “very good”, Jordan added, with training agencies in the area asking what skills would be required when the factory opens. He said these agencies “will be more than happy to adjust curricula to the needs of what could be a major supplier in the area”.

The training will consist of a large spread of core skills that would be useful across industries, not just rail and not just Hitachi.

“We’re starting at the grass roots level, out of schools and giving people a long-term future,” he said.

Not just buying trains

The rail factory will be based at Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, and maintenance depots will be constructed in Bristol, Swansea, London and Doncaster.

Existing depots throughout Great Britain will also be upgraded to maintain the fleet.

To Hitachi, the fact that the manufacturing factory will be located in the UK is very important – although others describe it as an assembly plant, since many of the core components of the Super Express trains will be manufactured in Japan.

However, Jordan described the new UK facilities as a “stepping stone to globalisation”, and Hitachi has emphasised that the plant is not just about the IEP by any means – it will be a European manufacturing hub for the company.

It is the first rail factory that Hitachi has invested in outside of Asia and forms part of its strategy to export to the western world over the next ten years.

Hitachi is also bidding for the Crossrail rolling stock contract – former transport secretary Philip Hammond suggested in evidence to the Transport Select Committee on rolling stock procurement last year that Hitachi’s commitment meant that whatever happened with Derby-based Bombardier, there would continue to be a thriving train building industry in the UK.

The first units to be built under the IEP will be introduced into revenue-earning service on the GWML from 2017 and on the ECML from 2018.

This time lag has caused consternation, with some in the industry suggesting the tried-andtested Pendolinos should have been procured instead, as these could have been in service within a couple of years. Others have criticised the DfT’s entire specification, saying the new fleet should have been fully electric and locohauled on non-electrified track – but the DfT says that would have cost £200m more.

Promises to keep

The new fleet will offer reliability and comfort for passengers, Jordan said, and emphasised that the IEP was “not just buying trains”, but about “providing daily service, the right amount of trains in the right formation, with the right number of seats, every day”.

The trains are being provided to TOCs on a ‘payas- you-go’ basis, meaning they must be fully serviceable, clean and reliable.

In terms of environmental aspects, Hitachi has “spent a lot of time and effort and money on research”.

The trains will feature regenerative braking, on-board diagnostics and fully recyclable body shells. The R&D department will continue to research and drive improvements in this area to cut costs and emissions as well as improving performance.

Jordan added: “We’ll continue to invest in making the trains as energy efficient as possible.”

Lengthy process

Despite having been named preferred bidder in February 2009, the deal only reached final close in July 2012 – and full financial close on the ECML elements is still outstanding. These delays could be attributed to the complexity of the deal, as well as external circumstances, Hitachi suggested.

Jordan commented: “The deal itself is quite complex and it’s something that has never been done before in the rail industry. It was very much around service delivery, rather than just buying trains.

“There have been a lot of people involved, not just the DfT, but funding bodies, insurers. A lot of it has been around risk mitigation, so we get the right result for all parties and particularly the taxpayer. Unfortunately that does take time.

“There are a lot of documents involved in this contract and all of those had to be correct before we moved ahead.

I think that has been a function of the time taken, but we have to believe that we and the DfT and the taxpayers have come out with the right solution at the end of the day.”

A Hitachi spokesperson added that the financial crisis and the change of Government since the preferred bidder announcement had caused upheaval.

Transport secretary Justine Greening said: “There can be fewer stronger signs that the UK is the best place in which to invest, and from which to develop new markets, than Hitachi’s decision to base its European manufacturing base right here in Britain.”

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