Rail Industry Focus


On board the Class 700

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Feb/Mar 2014

Adam Hewitt reports on the new rolling stock for Thameslink, including an interview with First Capital Connect managing director David Statham and Thameslink programme director Jonathan Bridgewood.

A full-scale mock-up of the new Thameslink rolling stock has been unveiled, with a test unit set up inside the ExCel conference centre in east London.

Rail minister Stephen Hammond launched the mock-up vehicle, joined by First Capital Connect managing director David Statham, Siemens Rail Systems UK boss Steve Scrimshaw, and Andy Pitt, executive chairman of financer Cross London Trains.

RTM joined other journalists and VIPs for the event including London Transport Commissioner Sir Peter Hendy, First Group CEO Tim O’Toole, MPs from along the Thameslink route, London Assembly members (including Caroline Pidgeon, chair of the transport committee), Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, London TravelWatch, rail user groups, local authority leaders and chief executives; council transport officers; disability groups; cycling lobbyists; rail interest groups; as well as industry representatives from Network Rail, Southern, Southeastern, the DfT and Siemens.

The Class 700 trains, being built in Germany by Siemens, begin coming into passenger service in early 2016, with the fleet expanding by a new train in passenger service every week.

Overall, 1,140 carriages are to be delivered under the £1.6bn rolling stock contract, to be configured as 55 12-carriage trains and 60 eight-carriage trains.

‘Groundbreaking and revolutionary’

Infrastructure work as part of the Thameslink programme continues, including major works at London Bridge, track and tunnel works linking the existing Thameslink and Great Northern routes, and new signalling. The highest frequency services through the core, up to 24 trains per hour, will come thanks to ATO.

Speaking to journalists on the ‘platform’ next to the mock-up train, Stephen Hammond MP said: “There are a few things that are really significant from a rail point of view: one is the new cab, the new arrangement in the cab and the new technology in there.

“There’s also the new bogie, and the work Siemens and Network Rail have done together on that to look at how we understand minimising the costs on the infrastructure of these units. Moving forward, that’s going to be a huge benefit in terms of continuing to drive down on the cost base and maintenance costs in the future.

“This is a great train, and it’s really exciting for the people who are going to use it.”

He said that since the infrastructure work on Thameslink “is groundbreaking and revolutionary” that “it’s fitting that we should have a train that fits that bill as well”.

Design specification

FCC’s MD David Statham told RTM that capacity is the key factor. He said: “With 55 12-car trains and 60 eight-car trains, we’ll have longer trains, we’ll have more of them – 1,140 vehicles – and that combination of longer trains and more vehicles enables us, across the morning peak, to offer loads more capacity. That’s 80% more seats in the morning peak across central London and 40% more seats into central London.

“As FCC, we’ve put on 29% more seats since 2006, over the life of this franchise. We’ve already done a lot to address capacity, but the long term answer is in these new trains.

“But as well as capacity, passengers are going to see a massively enhanced travelling environment. There’s all sorts of new features of this train that will improve people’s journeys. It’s a lighter, brighter, airier environment, with loads more space for luggage, better real-time passenger information not just about Thameslink but about connecting services; it has smart air conditioning that senses the number of people in the carriage and amends the temperature accordingly.”

At this advanced stage, we asked Statham whether the design was completely sealed – or could still change based on feedback
and testing.

He said: “We have worked really hard to get this design to the stage it’s got to. We signed the contracts back in June, to a really well-developed specification that the DfT led but we and Network Rail inputted into. In terms of the spec, we’ve already done the design reviews for the train and there are already vehicles built so I would have guessed we wouldn’t want to go making any seismic changes at this point. We’re already in the build phase – but that doesn’t mean that if we go through and pick up on bits and pieces, that we won’t be able to tweak that. In fact the mock-up itself has been incredibly handy for us to take stakeholders to, to take drivers to, so we’ve already worked with this particular mock-up to make the cab more ergonomic, for example.”

Whole system

Thameslink is about far more than just the trains, of course. RTM’s last major update on the infrastructure side of the project was our major feature in our Aug/Sept 2013 edition, including an interview with projects director Ian Duncan-Santiago. The point was made in that article that since both the rolling stock and the signalling is being delivered by Siemens (originally by Invensys, whose rail signalling division has been acquired by Siemens), there are high hopes that there can be some true systems thinking.

Statham reiterated this point in our interview at ExCel, saying: “The whole Thameslink programme doesn’t work unless you treat it as a whole system. That means you have to ensure the train, the infrastructure, the signalling, the station staff, the operations, and even the way that passengers behave, are incorporated into a whole system that delivers 24tph across London.

“We’ve worked with Network Rail on the specification of the infrastructure on the approaches to and from London Bridge from the east and west to remove some of the bottlenecks; we’ve worked on the train spec to ensure it fits well with our operations; Network Rail are in the middle of consulting on the new signalling system, which will support the implementation of this.

“We’ve got a really well-advanced approach to systems integration. There’s a systems integration authority for the Thameslink programme, which makes sure the system works as a whole. That’s something we’re pretty much in the lead on for the industry, and our particular approach was commended in the McNulty review.”

Testing and feedback

Senior project engineer at FCC, Robert Kemp, explained the importance of customer specified testing for the project, with drivers sent over to Germany. Thameslink programme director Jonathan Bridgewood added: “When we come to do the dynamic testing of the trains, the first part will be with Siemens and their engineers, but we’re going to use that opportunity to ensure our drivers learn the train, and go through all the training modules. We’ve got the two simulators that’ll be based in this country, but it’s about getting that knowledge and experience with the real drivers in the real trains, understanding the driving styles and so on. We’ve done a lot of work on that. It’s not just about the lay-out of the cab, it’s about the functionality of the cab. There’s a big ‘human factor’ element.”

At the peak, one unit a week will be delivered into service, via the Channel Tunnel and Three Bridges. “The plan is to commission all the units at Three Bridges,” Kemp said, from late 2015.

Mans Alam, new trains project manager for FCC, said the working assumption at the moment is that the fleet will rotate between both depots, Three Bridges and Hornsey, being built by Volker Fitzpatrick currently, where maintenance and engineering will be carried out. Confirmation of stabling sites is yet to happen, he added.

‘A significant rolling stock milestone’

In his speech marking the launch of the new rolling stock Stephen Hammond MP said: “Today is a big day for the Thameslink programme and a significant rolling stock milestone.”

He explained the importance of infrastructure to the government, and to economic growth. He added that although the infrastructure improvements are not easy, “I know that the rail industry’s staff – the planners, the timetablers, the programme managers, the drivers, guards, and platform staff – will do their utmost to ensure that disruption is minimised for the travelling public”.

Statham, who also addressed the audience at the event, said he had been personally involved with Thameslink since 2006 and called it “a showcase for hard work and collaboration across the industry”.

Steve Scrimshaw, speaking for Siemens, said the Desiro City Class 700 “will change the lives of millions of passengers”.

He added: “This is the train that some people said ‘didn’t exist’ – a paper train with bogies that were just blueprints. That wasn’t the reality, as you can see at the bogie exhibit here today.

“We have spent over £80m developing these new trains. They’re the first full second-generation commuter train for the UK market and we’ve invested thousands of engineering hours in ensuring this train will be the best of the best. The design incorporates feedback from train operators, crew, cleaners, maintenance staff, and input from dedicated passenger research.

“This mock-up allowed us and other stakeholders to test and validate design features and to optimise the final design. It gave people the opportunity to touch and to feel and to experience the light and airy walk-through carriages, the open gangways, large windows, and wide doors.”

Many of the speakers, guests and engineers at the event emphasised the Tube-like frequencies that Thameslink will offer through the core, as well as the important link with Crossrail at Farringdon, the connections to Eurostar and HS1 at St Pancras International, and the size of the new combined Thameslink franchise.

Indeed, the combined Thameslink, Southern & Great Northern franchise will (when merged from July 2015) be the biggest in the UK. FirstGroup, via FCC, will continue as operator on Thameslink until 14 September after a short-term extension to its contract was agreed in February. 

Its rival ‘approved bidders’ for the joint franchise are Abellio, Govia, MTR and Stagecoach. The winner is expected to be announced in May.

Financing the fleet

Andy Pitt, executive chairman at fleet owner Cross London Trains, said: “We have demonstrated our confidence in these trains by raising the finance for them and making a massive investment in UK rail.”

Johannes Schmidt, CEO of Project & Structured Finance Infrastructure and Cities & Industry at Siemens Financial Services (SFS), writing for RTM in 2013, explained the financing of the rolling stock: “Siemens Project Ventures GmbH (SPV), entered into a jointly-owned consortium partnership – Cross London Trains (XLT) – alongside equal equity investors Innisfree Ltd and 3i Infrastructure Plc.

“The deal has been financed with a debt facility arranged through a syndicated loan group consisting of 19 banks with SMBC, Lloyds, KfW and BTMU acting as mandated lead arrangers (MLAs), alongside a debt facility from the European Investment Bank. The Siemens-XLT consortium was advised by Barclays Capital throughout the financing arrangements.

“Meanwhile, the two depots have been financed exclusively by Siemens Financial Services.”

A model of the train has been on a ‘roadshow’ around major stations on the future Thamslink network. Its final stop is Gatwick Airport station on 12 March.

(Image: c. TfL)


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