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Passengers' best-loved and most-hated rolling stock discussed at ATOC event

The role of engineering in designing the railway of the future was the topic at yesterday’s ‘Future Train’ event, hosted by ATOC.

Speakers discussed the role of organisations like RRUKA, the EIT and ATOC itself in promoting and funding innovation, the ‘evolution’ vs ‘revolution’ argument, the need for a passenger viewpoint in designing rolling stock and interchanges, and improvements seen since privatisation and what’s still to come.

David Clarke, director of EIT (the Enabling Innovation Team), said every industry has barriers to innovation, but noted that are some specific challenges in rail, such as the structure of the industry and misaligned incentives. He said that since it is “relatively rare for manufacturers to indulge in speculative design”, the customer has more of a role in innovation, rather than just the supplier .

Professor Simon Iwnicki, the head of the Institute of Railway Research at the University of Huddersfield, and academic co-chair of the RRUKA, described the role of universities and academics in innovation. He noted some of the differences between business – which seeks practical, low-risk, short-to-medium term solutions – and universities, which are more science-driven and tend to concentrate on higher risk, more innovative, medium-to-long term technologies.

Francis How, technical director at the Railway Industry Alliance, said: “The nature of railways is that it’s half rolling stock, half infrastructure. We spend a lot of time changing infrastructure, a lot of time changing rolling stock: but it’s rare to have a project that changes both.”

That means, he said, that radical thinking in rolling stock design is constrained by the infrastructure available, while radical thinking in infrastructure is constrained by the rolling stock that has to use it. Radical changes to both require a level of co-ordination  and central control that is rare to see.

Other speakers included ATOC head of engineering Louise Shaw and chairman Tom Smith, HS2’s Andrew Coombes, Southern’s Frazer Stirling (who is soon to become Go-Ahead’s head of fleet), and Anthony Smith of Passenger Focus, who gave attendees a run-down of passengers’ favourite rolling stock (including the London Overground 378s and South West Trains’ 455s) and least favourite (FGW HSTs, Virgin Pendolinos).

The best, he said, tend to make flexible use of space, be light and airy with space to move, and offer a certain level of comfort. Passengers particularly dislike the 3+2 seating lay-out, he said, adding that rolling stock designers need to put more thought into making standing more comfortable if services are destined to become more over-crowded.

There will be full coverage of the event in the June/July edition of Rail Technology Magazine. Subscribe at

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


Roger Capel, Sheffield   19/04/2013 at 11:12

Those of us north of Macclesfield & west of Swindon will be gobsmacked that the worst stock made no mention of Railbuses. More than one cynic has remarked that they'd never inflict them on the southeast, where the ministers & officials live - gather the leasing charges are peanuts, though, so presumably we're stuck with them for a good while to come.

RTM   19/04/2013 at 11:35

To be clear Roger, the trains mentioned in the report above were just a few examples from a part of Anthony Smith's talk (which concentrated on refurbishments and newer rolling stock). It shouldn't imply that Passenger Focus (or passengers) are happy with some of the terrible rolling stock in the places you mention. The RTM office is in central Manchester and many of the team commute in by rail from surrounding towns, so know only too well the need for better trains!

Henry Law   19/04/2013 at 14:07

Good and bad in matters of rolling stock design is difficult. The Pacers are a case in point. They are bright and airy and passengers sitting in them can enjoy good all-round visibility. It is the ride quality and engine vibration that lets it down. Voyagers would be perfectly satisfactory if something could be done about the noise and vibration from the engine, and the seats were mostly arranged in bays of four, aligned with the windows. And so it goes. Mark 3 stock can provide a pleasant ambience but it depends on how the interior is configured. The GW refurbishments have packed in more seats than the vehicles can accomodate, and left insufficient room for luggage. The Pendolino bodyshell, with its small glazed area, would be difficult to present in an attractive way. In many respects the Mark 1 interior provided a more pleasant passenger environment than anything built since, and there were even better vehicles than these, notably of London Midland and Scottish Railway built between 1923 and 1951. There is also the more general issue that a train that is perfect designed for a twenty minute journey will not be acceptable for one lasting a couple of hours.

Nick   19/04/2013 at 15:34

The only real way that people in this sort of position will learn which are the worst is, to do the commuting routes at rush hour, right round the country, for a month or more as there's no point in doing it for a couple of days as they're not likely to come across many problems, unlike us that have done it for years and have now got resigned to them. Then they'll find out for themselves first hand how bad the units are and the problems with them. There is no substitute for personal physical experience, I was told many years ago: - I see I know I read I understand I touch or experience I remember.

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