The sheer cost of buying a new fleet of trains is enormous, and in these times of financial hardship there is a strong case for looking for other solutions. Recently, Eversholt Rail announced plans for two projects which will refurbish existing trains to a high standard and allow them to continue operating for the next 15 years. One scheme covers East Coast’s mainline trains and the other the class 321 units currently operated by Greater Anglia.
The current East Coast mainline service mainly uses Inter-City 225 sets, built in the late 1980s, which consist of a class 91 locomotive, a rake of nine Mark IV coaches, and a driving van trailer (DVT) at the other end. They were last refurbished between 2001 and 2006 by HSBC Rail, the then owners, so the interiors are around ten years old.
HSBC Rail was firstly renamed Eversholt Rail and then sold off by the bank to the Eversholt Investment Group, a consortium funded by 3i Infrastructure, Morgan Stanley Infrastructure Partners and STAR Capital Partners, in December 2010. It is looking long-term at refurbishing the sets so that East Coast, or whoever replaces them with the franchise, can continue to use the same trains for the foreseeable future.
Although the Intercity Express Programme (IEP) trains from Hitachi will be coming along commencing 2017, these are not expected to replace the 225 stock in the short term. The operator will therefore be needing a more efficient and passenger-friendly train in the short to medium term.
With that in mind, a mock-up of a Mark IV coach has been built to show off the new thinking, and Eversholt Rail invited the rail engineer to sit in it.
Noted interior designer Atlantic Design Projects was asked for a concept which would be attractive to passengers, easy to maintain, and have a common theme across three or four classes of travel. These designs were incorporated into a full-scale mock-up, built by Solve 3D of Bedford, for stakeholders to view.
Stephen Timothy, head of relationship development at Eversholt Rail, explained that the brief had been to come up with a style which will give passengers new levels of comfort and convenience while being easy to adapt between classes so that, as traffic patterns change over the course of a franchise, or even over a year, the mix of classes can be readily changed.
Atlantic Design’s directors, Charles Greenway and Graham Love, were pleased to show the results of their ideas. The mock- up looked exactly like the inside of a Mark IV coach. Those items which didn’t need replacing had been retained as there was no need to incur additional cost. So the luggage racks, the walls and side ceilings were merely repainted. The colour chosen was a pale lavender, but all the colours in the mock-up were deliberately chosen to be neutral and therefore to fit in with any franchise’s corporate colours which can be accented with headrest covers and lighting.
The lighting itself, supplied by McGeoch Technology, is LED, ceiling mounted and dimmable. It gives a good general light throughout, so there is no need for over-seat reading lights.
Starting in standard class, both table and airline-style seating were shown. The most noticeable feature was that the seating is settee-style and is leather covered. Atlantic Design commented that there is no need to reduce seat quality just because more people are accommodated in each carriage. The settee arrangement, with a centre armrest which completely folds away, means that one person can spread out, or a couple can ‘cuddle up’, or a family can sit with a small child, much more easily than in the more usual individual seats.
To aid both comfort and cleaning, the seat is curved and the join between seat and back cushions is actually partway up the back. This means that the awkward-to-clean split in the back of traditional seats, which fills up with fluff and crisp crumbs, doesn’t exist.
Each seat is made by Rica in Finland from a 15mm thick honeycomb aluminium plate covered with hand-cut silicone foam. This reduces costs, as no expensive moulding tools are required, while also reducing seat thickness. Thus the regular seat pitch can give more legroom, up to 35mm on a table seat or 22mm airline style, or if the current legroom is maintained the thinner seats can actually increase capacity.
Seats are mounted on standard runners which stretch the length of the carriage. One runner passes exactly midway across the width of each seat, so the seat supports and the legs of the tables are between passengers, not encroaching on their legroom. The tables themselves are also curved to maintain the same style, and are covered in wood veneer to give an up- market appearance.
Mounted above the window in line with each seat is the display for the reservation system. Clearly legible, the full colour TFT displays are manufactured in Belgium by Televic Rail and incorporate a simple red/green light – red the seat is reserved or green it is available. That should make finding a seat easier!
Business and First
Business class is a new concept. Individual fully-contoured seats come from Grammer Seating in Germany and are pitched as first class, with one set of seats and a table across a window bay, but four across as in standard class. The tables are similar to the ones in standard class but the window is fitted with a blind.
First class reverts to the settee-style of seat, although with thicker and softer Rogers Corporation silicone foam, and of course the seats are only three abreast. With the thinner seat backs, and a full-bay pitch, tables can be wider leaving plenty of room for two laptops facing each other. Pleated ‘curtains’ can be drawn to cover the windows.
Above First there is Premier class. Individual reclining seats with footrests and padded covers will allow businessmen travelling long distances to sleep on the way and arrive refreshed at the end of their journey. There will only be a few of these seats on each train, at a premium price, but there will no doubt be a demand.
The combination of all these features makes for a good looking and comfortable train. Axminster carpet and Andrew Muirhead leather seating throughout gives everything a luxurious feel. As Stephen Timothy said, “Even standard class passengers have spent quite a lot of money on their tickets, so we should make them feel as though they are getting value for money.” And capacity is up as well, to 579 passengers per train – 44 more than at present.
Eversholt Rail is planning to invest £20 million in the Class 91 locomotive to ensure its continued operation and increased reliability performance on the new franchise. Not only would this deliver a step change in reliability, but the locomotive would also have extra functionality such as a duplex pantograph (which is currently being trialled on one locomotive on the East Coast), would be ERTMS fitted by 2018 and would have modern compressors and a wheel slide protection system.
In addition, Eversholt has chosen Bombardier as its partner for the development of a full service maintenance product for the IC225 fleet. This enables Eversholt, in conjunction with Bombardier, to offer the successful TOC/franchisee a maintenance package that suits its needs.
An alternative traction option will also be offered in the form of the Bombardier TRAXX UK. This will give the choice of the extra economies and efficiency to be gained from a new locomotive, but at a higher price.
Part of the successful TRAXX family of locomotives, the TRAXX P200 AC UK, to give the locomotive its full name, is an 81 tonne 25kV electric locomotive designed to run within the British loading gauge. Four traction motors supply the drive with a maximum locomotive power of 5.6MW and full regenerative braking is fitted so that, except in emergencies, the mechanical brakes on the coaches will rarely be used. This not only saves all the wear and tear on their brakes, but also reduces energy consumption by returning 10-15% of the power used back to the overhead line.
The new locomotives are, of course, designed to work with all types of signalling systems and it is envisaged that, for East Coast Main Line operations, they will be fitted with AWS, TPWS and ETCS.
Each loco will have two pantographs, giving redundancy in case of failure, and also a ‘last mile’ diesel engine. This is designed to enable the locomotive to remove itself, and its train, from the main line in case of total power failure either on the loco or on the OLE infrastructure. The 400 litre fuel tank will be sufficient for much more than one last mile, and with a speed limit of 30mph it will allow the train to reach a convenient station rather than being stranded out in the countryside.
Design for this tentatively-named class 93 locomotive is well advanced and Bombardier are just waiting for a launch order before putting it into production at its Kassel factory in Germany.
While this Inter-City 225 upgrade / replacement is a design concept at present, another Eversholt Rail initiative is already underway. Greater Anglia runs 94 four-car class 321 trains which were built back in 1988 and, like the class 225s, are now getting tired. One of these units is being rebuilt in two formats, which will give an interesting comparison.
Two cars will be fitted with a completely new suburban-style interior. This will include air conditioning, new energy-efficient LED lighting, redesigned seats and two wheelchair spaces plus an accessible toilet. The original plan was to leave the windows as they were, but in fact they are now being replaced by sealed, double-glazed units.
The other two cars of the same train will also have the benefit of the air conditioning, new lights and windows, but the seating arrangement will be metro-style – designed for the commuter with slimline 2+2 seating, easy access and increased standing space.
Currently undergoing refurbishment by Wabtec in Doncaster, the refreshed train should run in service towards the middle of 2013. It will be interesting to hear passengers’ reactions to the two alternative interiors as their comments will influence what is done to the rest of the fleet.
It is estimated that the 94 trains will cost £70 million to refurbish to this standard, or £130 million if new traction equipment is included. This is a considerable saving over the £600 million which would be the approximate cost of a replacement fleet.
These projects, coupled with the refurbishment to a class 317 that is being undertaken by Bombardier at Ilford (reported last month), show that the rolling stock companies (ROSCOs) are committed to improving the standard of the trains they own without subjecting their operator customers to the cost of completely new trains. It is an intriguing initiative, and it will be interesting to see these ‘new’ trains when they break cover over the coming months.