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For the SSRA, time's winged chariot could be a 4-VEP
Oh yes, we've certainly had fun with count–downs in this column. Fun with a serious point, I hasten to add. And there's more to come.
It all began after the 1992 election when Conservative ministers sought to allay fears that railway privatisation would result in an hiatus in investment. Of course it wouldn't.
However, as weeks, became months, became years, my chums in Derby and Birmingham were noticing a distinct dearth of new train order action. But quiz a minister about the lack of new train orders and the question bounced off the armour plated assurance that comes with the ministerial Rover and a fawning PPS carrying your briefcase.
Since my usual hand grenade questions weren't working, the Informed Sources armoury went onto three shifts. What was needed was the equivalent of APDS in tank gunnery – a supersonic tungsten flechette that goes through armour plate and gets the enemy crew's attention.
And the answer in this verbal arms race was the number of days since the last new train was ordered. Precise, irrefutable and a media-friendly sound bite.
At privatisation conference or press briefing, a minister would make an announcement, questions would be invited, up would go my hand and as I pulled my diary out of my pocket, there would be a susurration of suppressed mirth from those who knew what was coming.
‘Minister, you have said that privatisation would not cause an hiatus in railway investment, it is now 875 days since the last passenger train was ordered, Isn't this an hiatus?'
Kaboom! To give him credit, Roger Freeman, who was often kebabbed in this way, did try to resist, once describing the latest count as a ‘long pause'.
Still, all things come to an end, although when a minister went to Derby, to get some kudos from the Chiltern order that broke the drought, a banner behind the platform gave the final count-down of 1064 days.
So, that was that. Until this column's repeated exposés of the late running West Coast Route Modernisation (WCRM) seemed to be falling on deaf ears. What was needed was something that would highlight the fact that time was running out.
Um, how about the number of days left until Virgin needs to start running its tilting trains at 125mile/h? And this true countdown soon took off.
Virgin Trains used the diminishing number to beat Railtrack over the head. Next it began appearing on white boards in Railtrack offices. And when I went to interview WCRM Manager Tony Fletcher for last month's block-buster West Coast Main Line issue, on every floor of the project's Euston offices there was a proper metal scoreboard with the count down to Phase 1.
Out of curiosity I checked in my diary and found that I was a week late. Assuming that Railtrack must know, I thought I'd better recalibrate – and discovered that crafty Tony Fletcher is running the project a week fast.
But while recalibrating, I thought I would carry on from 2 June 2002 and re-base the countdown to 31 December 2002. Why 31 December 2002? Read on.
As regular readers will know, this column has been greatly exercised by the safety regulations that require Mk 1 stock to be withdrawn by that date. If modified with anti-overide devices, these death traps on wheels can run on until 31 December 2004.
Now, in round numbers there are around 1,500 Mk 1 vehicles in service south of the Thames. South West Trains and Connex have 570 Junipers and Electrostars on order. This leaves some 930 Mk 1 vehicles which have to be out of service by 31 December 2002, with no replacement ordered.
‘Ho hum', you may think, ‘what's new?'
Well, on the day this issue is published there will be 921 days to go before all the outstanding Mk 1s have to be modified or withdrawn. And perhaps if the Editor could put this in bold type, thank you: It would be necessary to deliver one new vehicle a day seven days a week starting today, to replace the Mk 1 fleet in time.
But, of course, not only is no one delivering EMU vehicles at this rate, no orders have been placed. Correction, one order has been placed.
Angel Trains announced in May that it has ordered 25 four car Desiro electric multiple units from Siemens. These units would, said Angel, ‘enter service in Summer 2002 enabling early replacement of Mk 1 stock',
Oh come on, 100 vehicles, six months before the deadline, ‘early' replacement? The words ‘sticking' ‘amputation' and plaster spring to mind.
In fact 24 months to service entry for a brand new train without a 750V DC safety case sounds about right. More on Desiro UK elsewhere in the column
Of course, you don't have to replace Mk 1 stock. Significantly Connex has gone from deriding ‘cup and cone' over-ride protection as ‘ridiculous' in February, to claiming that it will keep some 4-VEPS (Class 423s to the numerate) running after December 2002. at the end of March.
This, said Connex, would involve fitting cup and cone and the Train Protection & Warning System. Well, in round numbers, I reckon that will cost the Rolling Stock Company which owns the VEPs around £50,500 per four car unit.
That assumes that you can find a consultancy willing to take responsibility for engineering a production version of the Health & Safety Executive's cup and cone. According to Informed Sources, in the 40mile/h test collision with prototype cup & cone fitted Mk 1 vehicles, the modified underframes did not perform exactly as advertised.
If that happened in real life and deaths or injuries resulted, you can imagine the inquiry asking ‘who was responsible for the modification'? And I don't think echoing Adam and claiming ‘It was the HSE which tempted me', will get the vehicle owner off the hook.
But cup & cone and TPWS are not the only modifications Mk1 stock could face. Professor Uff's' recommendations following his inquiry into the Southall accident included (Recommendation 55) the requirement for all trains to be fitted with On Train Data Recorders (OTDR), ‘within two years'. Techie readers will know this as On Train Monitoring & Recording (OTMR) which we use here.
Given the date of publication of the inquiry report this meant by February 2002. When it was pointed out at the press briefing that this would involve fitting OTMR to the Mk 1 fleet which should be out of service 10 months later, the good Prof said it was not an issue because the recommendation applied onto to locomotives. Clearly the Inquiry team had not twigged that half the Mk 1 fleet has cabs.
Anyway, the HSE is now up to speed and its proposed amendment to the Railway Safety (Miscellaneous Provisions) 1997 would make it an offence to operate a train not fitted with OTMR from 31 December 2002.
Now, I must point out here that the HSE says that it is prepared to hear arguments from the industry that Mk 1 stock should be exempted from this requirement. And it is hard to see what direct ‘safety benefits' come from fitting OTMR which is an example of ‘tombstone' safety, since it tells you what happened rather than actively stopping it from happening or mitigating the effects.
According to the HSE the benefits would come from reduced accident investigation costs and ‘better direction of safety and driver training expenditure'. Hmm.
But if the Regulation stays, fitting a digital OTMR to a clockwork traction and braking equipment will be what engineers call ‘a real bugger'. The unit has to record speed, power and brake applications, train protection displays and driver acknowledgements, verbal communications transmitted between the driver and any other person by radio, telephone or public address.
What this will mean on a Mk 1 is tapping into antique wiring with fragile insulation, making connections with old pipework and generally creating interfaces across two Centuries. And when you have done that and the next unit comes into the shop, you find that the wiring and piping is different, ‘configuration control' not having been in British Rail's lexicon.
So, better not, eh? But can you imagine the HSC saying ‘boo' to a Southall Victim's Group solicitor complaining about Prof Uff's Recommendation 55 being ignored so soon after the event, profit before safety etc? No, nor can I. So there's another £20,000 to spend on each VEP.
|Fitment||Cost/vehicle (£)||Cost/4-car unit (£)|
|Cup and cone||10,000||40,000|
*Per cab (two per 4-car
Equally, I find it hard to imagine a ROSCO lashing out 70 grand (minimum) on a unit for a life extension of two years (maximum), all surrounded by massive technical risk. Nor does my fertile brain stretch to visualising a TOC finance director paying £40,000 a year for two years to keep tatty old Mk 1s in service.
In fact, you won't keep the full fleet in service up to midnight on 31/12/02. Some will be replaced early, so that £80,000 may have to be recovered over an even shorter period.
So this is how it looks to the TOC Financial Director. That Class 423 is still probably knocking you back £150,000 a year. Add £40,000 a year minimum for safety modifications and then listen to the nice salesman from a ROSCO who is offering you a low maintenance, cheap to run, customer friendly air conditioned new EMU with the capital component of the rental between £250,000 and £300,000 a year. And no brake blocks to change, and no slam door locks to grease.
So, although the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority's prophylactic procurement exercise for Mk 1 replacement stock talks about replacement taking up to 1 January 2005, I reckon that 31 December 2002 is the practical end date, with TOCs caught between the rock of the Safety Regulations and the hard place of conversion costs.
Hence this column's new countdown, because time is running out fast. Assume TOCs do nothing and the SSRA manages to sign a deal with a ROSCO and a manufacturer at the end of the year. Then, all things being equal, delivery could be six months behind the Angel Desiros.
Which is a bit tight, given that replacement of a traction and rolling stock fleet is not an over-night exercise
This is why the list of pre-qualified manufacturers for the SSRA deal (Informed Sources xx) pushed this column's new ‘non scathing' policy to the limit. With Fiat/Traxis out of the equation following Alstom's acquisition of the Dutch Railtrack safety case wizards, it's time for the SSRA to play big boys' rules, which is what Sir Alastair has always been good at. The doctrinaire procurers of Derby have given the car park watchers some fun, but the SSRA doesn't have time to deal with people without current Railtrack safety case experience.
Nor does it have to.
Siemens is offering a DC safety case, starting from its successful AC experience, in two years. Not bad bearing in mind they will first have to get a test train running. Offer earlier delivery and show solid progress on that DC safety case and Angel's options on another 500 looks a shrewd move.
Adtranz is still up to its neck in the DC safety case for the Class 375, now not expected to enter service before the end of the year. Connex has 450 Class 375 vehicles on order and options on lots more. That should keep the Derby boys and girls busy - either way.
Which leaves Alstom with a DC safety case for the Class 458, with units in occasional passenger service since February and gradually stepping up the intensity. And according to a report in ‘The Times' Alstom, like Siemens, has a pre-emptive build up its sleeve.
It looks to me as though the winner in the great Mk 1 replacement stakes will be the company that, in the words of Nathan Bedford Forrest ‘Gets there fustest with the mostest'. Watch this space.
Mk 1 farewell countdown
921 days of camshaft action to go