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All right, Sir Alastair, you were right, I was wrong, ‘train builder' really is an oxymoron in Britain
During the first phase of the Battle of Jutland as a second of his lightly armoured battle cruisers exploded under the German gunnery, Admiral Beatty turned to his Flag Captain and remarked ‘There's something wrong with our bloody ships today, Chatfield'. Any train operating company manager with new trains in his franchise plan will know that Jutland feeling.
At first, it seemed fairly simple. Anyone could build trains, it was getting the safety case for a brand new design that was the clever bit.
Note that I say ‘brand new design'. This is to pre-empt stroppy e-mails from all those chums who have extended the safety cases of pre-privatisation three phase traction powered trains. Yes, you are all incredibly talented engineers and well worth the fees you charge the TOCs and the Rolling Stock Companies.
Anyway, the assumption was that, while acceptance was taking longer than expected, once a new design acquired an Interim (I) Passenger safety case all those new trains sitting around in store would enter service progressively. And as the production lines settled, a tide of sweetness and light would cover the railway.
Fat chance. I can't remember a time when Murphy and Sodde have been so busy.
Surely the 1955 Modernisation Plan diesel locomotives fiasco was worse? Well, even then we could sing ‘Lead English Electric amidst the encircling gloom'. When you bought diesels from steam locomotive builders you expected trouble. And even the tried and tested designs failed to match their performance overseas when exposed to BR maintenance.
But the Washwood Heath built Met-Camm Class 101 diesel multiple units worked as advertised – or so I assume since I had other interests at the time.
|Builder||Class||Operator||Fleet Service Commitment||Current|
|Adtranz||357||LTS Rail||44X4 car 11/99(1)||10x4 car|
|Adtranz||375||Connex SE||30x4 car 10/00(2)||Testing|
|Alstom||458||SWT||30x4 car 04/00||2x4 car(3)|
|Alstom||460||Gatwick||8x8 car 08/99(4)||1x8 car|
|Alstom||334||Scotrail||40x3 car 31/3/00||Testing|
|Alstom||175||FNW||70 cars(5) 05/00||6x2 car|
|Siemens||333||RRNE||163 x 3-car (6) 12/00|
(1) Revised to May 29 2000 after failure to meet original commitment
(2) Following four x4 car starting running in April 1999
(4) After six months delay in signing contract
(5) Mix of two and three car
But surely this time round there are few excuses for not delivering once that elusive, and expensive, safety case has been obtained. Yes, they are new trains and nothing new works out of the box (yes, yes Siemens minor, put your hand boy, I'll be dealing with you later), but they are essentially an assemblage of stock Euro components.
And thereby hang several tales.
In fact, joking apart, no one really builds trains today, you assemble them. And the first time all the bits come together at the same time is beside the production line.
Unfortunately, while assembly is international, the infrastructure is strictly national. Let's start with Alstom and the Class 458.
One of the current problems is bogie ride, which I must confess my Mk 1 human accelerometer found quite acceptable on a couple of occasions. Should we be surprised that a standard Le Creusot Euro-bogie doesn't ride perfectly on Brit-track?
Of course not. Remember the Swiss bogie under Blue Pullman? No you're probably too young. Well, remember the Swiss SIG bogie under the Mk 4. Remember how the Italian Cisalpino could not cope with Swiss track? Remember that Heathrow Express was a bit lively to start with.
Did it not occur to anyone at Washwood Heath to suggest that it might be an idea to ride test a French bogie chez nous – and over ride the inter-Alstom explosion at such an affront to Gallic technology? That was the sort of boring detail BR engineers were quite good at.
Another 458 problem is the air conditioning. Now once upon a time Stones of Dartford was the purveyor of air conditioning kit to the Empires passenger trains. Time passed, and in the mad 1980s BR reckoned that Stones had had its day, was too expensive blah blah blah and encouraged competition. Enter Ebac, the Geordie boys who won among other things the Mk 4 coach system and the night Stock contracts.
Meanwhile Stones, to their credit, had decided that if BR wanted cheapo kit, on their head be it and simply stopped bidding in the UK . Ebac are now big in humidifiers and the ‘names' in Euro train air-con are Faively and Stones Iberica of Spain
But when we come to the new generation of trains for privatisation in the UK we get some novel choices of air-con. Adtranz has gone to Air International ( Australia ) while Alstom chose Soprano of France for Juniper and Corradia.
Both firms are new to me, but let's concentrate on Soprano and the Class 458. Soprano began as a department within Cegelec, itself part of Alcatel Alstom. In the 1980s, the company entered the defence market, producing air-conditioned mobile shelters.
Then in the 1990s, defence programmes were slashed. Diversification was necessary to survive and as usual, public transport was seen as the logical move from defence. This ranks high in my top ten awful warnings.
Railways are a far more demanding environment than most defence activities. Take a tank. It may get driven once or twice a week, go on exercises every six months and if there is going to be a hot war you need about three months in the field to get it working properly.
A train goes into service and runs 15 or more hours a day every day, forever, with the odd break for examinations. It has to work with minimum maintenance and first cost matters.
Anyway, by the end of 1997 industrial and railway products had almost filled Soprano's military order gap and it was sold to a management buyout. In May last year it was acquired by Mobile Climate Control International of Canada.
Clearly, the company can't be making too bad a fist of it because last year it was awarded the contract to air condition 145 double deck cars for RATP. But even so the pedigree is pretty short, 458 represents a new country and a new assembler.
While we are looking at Alstom there is the Coradia Class 175 brakes broohaha. This is so silly as to be worth retelling.
Coradia has a retarder as an integral feature of its Voith transmission. Just like electric braking, the retarder is a drive working backwards.
So instead of a turbine on the engine forcing oil through a similar turbine on the output shaft and the flow of oil turning the wheels, in braking the wheels turn a retarder turbine. The resulting flow of oil hits a set of fixed set of turbine blades. As the energy in the oil can't do anything useful, it is turned into heat in the oil.
So, just as rheostatic electric braking gets rid of the train's energy of movement by turning it into electricity. which heats up resistors which are cooled by fans, so the hydraulic retarder puts the heat into the transmission fluid which is transferred to a water coolant circuit and removed in the power pack's radiator.
And, since the diesel engine also has to be cooled it makes sense to have a common coolant circuit for the engine and transmission. After all, when the engine is working hard, the retarder isn't.
Now here's the funny bit. A1stom is supplying the same combination of Cummins diesel and Voith transmission/retarder in both the UK (Class 175) and Belgium . Obviously, the thermostat which controls the temperature of the coolant has to be set so that the transmission doesn't cook itself or the engine run too cold or too hot.
There are two thermostat settings approved for the Cummins engine in the class 175, 5 degrees C apart. Just as SNCB was choosing the ‘low' setting, the higher setting was adopted for the Class 175.
In purely engine terms, the higher setting is preferable. The trouble is, it narrows the gap between normal operating temperature and the temperature at which the protection systems thinks the engine is getting too hot and shuts it down.
And what happened to the First North Western Class 175s was that when the retarder was used, the build up of heat in the oil could not be dissipated in the coolant fast enough, the temperature rose and the over temperature switch for the transmission oil shut the lot down.
Easily solved? Yes. Silly? yes. And even sillier given that it didn't show up during months of test running and driver training.
As a wise old engineer of my acquaintance points out, each product in a system should work out of the box, but what about the sum of the parts of the products? For example, in the case of the retarder, there's the engine thermostat and its speed of response to changes in coolant temperature, the water flow through the coolant system the speed of response of the cooling fan and the rate at which the retarder builds up heat in the oil.
Obviously, on the Class 175 at some point in the duty cycle all the worst cases for these components combined and the over temperature switch shut down. Perhaps the engine has been hard against the collar for 10min filling the coolant with heat and you have to brake hard for a signal check or station stop without a period of coasting.
But, shouldn't someone have worked out the worst case for testing during development? Flight testing for new spitfires culminated in a power dive to terminal speed.
Of course, switching out the retarder, should not have been a problem because Railtrack Group Standards say that the friction disc brakes should be able to handle the full duty cycle. But the pads broke up when asked to do all the work.
Now, I can remember going to firms like Ferodo and seeing giant flywheel rigs used to put sample railway disc pads through typical duty cycles, and very exciting it was too, with the discs glowing red. So how come that when push comes to shove Alstom suddenly discovers that the French supplied disc pads can't hack it?
Anyway the temporary fix for the Class 175 was to fit the sintered metallic brake pads off the 125 mile/h Class 180. Are yes, the prisoner of Old Oak common.
Ah yes, the Class 180, which I saw at Old Dalby back in April. And since then has sat at Old Oak Common unable to start test running. If you have tears, etc.
When the Class 180 arrived at Old Oak it was expected that it would be issued with an interim Design (D) acceptance Certificate, which would be followed immediately by the Testing (T) Certificate.
An Interim ‘D' was introduced because the Health & Safety Executive and Railtrack are still developing the basis under which passengers will be allowed to travel in the leading vehicles of multiple units at over 100mile/h.
According to Informed Sources, Railtrack's Acceptance Panel responsible for the Class 180 encouraged the preparation of an interim ‘D' on the basis that issues not crucial to the T Certificate, like passengers in the front coach at over 100mile/h, could be resolved later.
Somewhere along the line the Panel view changed. There was concern that an interim ‘D' Certificate, which not was based on the total train risk model, could be flawed, even from the point of view of test running.
But a full ‘D' depends on the outcome of continuing work that applies to all three 100mile/plus trains (Coradia/Voyager/Pendolino). Apparently the HSE's laboratory is assessing the incremental risks associated with going from 100 to 125mile/h running. According to informed sources, one topic is possible increased risk of from scalding in the buffet area.
There is only one word for this – bonkers. What counts with new trains is running hours. If the Class 180 was given a T certificate on the basis that it was a 1000mile/h train, it could have been shaking down systems and equipment for months by now. As I seem to be asking a lot of questions for once, here's another: why haven't Alstom and First Group gone to the Regulator on this aspect of acceptance?
Having given Almost(anag) a good going over, SADtranz can't be ignored. LTS Rail still had only 10 Class 357 units accepted as this column was finished. Yet at the turn of the year, when the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority handed down condign punishment on LTS for failure to meet the original fleet service date, everyone seemed happy to sign up a new date of May 29 this year.
New software fixes are still appearing, operation is limited to eight car formations. But the full safety case is getting there. Meanwhile, for the troops on the ground, I can imagine that commissioning further units which have been standing round in store at Shoeburyness for anything up to a year, is not easy.
As for the Class 375, as testing continues, the best forecast is passenger service in the New Year. The next step will be test running out of possession. But the slippage is now so severe that professional cynics in the industry are wondering whether the safety case may become the subject of a political fix.
Is there no relief in sight? Not much.
Virgin, is getting increasingly worried over slippage to its Bombardier Class 220/221 Voyager diesel multiple units. When Virgin took me and Andred to Bombardier's Brugge plant for a joint birthday treat early in March this year, we were told that high speed testing of the first Class 220 Voyager would start on Belgian Railways track in ‘mid August'.
Roll-out was pencilled in for 18 July, Richard Branson's birthday (what do you give the man who has everything). This slipped to September and the last time I checked was promised for ‘late October'.
Testing plans have also changed, The first Class 220, should now be shipped from Brugge to the Bombardier test track at Monk Bretton where the first runs will be made around the end of the year.
Er yes, the end of the year. The contractual requirement is to have 10 four-car Class 220 units handed over to Virgin Cross Country for operation in January 2001. Apart from the delivery of the physical assets, the on-going 125mile/h acceptance issues (see above), development running and driver training must make that impossible.
Where delivery delays will really start to bite is with the summer Timetable when 20 Class 220s are due to be in service. Unlike some Train Operating Companies Virgin does not go along with the line ‘I'm a multinational train builder, trust me'. Bombardier is being urged to continue production at both Brugge, where the first 14 Class 220 units are being fitted out, and at Wakefield where the rest of the fleet will be completed in parallel. And, adds Virgin, we wouldn't mind seeing some double shift working.
What has ‘really upset' Virgin has been what Informed Sources call Bombardier's ‘salami slicing' approach, to warning of delays. What is now substantial slippage has been revealed in a series of small steps over a period of months.
Surely someone must be delivering? Well, CAF and Siemens with the benefit of Heathrow Express experience are quietly getting on with the Class 333 electric multiple units for Northern Spirit. Deliveries are ahead of schedule, testing for the extended electrical case is reported to be going well and an Interim (Non Passenger) Safety Case is imminent..
So perhaps they'll be the first to actually meet a franchise commitment.
Meanwhile as this column went to press Virgin and Alstom were limbering up for another death match meeting on Pendolino. Watch this space.