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Siemens puts its peers to shame as the fist of quality meets its match
So there I was at Siemen's Wildenrath test track, let loose in 450 001, actually the second SWT Desiro electric multiple unit off the production line. And what did I do? Sit back and try the seats? Admire the facilities?
Naah. First of all I measured the standard class seat spacing and the interior body width. Then I started thumping the trim with my fist.
Somehow I had become separated from the rest of the UK gricerati. Or maybe they had separated themselves from me knowing what was about to happen.
Anyway, the Siemens hosts in the coach, who had smiled politely when I had asked one to hold the other end of my tape measure to measure the width, went rigid as the first blow hit the window trim. As the assault extended to the Grammer seats, the overhead luggage racks, across the ceiling panels and down the other side, the frowns multiplied.
You could see the thought process. ‘English football hooligans – naturlich: but railway journalist hooligans?'
Fortunately some of the Siemens UK team came into the coach and explained what was going on. And what was going on was deeply impressive.
Window pillar and window surround trim went ‘thud'. No ‘clack' as tolerance was taken up. No buzzing. Just a solid thud.
Vestibule side panels which carry the door controls are notoriously difficult to make rigid. These could be made to flex slightly, but there was the same carved-from- solid feel when whacked.
Luggage racks, being bolted to the vehicle side, are invariably solid. Those in Desiro were no exception. These received a further impromptu test when, while trying the seats, I stood up to great Alison Ingram, Stagecoach's Project Director for Desiro, and nutted myself. Thanks to some inspired ergonomics no damage was incurred by either surface in the contact zone.
It is always difficult to combine aesthetics, functionality and rigidity in roof panels and lighting diffusers. The panelling sounded metallic when thumped but nary a buzz could I find; ditto the diffusers.
Another potential problem are equipment cubical doors, which have to be large and flat and made of thin-ish sheet metal. These ‘donged' but once again did not buzz.
And it wasn't just the solidity. When you design interior trim, you build in slip joints where panels overlap to give some tolerance. And in this Desiro the width of the panel lines was noticeably uniform.
In fact, like the best German cars, it was the quality of the plastic/composite-honeycomb trim which created the ambience. For me it all came together with the fold down seat-back table in first Class.
This was big enough to take a lap top and looked – and felt – really solid. How it will react to a late night hooligan standing on it is another matter.
For seat back tables the cast alloy model in Mk 4 Standard Class is the gold standard, but the Desiro table did look and feel good. And talking of lap-tops, every seat in first Class has a 13 Amp power socket – which is more than you can say for Virgin's Pendolino.
What else caught the eye? Well, the edge of the window trim is noticeably slim and the glass is mounted well outboard, maximising the width of the saloon – important when 3+2 seating is essential to meet PIXC requirements.
Seating comfort is so much dependent on personal preference, that I will only say that the ultra slim Grammer seats in standard class were a bit hard on the posterior, but not uncomfortably so. Knee room in the face to back seats was adequate.
When we got on the train, the air conditioning was off and the interior had become uncomfortably warm. This was presumably an oversight, but a valuable one, because when the air-con was switched on it drew down the temperature rapidly, but with barely any noticeable noise from the air circulating fans.
And finally, Alison Ingram pointed out the litter bins. ‘They're so heavy I can barely lift one with both hands' she told me'. Too lazy to bend down I gave it a quick kick. A melodious ‘boing' echoed down the coach, setting the hosts frowning again. Hell's teeth, I reckon the sub-contractor must have found a use for a batch of Fw190 seat-back armour plating they found at the back of the factory.
With all this echt Deutsch heavy-weight quality, no wonder a the Desiro is a 180 tonne lardbutt. Reinforcing this reputation Siemens Transportation's Director & General Manager David Wilson told me proudly that I ought to see the butch construction under the train. ‘Our traction motors are 50% heavier than Alstom's', he opined. ‘Solid engineering' in his view.
But, Siemens mislead me on weight. It is not the uber-lardbutt after all.
One of the pleasures of the press trip to Wildenrath was meeting Harry Hondius. Harry is the technical journalist's technical journalist. He writes authoritative articles on urban rail vehicles for Railway Gazette International comparing low floor trams in daunting detail.
Anyway, he was appalled at my revelation that a four car Desiro tipped the scales at 180 tonnes and subsequently managed to find whoever it was in Siemens' German organisation who knew what the weight really is.
And here it is good news/bad news. The good news is that, according to Harry, a four car aluminium bodied Desiro weighs 167.3tonnes, which is more than a steel Juniper (164 tonnes) but a tad less than a bolted aluminium Electrostar (say 168 tonnes without transformer). It is still, however, 30 tonnes more than a 465/2 Networker.
Of course, the bad news is that Siemens apparently didn't know what its train weighed. And even though the German end of the Company was miffed at my top lardbutt jibe, they didn't correct the erroneous figure which came from their own web site.
Meanwhile, as you may have noticed I thought 450 001 was an excellent piece of kit – particularly for a an early production model. Shortly afterwards I inspected Pendolino 006 at Euston and after a few thumps was told that this was not the definitive trim and changes were in train. Hmmm