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A visit to East Ham Depot returns this month's column to the real world
When c2c tops the latest Public Performance Measure rankings yet again, and when its Bombardier
Class 357 electric multiple units take the Golden spanner for modern fleet reliability, it is easy to attribute success to only 45 miles of dedicated route with its own terminus in London and a fleet of new trains maintained at a single depot. What manager couldn't look good running a simple railway like that?
But c2c's current excellence has been hard won and, as I found on a visit to East Ham Depot in December, the drive to improve performance doesn't slacken. As London Lines Engineering Director John Ratcliffe reminded me, in 2001 he had to report to the National Express Board that the new Class 357 fleet was delivering on 2000 miles between casualties. ‘There's been a lot of bloody hard work at the depot over the past four years', he adds.
C2c Fleet Manager, then as now, was Tony Smith who had the job of introducing the new trains and then getting them to perform. But at one remove, because Bombardier is responsible for maintenance.
Today Tony regards Bombardier Depot General Manager Adrian Rowe and his as his own engineering team. Management of the depot is ‘seamless' with the c2c and Bombardier shift managers sharing the same office.
At the start of the contract, operator and maintainer had separate office which meant that matters copuld get forgotton. Now, says Tony, ‘nothing is hidden'.
Some numbers show that c2c is a demanding railway.
There are 74 four car EMUs, 46 Phase 1 and 28 Phase 2 – the order brought foward by original franchisee Prism to compensate for poor performance. To run the service, including five loaned to Great Eastern, 71 units are required.
Poor reliability and availability show up immediately with 47 services into and out of Fenchurch Street in the morning peak. There are 40,0000 return journeys a day – 85% in the peaks – carried by 2121 trains. Examinations are planned so that no trains are taken out of service in the weekday peaks.
So how has reliability been driven up the best on National rail. One technique, explains Adrian Rowe, is the ‘robust' use of key performance indicators. And as I toured the depot, every office I visited had charts on the walls.
Continuous improvement depends on knowlege. Each Class 357 vehicle has 28 computers and Bombardier seems to be delivering the long awaited vision of the ‘smart train' which knows when something is wrong and tells the depot.
For example, when Network Rail had a problem with a power supply sub-station, East Ham could ask a train what voltage it was getting from the overhead line at the specific location and pass the message on.
More practically, when there was an outbreak of passenger communication misuse, the on-board computers could list the vehicle, location and time of each offence.
With this level of data, East Ham can track failure frequencies and the associated impact minutes and then analyse performance by particular units or by a specific system which may be playing up.
Of course the trains are still relatively new. So perhaps it was a bit churlish to ask when the contractual reliability figure of 100,000 km (62,500 miles) per casualty will be achieved when Bombardier and c2c were having a love in.
But Tony Smith didn't flinch. ‘Bombardier are committed to meeting it, but I am not enforcing it contractually, because it's impossible to enforce', he replied, adding ‘we will achieve it jointly'.
And this is where the analysis feeds into Bombardier's on-going annual modification programme. In particular it helps differentiate between real problems and design issues.
Take the famous case of low atmospheric pressure in April 2003 affecting the transformers and shutting down trains, lovingly detailed in the London Evening Standard. The solution was not a hardware modification but simply ‘telling' the smart train not to react in such cases.
In the two months before my visit similar rapid pressure drops had been encountered on three occasions. East Ham had 48 messages from train reporting a problem, but none of them shut down.
Modifications are not just about equipment failing. Vandalism is a constant issue for c2c and most doors carry dents from ‘bricking'. Bonded windows need time to cure before re-entering service, so with 350 windows replaced a year, a reversion to bolted frames is being considered.
And that is how you win a Golden Spanner. Surprising then, that with a new depot planned for IKF's Bombardier maintained Electrostar fleet at Ramsgate, no one, at the time of my visit, had thought to seek the maintainers advice on the new facility.
Thought for the month
‘There is more processing power in a Meridien door than the wqhole of an HST'
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