New rolling stock.

Why train op­er­a­tors are opt­ing for new ve­hi­cle fleets

Rail (UK) - - Contents - “Own­ers are not with­out ideas to ex­tend the ser­vice life of ve­hi­cles that of­fer a good jour­ney ex­pe­ri­ence.” WHAT’S YOUR VIEW? Email: rail@bauer­me­dia.co.uk

67 In­sider

More than 6,000 new pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles will be de­liv­ered or or­dered dur­ing the cur­rent five-year reg­u­la­tory Con­trol Pe­riod (2014-19). This is an un­prece­dented build­ing pro­gramme that has filled assembly plants in Bri­tain and Europe with con­struc­tion work.

A busi­ness model for fran­chised op­er­a­tors has emerged, which fo­cuses on mass rolling stock re­place­ment - in part to sat­isfy bid­ding com­pe­ti­tion qual­ity scor­ing, but also to trans­fer fleet engi­neer­ing risks to train man­u­fac­tur­ers and ve­hi­cle own­ers. The trend is for re­spon­si­bil­ity for the pre­sen­ta­tion of a ‘fit for ser­vice’ train to move from train op­er­a­tors, as new ve­hi­cle war­ranties are given that un­der­write avail­abil­ity.

There is a big op­er­a­tional ben­e­fit in high­den­sity traf­fic ar­eas, as a com­mon fleet of­fers the same brak­ing and ac­cel­er­a­tion char­ac­ter­is­tics and in- cab equip­ment. Dwell time at sta­tions is also crit­i­cal, and a new stan­dard of 45 sec­onds is emerg­ing for pas­sen­gers to alight and board, which re­quires a faster door op­er­a­tion cy­cle than that pro­vided with older coaches. Di­verse fleets also pro­duce com­plex­ity, with dif­fer­ent point to point tim­ings that com­pli­cate train plan­ning and re­quire greater train­ing of driv­ers.

The in­tro­duc­tion of in-cab sig­nalling is also an ex­pen­sive retro­fit, and the cur­rent prac­tice of hav­ing only two driv­ing cabs for fixed for­ma­tion trains of up to 12 cars re­duces cost com­pared with run­ning a train formed of units work­ing in mul­ti­ple.

Of­ten for­got­ten is the fi­nanc­ing struc­ture ap­plied by man­u­fac­tur­ers and leas­ing com­pa­nies. Rolling stock in­vest­ment is seen as a low-risk ac­tiv­ity, given the long life of ve­hi­cles - for ex­am­ple, the own­ers of the In­ter­City Ex­press Pro­gramme train­sets have a 27-year con­tract for their use.

Sim­i­larly, the de­ci­sion to buy Class 700 trains man­u­fac­tured by Siemens for Thames­link op­er­a­tions had lit­tle to do with man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pa­bil­ity, but in­stead re­flected the stronger fi­nan­cial stand­ing of Siemens com­pared with Bom­bardier, which re­sulted in a lower cost struc­ture.

The op­er­a­tional and fi­nan­cial ben­e­fit of new equip­ment can be ac­cu­rately charted, but much greater judge­ment is needed re­gard­ing the ef­fect that new rolling stock will have on rev­enue (through at­tract­ing more pas­sen­gers and jus­ti­fy­ing higher fares via im­proved prod­uct qual­ity).

Abel­lio felt able to of­fer £ 3.7 bil­lion in pre­mium pay­ments for the nine-year Greater Anglia con­tract (£ 600 mil­lion above their near­est ri­val), in the be­lief that com­plete fleet re­newal will bring sig­nif­i­cant in­come growth.

And there is ev­i­dence that the in­tro­duc­tion of the Vir­gin Trains Pen­dolino fleet, com­bined with West Coast route mod­erni­sa­tion that al­lowed a very high fre­quency timetable, has pro­duced a level of growth greater than the eco­nomic back­ground might have sug­gested.

Go­ing back fur­ther, the ad­vent of 125mph High Speed Trains brought about a trans­for­ma­tional im­prove­ment in prod­uct qual­ity that made rail com­pet­i­tive com­pared with short-haul air travel and the use of cars for busi­ness travel.

The orig­i­nal elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of the West Coast Main Line, com­pleted 50 years ago, was also ac­com­pa­nied by a sig­nif­i­cant mar­ket re­sponse that had to be ex­plained by the non- eco­nomic ver­nac­u­lar of the ‘sparks ef­fect’. The changeover from steamhauled op­er­a­tions to diesel and elec­tric units also her­alded new stan­dards of clean­li­ness and com­fort that re­vived rail use in many ur­ban ar­eas.

So how­ever im­por­tant the tech­ni­cal and op­er­a­tional ben­e­fits may be, it will be fare box rev­enue that de­ter­mines if fi­nan­cial fore­casts as­so­ci­ated with the whole­sale in­tro­duc­tion of new trains are to be achieved.

Will the new gen­er­a­tion of rolling stock bring sig­nif­i­cant prod­uct im­prove­ment?

For the IEP fleet it will have to be about in­te­rior de­sign and cus­tomer ser­vice. There is lit­tle speed ben­e­fit, and wiring cur­tail­ment on the Great Western Main Line means that bi-mode tech­nol­ogy will be needed to reach Bris­tol. It is ex­pected that this will mean longer jour­ney times, as the power avail­able is less than for the cur­rent HSTs.

At least East Coast IEPs will be an elec­tric op­er­a­tion, with bi-mode use con­fined to pro­vid­ing through trains to des­ti­na­tions be­yond the elec­tri­fied bound­ary. A small time-sav­ing is ex­pected, but there are grow­ing con­cerns about the level of on-board ser­vice.

No in­dus­trial dis­pute is good news, but it is par­tic­u­larly dis­rup­tive if it in­volves cus­tomer-fac­ing on-board staff, a sit­u­a­tion that is cur­rently tak­ing place as a re­sult of pro­posed changes to the role of guards on Vir­gin Trains East Coast op­er­a­tions. Ser­vices are be­ing main­tained us­ing man­age­ment and su­per­vi­sory staff, but there is an in­evitable cus­tomer ser­vice short­fall in the ab­sence of reg­u­lar staff.

The in­te­rior de­sign of the new trains has also been crit­i­cised. Seat­ing ca­pac­ity will be max­imised, with an air­line-style lay­out and re­moval of the buf­fet counter. But any pre­tence of pro­vid­ing seat­ing with a win­dow view has been aban­doned and pas­sen­gers will be de­pen­dent on a trol­ley ser­vice, which can­not be ideal over long dis­tances. I sus­pect that the growth of sta­tion re­tail out­lets will re­sult in reg­u­lar pas­sen­gers bring­ing their re­fresh­ments on board, and ad­vis­ing oc­ca­sional users to do the same by so­cial me­dia posts.

The re­ten­tion of dis­placed rolling stock will be un­likely in many cases. This is a view shared by Eurostar, which has de­cided to dis­place a num­ber of the orig­i­nal train­sets rather than in­creas­ing the num­ber of des­ti­na­tions served. It is un­usual (to say the least) that mod­ern rolling stock is sched­uled to move for im­me­di­ate scrap­ping af­ter com­plet­ing a rev­enueearn­ing di­a­gram.

We may see a lot more of the same, as leas­ing com­pa­nies de­cline to meet the cost of stor­ing ve­hi­cles that are by no means life-ex­pired and which are not nec­es­sar­ily un­suited for fur­ther use. How­ever, rolling stock own­ers are not with­out ideas to ex­tend the ser­vice life of ve­hi­cles that of­fer a good jour­ney ex­pe­ri­ence - for ex­am­ple, the use of cas­caded HSTs on Scot­tish in­ter­nal routes will bring much bet­ter prod­uct qual­ity.

Af­ter this manic pe­riod of build­ing, spare a thought for the train man­u­fac­tur­ers.

It is un­likely that any sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of new ve­hi­cles will be needed in Bri­tain for a decade at least, so sur­vival will be dif­fi­cult.

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