INTRO: Through a train service provision agreement, the builders of the tilting fleet for Virgin Trains’ West Coast franchise now maintain the existing rolling stock. West Coast Traincare Managing Director Ron Temple reveals to Robert Preston his strategy for the new trains and the need to improve reliability of the current fleet

THE Class 390 tilting trains that Alstom Transport and Fiat Ferroviaria are building for Virgin Trains are not yet in the public eye. But the 13-year train service provision agreement between the builders and the operator has already produced one visible offshoot in the shape of West Coast Traincare, whose name can be seen on seven maintenance facilities along Britain’s West Coast Main Line between London and Glasgow. The company now has 780 employees and, while focusing primarily on serving Virgin, has the capacity to service trains for several other operators.

In the shape of West Coast Service Provision, which holds the train service provision contract with Virgin Trains, Alstom and Fiat have assumed the risk of bringing the new trains into service, as well as their subsequent maintenance and that of the rolling stock they will replace. Maintenance has in turn been subcontracted to West Coast Traincare, so as to keep depot access agreements - which fall within the jurisdiction of the Office of the Rail Regulator - separate from the train service provision contract. Since its formation, West Coast Traincare has been equally owned by Alstom and Fiat in joint venture, but Alstom is expected to take a majority holding through its acquisition of a 51% stake in Fiat Ferroviaria.

On February 20 1999 West Coast Traincare began operations, taking on six depots formerly managed by Virgin Trains and their 650 staff. One of the tasks which West Coast Traincare set for the first year was the rebranding of these maintenance facilities as Traincare Centres, which Managing Director Ron Temple describes as ’an important tool in changing people’s approach’. Depots at Polmadie, Edge Hill, Longsight and Oxley became, respectively, the Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Midlands Traincare Centres, complemented by those in the London area at Wembley and Willesden. In Manchester, the company is also leasing the Eurostar ’North of London’ depot.

In-service faults are tackled by staff operating from station-based Traincare Points at Glasgow Central, Carlisle, Preston, Liverpool Lime Street, Manchester Piccadilly, Crewe and London Euston. Maintenance planning and in-service support are directed from the West Coast Traincare operations centre in Birmingham, based in the Virgin Trains control office. A support centre is located at the Alstom plant in Washwood Heath.

New terms and conditions of employment were negotiated with the staff transferred from Virgin Trains, who since May last year have worked in multi-skilled teams under a team leader. Temple says that the ’willingness to listen and change’ demonstrated by employees has been a major factor in West Coast Traincare’s success to date. ’I am having a debate with them’, he says, conducted through regular presentations to each shift at each Traincare Centre as well as less formal events.

Meeting the targets

One immediate contractual objective facing West Coast Traincare was the requirement to increase the number of trainsets available for weekday service from 39 to 42 by the start of the summer timetable in May 1999. The fleet maintained by West Coast Traincare comprises 56 electric locomotives - 35 Class 87, 15 Class 90 and six Class 86/2 - which haul 133 MkII and 356 MkIII coaches (RG 4.99 p225).

As a result of a maintenance culture that tended to replace defective vehicles, there were some 60 ’spare’ coaches requiring attention when West Coast Traincare began operations. There are now only 18 spares, and the maintenance of the MkIII fleet is now carried out on the basis of balanced examinations. Maintenance tasks previously performed at regular intervals by withdrawing vehicles from service have been divided into modules, which are undertaken during overnight servicing. This has involved a re-alignment of tasks and moving most staff onto the night shift. As a result, the Traincare Centres at Glasgow and Wembley are now fairly quiet during the day, except for third-party work such as the servicing, cleaning and routine light maintenance of sleeping car rakes for ScotRail.

Temple describes the contractual requirement to produce a 33% improvement in reliability by the end of July this year as ’one hell of a challenge’. West Coast Traincare also set itself the target of reducing the number of services cancelled due to rolling stock faults, so as to not to exceed one a day or 30 in a month. Two failures were recorded in July 2000 and the trend is coming down, says Temple, who describes himself as ’quite chuffed’.

As of July 30 the performance ceiling - the maximum number of service failures before payment of penalties - was declared to have reached 33% below the baseline figure established one year earlier.

Improving reliability has involved taking a close look at maintenance processes, including staff training and technical documentation, as well as modifications to locomotives and coaches. Operation Impact was launched at Wembley in September 1999, aiming to modify two complete trains each week.

The Class 90 locomotive fleet, which first entered service in 1987, was reviewed by Alstom’s solution engineers from Preston who proposed a series of modifications and oversaw a ’base-lining’ programme to bring the condition of the locomotives up to a common standard. This resulted in what had been the least reliable member of the fleet taking the top position.

For example, new software was introduced to convert the hexadecimal output of the Class 90’s basic fault diagnosis system, and any locomotive suffering the same defect twice was quarantined. ’None of this is rocket science’, says Temple, ’the key to this is focus’.

The Virgin six-pack

A contractual performance regime that Temple describes as ’more stick than carrot’ helps to concentrate management attention on performance. Although the incentives are ’fairly small’, exceeding the contractual ceiling on total defects in any four-week accounting period, for example, incurs a significant financial penalty.

Performance is assessed against a ’six-pack’ of measures, three of which are contractual.

Non-contractual measures include a punctuality rating under the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority’s Public Performance Measure, based on the percentage of trains arriving at their final destination within 10min of the scheduled time. The other two are impact-minutes and fleet cancellations. Virgin Rail is keen to see a reduction in impact-minutes, the total of delays caused to other operators by the performance of its trains.

The contractual measures are train service failures (causing a delay of 3min or more), total defects and a cleaning score marked on a percentile scale. The total defects measure combines technical faults and service defects in the ’customer interface’ - which includes air-conditioning and lighting systems as well as catering equipment. Interior cleaning is audited by both West Coast Traincare and Virgin Trains against a written standard, with points deducted from a score of 100 for each train. A fleet average is then calculated.

Unsatisfied with the lack of firm objectives and targets in the cleaning contract inherited from Virgin, West Coast Traincare went out to tender in what emerged as a contest between incumbent ISS and LI Group. The new contract was awarded to LI Group, but performance dipped during the handover between contractors. Temple says it is now ’back up where it should be’, meeting the contractual benchmark of a 65% score. This will rise to a ’phenomenally challenging’ 85% when the new trains arrive.

Contractual targets for train service failures and total defects will remain at their present levels until the introduction of the full Class 390 fleet of 53 trains in October 2003, when the train service failure target will fall dramatically to one per day and the service defect ceiling ’comes tumbling down’ to 900 in a 12-week period. The first series Class 390s are expected to appear at the end of 2001, and a transition programme is currently under development. Initial plans had made the withdrawal of the oldest MkII coaches a priority, but this may change in the face of ’very healthy’ passenger growth on the WCML.

Preparing for the Pendolinos

In his other role as Contract Manager at West Coast Service Provision, Ron Temple is ’technically responsible’ for the delivery of the Class 390s, a task in practice managed by Peter Sizer, Project Director at Alstom’s new-build business. Maintainability engineers have been working alongside the designers at Washwood Heath from the concept stage, and each design area has a ’champion’ at each Traincare Centre to ensure that the local situation is taken into account.

’We’ve learned a lot of lessons’, says Temple, who cites the example of the Class 390’s underfloor compressor, located to facilitate removal using a forklift truck. Efforts have also been made to involve component suppliers, who have been invited to seminars on maintenance and have visited the Traincare Centres.

The Class 390 will have a full train management system that staff at the Traincare Centres or the Birmingham operations centre will be able to access remotely via a GSM link. With diagnostic information readily available and the modular design of the Class 390 facilitating the replacement of faulty parts, Temple foresees a greater role for in-service support. ’We ought to have more people out on the trains’, he says.

Temple also sees potential for adopting a more proactive approach to maintenance, as under the train service provision agreement there stands to be more commercial risk for the manufacturers from defective air-conditioning or catering equipment than from train service failures. Brake pad and wheel tread monitoring systems supplied by AEA Technology Rail are to be installed at the Traincare Centres, which are the subject of a refurbishment programme due for completion by the end of 2001 (box p743). A contract worth £20·7m for enhancement work was signed with Kier Rail on February 15 2000.

The scheduled maintenance requirements of the Class 390 should be fairly low, and Temple hopes to combine balanced examinations at the Glasgow, Midlands and Wembley Traincare Centres with a major inspection and lift at Manchester every two years. Rather than a traditional heavy overhaul every two years, the tilting trains would undergo ’mid-life’ re-engineering at eight-year intervals.

Depot enhancement

The investment programme at six Traincare Centres combines measures to improve the working environment with the installation of new equipment and facilities that will be required by the Class 390s. These are to be maintained as eight-car (193·5m in length) and nine-car (217·5m) units. Improvements to the working environment include a fall-arrest system for staff working on the train roofs, and enhanced depot protection measures to warn of train movements.

To handle roof-mounted air-conditioning units, overhead lifting facilities are being installed. Kone Cranes Ltd is supplying runway beam cranes for Glasgow, Midlands and Wembley. All centres will have facilities for emptying controlled-emission toilets, and vehicle washing plants are being replaced.

Likely to play an important part in commissioning the Class 390s, Manchester is to receive a whole-train lifting system from Sefac, as well as five jib cranes from Mechan and a bogie handling facility equipped with its own 25 tonne crane. With three depot tracks now closed to construct two tracks with deep inspection pits and depressed roadways, West Coast Traincare has leased the unused Manchester International depot from Eurostar (UK) Ltd. Next to West Coast Traincare’s wheel lathe facility, Manchester International is now used to undertake balanced examinations on two Virgin sets and could be retained up to March 2012.

Work at Wembley will include the extension of the existing building housing the Hegenscheidt wheel lathe to accommodate a Class 390 trainset, and the installation of handling facilities for wheelsets and underfloor equipment. Its sister facility at Willesden has received a new overhead crane and depot doors, and is looking for third-party work to sustain it once the Class 390 trainsets replace the locomotives it currently maintains.

Alstom service business

West Coast Traincare is one of four businesses within Alstom Transport Service UK, alongside Maintenance - where expertise and services are taken to operators’ depots - Renovation, and Parts & Replacement Units. In total, Alstom Transport Service UK employs 2500 out of Alstom Transport’s 8000 staff in Great Britain, and generates 27% of sales and 42% of profits.

The maintenance product portfolio ranges from train service provision with transfer of staff and facilities - as with West Coast Traincare and the pioneering Northern line contract with London Underground - to maintenance management, technical support and materials management and supply. Alstom Transport Service UK currently has contracts in these areas with ScotRail (five years), Great North Eastern Railway (five years) and South West Trains (seven years) respectively.

The Renovation business undertakes rolling stock refurbishment at its Eastleigh works, with electrical and electronic components reconditioned at Preston, also home to the Parts & Replacement Units business. The latter is developing an internet-based parts purchasing facility that will be piloted in the British market before deployment elsewhere.

CAPTION: Alstom Transport Service UK has a 15-year Comprehensive Fleet Maintenance contract covering 27 Class 175 DMUs supplied to First North Western, which involves the operation of a purpose-built depot at Chester, fitted with a bogie drop pit (inset). The contract involved the transfer of 45 FNW staff to Alstom Photos: Tony Miles

CAPTION: Willesden Traincare Centre (above) has received new doors under an ongoing investment programme. This facility maintains the West Coast locomotive fleet (below) that will be replaced by Pendolino trainsets

CAPTION: Enhancements at Willesden (above) include new cranes for lifting bogies and transformers. The wheel lathe building at Wembley (below) is to be extended to accommodate Pendolinos