INTRO: Confusion reigns in Britain’s passenger rolling stock market in the wake of the government’s decision to switch to short franchise extensions. Apart from EMUs needed to replace MkI rolling stock condemned to go by the end of 2004, prospects for fresh orders have almost dried up, says Roger Ford

NEARLY SIX years after the first franchises were let, many of the new trains ordered by Britain’s train operating companies have yet to enter service, while contracts remain unsigned for stock urgently needed to replace slam-door commuter trains that must by law be withdrawn by December 2004. Worse, the swing in government policy from 20-year replacement franchises to two-year extensions means that traction and rolling stock policies have been thrown into confusion.

Several of the initial franchises included commitments to new rolling stock (Table I). Suburban electric multiple-units dominated these requirements, with Adtranz (now Bombardier) and Alstom taking all but one, which went to Siemens. Subsequently, fleets of medium and long-distance diesel multiple-units were ordered from the British-based suppliers (Table II).

The largest rolling stock contracts were placed in 1998 by Virgin Trains on the back of two 15-year franchises. These were for 352 Bombardier Voyager and Super Voyager diesel-electric MU cars and 53 nine-car Alstom/Fiat Pendolinos. Funding was arranged by Angel Trains and Halifax for the Voyager fleets and by Angel Trains for the Pendolinos.

Safety case problems

All three manufacturers experienced problems with the Railtrack approvals process for EMUs, despite the use of industry-standard European three-phase drives. The key issue was electrical safety cases, where Adtranz was handicapped by a lack of understanding of the process and sought alternative approaches to satisfy Railtrack. These were unsuccessful, and as a result two major train fleets totalling around 100 four-car units had to be placed in store.

Alstom and Siemens were more successful by following the formal approach suggested by Railtrack. In February 2000 Alstom obtained the first passenger safety case for a new generation traction package on DC electrified lines in Britain. However, additional harmonic filters had to be fitted to the company’s AC EMUs before they could obtain a passenger safety case in Scotland. Siemens had the advantage of building on the existing safety case for its Heathrow Express AC EMUs for its sole order, and was only a few months late.

Alstom now has passenger safety cases for all its AC and DC EMUs, but this advantage has been lost by the company’s inability to get production trains into squadron service in quantity. This also applies to Alstom’s two DMU orders for Classes 175 and 180 for First North Western and First Great Western respectively.

Bombardier now has a full fleet of 46 AC Electrostar EMUs in passenger service with London suburban operator c2c, but only eight DC Electrostars out of 55 completed so far have been cleared to run. In contrast, the company has delivered all its Turbostar DMUs successfully.

Alstom’s inability to deliver hit the company hard when Stagecoach ordered trains as part of its 20-year replacement franchise for South West Trains (p591). Despite Alstom’s unique DC safety case, Stagecoach preferred Siemens’ Desiro UK design and will lease 785 vehicles funded by Angel Trains; options take the possible fleet total to 1201. These units are needed to replace SWT’s MkI slam-door DC commuter stock which must be withdrawn from service by December 31 2002, unless fitted with anti-override protection at a cost of £20 000 per four-car set, thereby extending the withdrawal deadline by two years.

Further MkI replacement EMUs have to be ordered for the South Central and South Eastern commuter franchises, and an order is imminent for South Central under new owner Govia.

Bleak outlook

All these contracts are essentially replacements, with little or no provision to accommodate the forecast future traffic growth. Taken together, they will meet demand for EMUs over the next three years. But the switch to two-year franchise extensions makes it unlikely that other commuter TOCs will now commit to new trains, and the rolling stock leasing companies are likely to require future lease rentals to be underwritten by government before placing further orders.

In terms of trouble-free commissioning, Bombardier has been most successful with its Voyager and tilting Super Voyager DEMUs. Virgin CrossCountry placed its first Voyager into service on time in May this year, and 10 units have now been accepted. Tests with the tilting Super Voyager are due to start in the French Alps this month.

Alstom is also close to schedule with the Virgin West Coast Pendolino fleet, the main cause of delay being Railtrack’s inability to supply infrastructure information on time. Test running with two pre-series trains is under way and the first four production units should be accepted in December. Virgin hopes to have 29 trains for service in June 2002, rising to 42 in September. All 53 will have been delivered from the Birmingham factory by the end of 2002.

This highlights a serious problem facing the British factories of the Europe-based multinationals. Bombardier will finish production of its Virgin Trains orders at the Wakefield plant by the end of 2002. At the former Adtranz Derby plant, where Bombardier halted production for August and September this year while the backlog of modifications on trains in store was eliminated, there are firm orders for 320 EMU cars to build pending a decision on the South Central requirement.

With Siemens assembling the SWT order overseas and well placed to win a substantial proportion of the South Central business, the three British train building plants could be empty in 2003. At least one is likely to close.

Apart from the EMU business already mentioned, the short and medium-term market remains uncertain and long-term prospects non-existent. An extension to the Midland Main Line franchise currently includes 127 200 km/h DMU cars, but Railtrack’s inability to fund the associated £60m infrastructure upgrade puts this order at risk. The decision to extend the InterCity East Coast franchise by two years assumes extra rolling stock, but this could be met from 2003 by IC125s and loco-hauled coaches and electric locos released by the new Virgin fleets. Theoretically, new outer-suburban EMUs able to run at 200 or 225 km/h will be required to work domestic services when Section 2 of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link opens in 2007, but procurement has yet to start.

With the main line railway on hold, the train builders’ best hope lies in the London Underground PPP, where the two successful bidders are committed to train replacement on several lines. However, even here the timescale does not favour the British factories, with deliveries unlikely to start much before 2005.

CAPTION: This month is due to see the launch of passenger services with the first of 14 five-car Class 180 Adelante DMUs being built for First Great Western by Alstom. One unit made a short demonstration run in Bristol on July 26 (right). As they enter service, FGW will start a £17·5m programme to refurbish its HSTs, during which they will be repainted into FirstGroup colours (left)

CAPTION: After teething troubles with the 30 Alstom-built four-car Class 458 EMUs for SouthWest Trains, Stagecoach Rail decided to order up to 1 200 vehicles from Siemens

Photo: Brian Morrison

CAPTION: With prospects for replacement of EMUs built in the 1970s receding, Arriva Trains Merseyside and Angel Trains are undertaking public consultation for refurbishment of the Class 508 sets used around Liverpool

Table I: Post-privatisation EMU orders

Class Cars Operator Order date

333 48 Arriva Trains Northern Feb 1998

334 120 ScotRail Mar 1998

357 288 c2c Mar 1997-Jan 2000

375 450 Connex Jun 1997-Jul 1999

458 120 South West Trains May 1997

460 64 Gatwick Express Apr 1997

390 477 Virgin West Coast Mar 1998

335 84 First Great Eastern Jul 2000

375 160 Speculative build Oct 2000

336/444 785 South West Trains Apr 2001

458 200 Speculative build n/a

Total 2596

Table II: Post-privatisation DMU orders

Class Cars Operator Order date

168/0 39 Chiltern Sep 1996-Apr 1999

170/1 } 170/4 } 192 National Express Oct 1997-Mar 1999170/5 } (MML/ScotRail/Central)

170/2 24 GB Railways Mar 1998

170/3 16 South West Trains Oct 2000

175 70 First North Western May 1998

180 70 First Great Western May 1998

220 136 Virgin CrossCountry Mar 1998

221 216 Virgin CrossCountry Mar 1998

Total 763