68024 & TP09 at Kirkham Abbey 1300 York to Scar 130621 TM

Photo: Tony Miles

UK: TransPennine Express held a ceremony at the Manchester International Depot in Longsight on June 16 to celebrate acceptance of the final train under its fleet renewal programme. The last train to arrive is one of the 13 CAF MkVa push-pull inter-city trainsets, branded Nova 3 by the operator.

TPE’s fleet renewal plan was announced as part of its franchise which began in 2016. This brought a commitment to focus on enhancing the quality and ambience of long-distance services on its core east-west route through Leeds; these had for the previous decade been operated by a fleet of 51 three-car Class 185 DMUs, derived from Siemens’ Desiro suburban multiple-unit design.

As a result TPE ordered 44 five-car inter-city trainsets in three batches, one ordered from Hitachi (19 Class 802 electro-diesel trainsets, branded Nova 1) and two supplied by CAF (12 Class 397 EMUs branded Nova 2 for use on its West Coast Main Line routes, and the Nova 3 sets).

Speaking at the Manchester ceremony five years and two months after the contract with CAF was let, TPE Major Projects Director Chris Nutton said that ‘today marks a special moment for customers across the north of England as we accept our final state-of-the-art Nova train. It represents the final step in the delivery of a £500m investment in revolutionising rail travel across the regions and communities we serve.’

The push-pull formations comprise five CAF MkVa trailers powered by one of 14 160 km/h Stadler Class 68 diesel locos hired from Direct Rail Services on a long-term basis.

Commissioning of the Nova 3 sets has been a protracted process. There had been delays to testing, commissioning and training crews on the fleet even before the pandemic, but the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated the issues. TPE now expects to have the fleet fully in service by May 2022.

Timetable recast

While the final Nova 3 has only now been accepted, TPE is already assessing a further reshaping of its rolling stock requirements driven by looming changes to the East Coast Main Line timetable, provisionally expected in December 2021 and May 2022.

Among the planned changes are the cessation of TPE services between Newcastle and Edinburgh, while the current hourly Newcastle – Manchester Airport service is likely to be cut back to run between York and Manchester Victoria only.

TransPennine Express accepts final Nova 3 at Manchester__ International Depot 2

The handover ceremonyfor the last CAF Nova 3 trainset at Manchester International Depot on June 16.

Meanwhile, TPE is heavily involved in a pan-industry effort to reduce congestion on the busy Castlefield Corridor through central Manchester, which could yet lead to further service pattern recasts in the medium term.

The operator also faces some challenges specific to the Nova 3 fleet, notably the noise problems encountered at Scarborough. Residents in the town have objected to the sound of the Class 68 locomotives when stabled overnight at the £7m depot constructed in 2019 to service the trains.

The Class 68’s Caterpillar C175-16 power unit is regarded as relatively noisy in normal operation because of the need to make it comply with Euro IIIa emissions standards, but it becomes more intrusive still when the loco is stabled and powering the train’s onboard auxiliaries. This lifts the engine’s idling speed from 600 to 1 150 rev/min.

Short term mitigation measures being evaluated by TPE include using Class 185 DMUs on late night and early morning Scarborough trains, and reallocating the Nova 3 sets to the Manchester – Redcar route, where extension of services along the 7 km branch to Saltburn is being considered under the ECML recast. A Nova 3 set ran on test to the coastal resort on June 17.

Fleet challenges

In the longer term though, TPE is looking to move beyond its reliance on the Class 68 diesel locos with a view to exploiting the gradual extension of electrification across its network as Network Rail’s Transpennine Route Upgrade gathers pace.

‘Now we know that the future is not diesel we need to look at whether we redeploy the fleet, in the medium term, onto other routes or we need to look at alternative traction solutions that align with the route upgrade’s objectives’, said one TPE insider.

TPE is also assessing the future of its legacy DMU fleet. Under the 2016 plan, many of the Class 185s were due to be gradually reallocated to the Manchester Airport – Sheffield – Cleethorpes route, running in six-car formations. This would have left 15 sets to be sent off lease at the end of this year, once all three Nova fleets were in service.

Now TPE is reassessing if those 15 trains could be retained as the NR infrastructure programme on the Manchester – Leeds corridor raises the prospect of service diversions, and if social distancing measures remain in force on public transport. Further complexity is added by the need in the next few years for ETCS onboard equipment to be installed on trains using the ECML, while TPE is also working with Hitachi to digest the implications of the repair programme to be rolled out across all Class 80x fleets in the wake of the cracking problems discovered earlier this year.

‘We’re working on the assumption that every Hitachi train has got to be done. We understand the manufacturer is currently looking for depots and stabling to allow the work to be carried out’, said the insider.