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Sunday, July 21, 2024

New trains in their thousands

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Over £10 billion is being invested in the current orders for 5,670 new rail vehicles. Some of these are already in service with almost all due to be by 2020. This equates to the delivery of 25 vehicles a week, compared with the four vehicles a week supplied over the previous control period.

This unprecedented new trains bonanza is primarily due to two factors.

The first is the concurrent requirements to replace old trains on East Coast and Great Western main lines, including the forty-year old High Speed Trains (HSTs), and procure large numbers of trains for the soon-to-be completed Thameslink and Crossrail projects. Given the significance of these large train orders, which total 2,600 vehicles, their procurement was be managed by the Department for Transport (DfT) and, for Crossrail, Transport for London (TfL).

New thinking

The second factor is a change in franchise philosophy. Until a few years ago, franchise competitions did not adequately consider service quality.

The ScotRail franchise, awarded in 2014, broke this trend with bidders being ranked in a process that gave a 35 per cent weighting to quality and a 65 per cent weighting to price. It also required the franchise holder to procure its own rolling stock to a defined customer specification. Since then, the DfT has followed this Scottish example.

The recent franchises awarded or extended in accordance with this new thinking have how signed contracts for a total of 2,270 vehicles as follows Caledonian Sleeper (75), First Trans Pennine Express (221), Greater Anglia (1043), Great Western Railways (416), Northern Rail (281) and ScotRail (234).

The government and new franchise- led train procurement has introduced new funding sources. As a result, the three original rolling stock leasing companies (ROSCOs), Angel Trains, Eversholt Rail and Porterbrook, are only funding 32 per cent of these new orders whereas, as of March 2016, they owned 92 per cent of the UK rail fleet.

Many of these new trains will be built in Britain, with over half the orders placed with Bombardier and Hitachi. Stadler make their first entry into the UK mainline train market with an order from Greater Anglia for 378 FLIRT units.

More seats, but not yet

All this is good news for passengers, although most will need to wait a few years for their trains to be built. These trains will offer improved facilities such as superfast Wi-Fi, improved customer information, air conditioning and plug sockets. However, for many, the extra seats they will provide will be the most important benefit.

In the North, examples of such capacity improvements include 45 per cent more seats on trains between Glasgow and Edinburgh, 12,000 extra seats on East Coast services, First Trans Pennine increasing its fleet size by 88 per cent and a 37 per cent peak capacity increase for Northern Rail, whose customers will also be pleased to see new trains replacing all the hated Pacer units.

For London commuters, new trains will increase capacity on inner suburban services out of Waterloo by 20 per cent, enable Thameslink to carry up to 21,000 passengers
an hour each way through London, and replace all current Greater Anglia trains with a 10 per cent bigger fleet to increase peak capacity into Liverpool Street by 55 per cent.

Surplus trains

Few predicted that the number of UK rail passengers would double over the last twenty years. To avoid being similarly caught out in future, Network Rail now has a long-term planning process that has produced market studies to assess long-term demand. ‘Looking to the Future’ (issue 115, May 2014) described how the industry’s Long Term Rolling Stock  Strategy (LTRSS), produced by RDG and several fleet owners, uses these market studies and other information to predict future rolling stock requirements.

The 2017 strategy has just been published. This records that, the UK has 13,377 rail vehicles. It includes a prediction that, by 2019, Britain will require between 14,986 and 15,212 rail vehicles, an increase to the current fleet of just under two thousand vehicles. Thus, when the current train orders have been delivered, there will be a surplus of around three thousand vehicles.

No doubt, there will be alternative uses for some of these vehicles, especially if ROSCOs slash their lease rates to encourage train operators to use them. One innovative proposal is the suggestion that HSTs could be converted into parcel trains. In some cases, life-extension is an appropriate option, examples of this include Chiltern Railway’s use of Mark 3 coaches and ScotRail’s High Speed Train (HST) conversion, as reported elsewhere in this issue.

However, it is certain that hundreds of vehicles will either be stored or scrapped, especially the older vehicles which include the 13 per cent of the current fleet built in the 1970s. The sight of large numbers of surplus vehicles may attract some criticism, but this is an insignificant issue compared with the reliability, energy efficiency and capacity benefits that the new trains on order will bring. Without doubt, this is good news for passengers and the industry.

Written by David Shirres

The fifth LTRSS is available on the Rail Delivery Group’s website.

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