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Derby injects new life into old trains

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It’s 1:30pm at Etches Park train depot in Derby and the canteen is filling up. Technicians down tools and join the excited chatter of colleagues standing side by side managers and a number of executive site visitors, who are all glued to the canteen TV.

Months after the project first began, East Midlands Trains (EMT) has presented the first of three renovated HST trainsets to the media. In one of the refreshed first class carriages, a regional broadcaster is about to go live to talk about extra capacity and an improved customer experience. Cutting from the studio to a roving reporter, a presenter asks what’s going on at the depot. Ironically, in that very moment with workers glued to the TV, the answer is very little. Since the start of the year, however, contractors and depot staff have been busy undertaking £3 million worth of rolling stock refurbishment.

Guardian angel

From the buzz around the depot, it’s obvious the project is a source of great pride. A rare positive in the midst of a barrage of recent negative press on the rail industry.

One event that drew some of the most high-profile criticism was the May timetable change, which is where this HST project originated. Introducing the Thameslink timetable caused some EMT journey times to decrease and others to increase, making it necessary to acquire extra trainsets to continue to meet delivery expectations.

EMT has leased the units from Angel Trains via an agreement with the Department for Transport. Each trainset is comprises six coaches and two powercars, with three buffet cars being cascaded from Great Western Railway and the remaining coaches and the powercars from Grand Central. These join the existing nine HST trainsets of eight carriages and two power cars leased from Porterbrook.

Local trains, local work

After being delivered in January, the three HSTs have been carefully refurbished at Etches Park depot to ensure they are comparable with the rest of the fleet. Phase 1 of the work involved stripping the trains back, treating them for corrosion and giving them a lick of paint while phase 2 concerned the internal refit.

During a visit to Etches Park depot in September, RailStaff spoke to some of the companies involved. Designer Andy Sykes and a small group of 3D modellers and visualisation colleagues from DGDESIGN were contracted to assist with the train’s interior design, including new first class saloons, rebranding standard class, and updating the EMT exterior livery and the powercar graphics. The five-man team worked alongside SNC-Lavalin, which oversaw the engineering design to ensure the interiors function as required.

Andy said his team had to coordinate the new colour scheme to correspond with EMT’s developed branding that it now uses in stations and in publications. They also had to source and decide on fabrics on racks, curtains, dado panels, seat leathers and wood finishes. With the team restricted to re-using certain interior finishes, the project has been about getting “the best bang for buck”. The need for a quick turnaround also posed many problems that the average passenger wouldn’t think about.

Andy said: “Selecting colours for a new carpet can take time because the yarn has to come from the sheep to the process to get coloured and then woven into the carpet.

“If the available project time is condensed, we work with the carpet suppliers to find creative ways to use yarns from ongoing projects, reusing colours but altering the construction so it captures the East Midlands Trains brand.

“So what may appear as a straightforward project actually has lots of little things like that which aren’t immediately obvious – there’s a lot going on.”

As well as the engineering design, SNC-Lavalin also procured the materials and oversaw the work, which was completed by Loram with the support of EMT depot staff. Up to 25 employees from SNC-Lavalin have been working on the project at any one time and around 20 from Loram. Altogether there have been around 30 key suppliers used throughout the project, including local consultants Yellow Rail, fabric firm Botany Weaving carpets and leather manufacturer Muirhead, and all of the refurbishment work has been undertaken by companies in Derby.

EMT fleet director Chris Wright said: “It’s particularly pleasing we have been able to provide these improvements by working locally with neighbouring suppliers, creating jobs and delivering investment into the local Derby rail industry.”

Old trains, new jobs

One of the HSTs was sent out for a naming ceremony in February, to thank the efforts of the emergency services following the fire at EMT-managed Nottingham station in January. Since then, maintenance work on the trains has “really ramped up”, according to Etches Park depot manager James Wale.

He added: “I think [the first refurbished train is] better than what I expected. You see renderings and the plans that the design guys produce and when you actually see it, it looks a lot better than it did on paper.

“For the age of the train, they’re 40 years old now, and if you look at what we’ve delivered inside, it’s like a modern new train.”

Not only has the HST refurbishments provided work for around 50 people, it has also created permanent positions. To tend to the new trains’ ongoing maintenance programme, 13 jobs have been created at the depot and two elsewhere. These new positions have been a combination of technicians and shunters, which brings the total number of staff at the Etches Park depot up to 110.

New trains

Work on EMT’s new HSTs is now winding down. Two of the trainsets have entered service and the third will follow, with refurbishment work due to finish in October. Already suppliers will no doubt have their eye on a big upcoming opportunity.

When the next operator for the East Midlands franchise is chosen, Derby’s rail industry will be hoping the attention once more falls on them to deliver. This time it won’t be for injecting new life into workhorse trains but helping to manufacture state-of-the-art next generation rolling stock.

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