Introducing the Siemens Class 700 fleet into service

Introducing a fleet of new trains of this size required new depots, new drivers and an extensive training programme with some extremely challenging logistics

A Demanding New Train Roll-out Programme

115 all-new Siemens Class 700 Desiro City trains were commissioned for train operator Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and train owner Cross London Trains. The last train rolled off Siemens’ Krefeld factory production line on 8 March 2018 and was commissioned to be made available for service in the summer of 2018. This was to support GTR’s timetable changes which happened in May 2018, December 2018 and are scheduled for May 2019 and December 2019.

The train itself was developed specifically for the Thameslink Programme and was the world’s first ‘second generation’ fully digitally-enabled train in passenger service. The Class 700 was also the first mainline train to successfully use Automatic Train Operation (ATO) and the European Train Control System (ETCS) to increase capacity across London.

Unprecedented Scale and Speed

Given the scale of the roll-out programme, it was logistically challenging and complex and posed some major operational challenges. For example, during the course of the programme, in excess of 300 new stop-car boards were erected and over 500 gauging sites were cleared (with a combination of de-vegetation and the removal of structures).

The Class 700 was successfully introduced into passenger service within three years of the contracts being awarded which was the fastest such introduction to date. This was an outstanding achievement in itself, but particularly so given that the contracts between the parties were complex, and individual businesses’ interests were not always necessarily aligned.

This made collaboration and effective team working an absolutely critical factor for the programme to succeed and an essential ingredient in the achievement of each project milestone.

Infrastructure Design Review

The thorough design review process involved all industry partners. On top of the contractual requirements of 12 technical design area reviews and 9 system integration reviews, the parties also agreed and agreed/supported a series of 14 operational clarification review meetings to further develop a shared understanding of design.

Cross-industry teamwork was required to ensure the infrastructure was ready in time for the trains to be delivered, tested, commissioned and operated in passenger service. This was also in parallel with the cascade out of the old rolling stock to make space for the new trains being introduced on the network. There were numerous interfaces and logistical challenges to overcome during the two years to ensure that passengers’ day-to-day journeys were not disrupted.

Maintaining the Beat Rate

Given a demanding delivery schedule the Siemens, GTR, Cross London Trains /Eversholt Rail Group and Network Rail teams worked seamlessly together at every stage of the process to bring each new train into service.

Flexibility of Programme and Collaboration

With such a logistically complex process to manage, a constant feature of the 34-month programme, (the first train arrived in the UK in August 2015, last train accepted summer 2018), was that no two weeks were ever the same, with new challenges arising each day.

This led to the programme having to be constantly re-worked with the effect of any one change having enormous knock-on effects to the rest of the programme. Changes had to be made confidently, quickly and efficiently to ensure continued smooth operation.

Clear and effective governance and communications between all parties and their wider stakeholders were therefore critical with each of the key members of the team (Siemens, GTR, Cross London Trains/ Eversholt Rail and Network Rail) involved in decisions as appropriate.

The culture of the team was such that as problems were identified, team members would quickly identify not only who the best person in the team would be to take ownership of its resolution, but also how others could provide support to make sure that any impact on the overall programme was minimised.

Examples of the collaborative working practices that existed with the team, included:

  • Siemens built two pre-series vehicles for early testing, with industry partners joining the early testing to feedback into the design. All stakeholders were involved in further round-the-clock type/routine testing.
  • Eversholt Rail and the operator were present on site in Krefeld, supporting the development of the design and manufacturing processes and ensuring customer understanding and engagement.
  • Eversholt Rail and the operator supported round-the-clock type testing at PCW to maintain this customer understanding and engagement.
  • Driver relationships were managed to introduce 12-car driver-only operation and a new selective door operation system. This all took place in a very sensitive driver relations environment.
  • Consistency was maintained within the project and technical challenges were overcome whilst the biggest re-franchising operation ever was being undertaken.
  • Delays to the initial commission and testing programme during Autumn 2015 were overcome by delivering all the required train/infrastructure tests and reports within six weeks (against a planned programme of three months) to enable on-time submission to ORR for network approvals.
  • Clearing the routes for the first passenger services with infrastructure gauging and station tests undertaken on Siemens test trains to maintain programme delivery.
  • Catching-up the acceptance programme during 2017 required “doubling” of the beat rate of train acceptances, with 24 vehicles having to be commissioned, inspected and accepted each week after first having passed their fault-free mileage tests. This was also done in parallel with the introduction of more trains into passenger service and the cascading out of the old rolling stock. Considering the beat rate of the programme was already the most intensive of any previous UK train introductions, having to double it took a huge collaborative effort. In some months, the team delivered two 12-car units each week for four weeks – the equivalent of almost 100 vehicles per month.
  • The new Hornsey depot was completely re-signalled over two Bank Holiday weekends in 2016, with the existing depot continuing to operate – no trains were cancelled and there was no disruption to service.

Not only did the partners work together to deliver the trains, but they continued the ‘one team’ approach to improving reliability and continuous improvement, coming together to better understand issues and plan rectification work in a controlled manner using industry-wide knowledge and experience.

With the number of vehicles being delivered, the huge amount of examinations required meant that collaboration with the operator was essential. Given such an intensive service (up to 24 trains per hour), 109 vehicles out of the fleet of 115 always need to be available every day; therefore, close collaboration with the operator is absolutely essential to ensure the right unit is in the right place at the right time for maintenance.

Outstanding teamwork wasn’t just a feature of the different organisations coming together to deliver a shared goal, but also the different internal teams within the companies working collaboratively. The programme simply could not have been delivered without the manufacturing, delivery, commissioning and maintenance teams completely embracing the ‘one team’ approach and a total commitment to the programme.

A World First

One tangible example of the collaborative teamwork, was the world’s first successful operation of a train on an urban, high-density railway operating ATO over ETCS in passenger service.

On 17 March 2018, Thameslink Class 700 train 700019, running in passenger service, drove through the Thameslink core in Automatic Train Operation under ETCS Level 2. The train drove automatically, with full protection from the ETCS radio-based signalling system, through one of the most important sections of London’s railway network, transitioning into ETCS Level 2 on its approach from Kentish Town and back to conventional signalling between Blackfriars and Elephant & Castle.

This operation marked the culmination of efforts of the project partners who had performed nearly 200 night and day shifts of testing since April 2016 when dynamic proving trials began at Network Rail’s ETCS National Integration Facility at Hertford North.

Delivering a Lasting Benefit

The Thameslink Programme has successfully delivered more, longer, higher-capacity trains to move huge numbers of additional passengers into London and beyond, creating new journey opportunities across the South East of England, in the minimum possible timescales.

Improving Safety and Value for Money

The introduction of the new train fleet achieved system-wide safety benefits, through a reduction of overcrowding on platforms and trains.

The new train fleet was designed to be 30% lighter than the previous generation of trains, resulting in reduced energy consumption to operate the trains and reduced impact on the infrastructure.

The delivery programme had to be meticulously planned by all industry partners to ensure that:

  • a new train was manufactured, delivered, tested, commissioned and offered for acceptance every week
  • a huge number of drivers, route and traction staff were trained to operate the new trains as they entered service.

Over three years, six different classes of fleet, totalling 764 vehicles, were cascaded from the Thameslink and Great Northern routes as a result of the Class 700 introduction. Whilst some of these fleets were handed back to the Rolling Stock Owners, a number of them were cascaded to other routes within GTR or to other operators, increasing capacity and improving the offering to customers.

For example, on Great Northern the Class 317 and Class 321 fleets were replaced by Class 387s to provide customers with more modern trains and on Southeastern, an additional 100 vehicles were provided creating further capacity on its routes:

  • the infrastructure was amended and upgraded in many locations to ensure trains could operate in service
  • a new depot was successfully commissioned at Three Bridges and the existing depot at Hornsey was extended and radically re-configured without any disruption to operations.

Managing this for one 4-car unit is normally relatively straightforward, but to successfully repeat the process 115 times for long, fixed-formation trains, called for an extraordinary amount of planning and preparation, together with an ability to react to changing circumstances and adjust the programme collaboratively; with these decisions very often having to be made under a degree of pressure.