Spares pods on the Thameslink route

Recommendations for future projects to understand the planning, management and potential challenges of making maintenance spares available to teams quickly on the live railway.

Key challenges

One side effect of the increased services and more frequent trains on the Thameslink route was that extra maintenance work was required to make the line as resilient as possible. To prevent more frequent faults and failures from wear and tear, a large new team was recruited and trained to maintain the line. These teams needed a more efficient method of getting the replacement parts quickly to site in order to repair any damage of failed components. Typically, during a trackside fault, it can take anything up to an hour and a half to get to where the failure actually is, work out what is required, get to a store room and then travel back to the site again with the replacement parts.

With a larger workforce there also comes a greater demand for welfare facilities for operatives out on site and this would be the case right along the line of the route.

Strategic maintenance spares solution (Pods)

The aim of the maintenance spares pods is to improve asset resilience at the most critical junctions. The spares containers (or pods) were installed at key locations with some also having welfare facilities incorporated. Many of these were set up next to ‘golden assets’ – where a failure can cost Network Rail the most in delay repayments to train operators. The pods can each contain the spare parts and equipment specific to the asset they are built beside. The spares available inside are clearly listed and each has a QR code tag. The pods can house equipment that wouldn’t always be carried on roaming spares vehicles.

Pictured below is a typical Strategic Store Pod installation. These units are now situated in locations across the South East on the Thameslink route to the north and south of London. Their objective is to reduce the overall ‘Time to Site’ and the impact on ‘Time to Fix’ for the workforce. They are located in positions with safe and sensible access (e.g. on the correct side of the line) and in places with a power supply for lighting, temperature control and secure entry.

Safety first

As well as minimising delays, the pods offer an improvement in safety as it helps Network Rail to manage fatigue of operatives. Colleagues usually have to drive to the site of the asset failure, assess it and then depending on the type of failure, return to their vehicle, go back to the depot and then repeat this process each time. The distances can be long and failures are frequently near the live railway so with spares closer to hand, one step in the repair process can be eliminated.

The maintenance pods were positioned at 24 locations on the network as part of the Thameslink Resilience Programme which aimed to improve reliability and reduce delays on key Thameslink routes. At 12 of those locations, additional welfare facilities were also be provided. Most of the pods and welfare facilities were completed by the end of May 2019.

Technicians have commented that the pods make things easier in difficult-to-access areas and help them cut down delays. The most useful things in the pods for them are power packs, actuators and relays to help with point-failures. The pods can also save the time that is often spent looking around the bigger storerooms in the depot. With the pods, they can find what they need more quickly.

Above: A typical Strategic Maintenance Store ‘Pod’ installation

Recommendations and lessons learned

  • Early engagement with the end-user teams is critical. As every site is different, it is not as simple as stocking the same parts at every pod. Each area has its own requirements and only knowledge of each location by the teams that maintain them will ensure the right spares are available.
  • Each pod is accessed by a door keypad and PIN number (or key). This requires a level of governance and control to ensure the codes are controlled and maintained. The pods contain valuable spares which are for the use of allocated teams. If control of a pod’s access becomes compromised, stock replenishment and budgeting can both be strained.

During line faults, operatives can easily be distracted and forget to log what they’ve used. This logging is done via the scanning of a QR code which triggers an email to the central stores at the London Bridge delivery unit. For the pod system to work well, it requires the workforce to be responsible and organised so that stock levels remain consistent.


Case Study produced by Mick Gates, Network Rail, October 2019.

Further information

For more information on this Learning Legacy case study please email

Case study

Spares pods on the Thameslink route

Project: Thameslink Programme