The government’s recent decision to go ahead with the first phase of High-Speed 2, a controversial fast train service between London and Birmingham, has brought a smile to the faces of many in the railway industry. The £32 billion project should bring many opportunities to a sector that was dealt a bitter blow last year when the £1.4 billion Thameslink contract was awarded to German company Siemens, rather than Derby-based Bombardier.
The railway sector is notorious for its ups and downs, but now the outlook seems to be improving. Bombardier, Britain’s last remaining train maker, is planning to refurbish the engineering facilities at its Derby site, and Japanese firm Hitachi is planning to build a factory in the north of England.
Niall Simmons, head of the engineering project management office at Bombardier, sees the prospects for train building as “absolutely fantastic”. He says: “We have got lots of opportunities and it’s not just the UK market.”
Engineers in Derby are working on the car body design for the Swiss SBB double-decker train and the interiors for the São Paulo and Saudi Arabia monorails. Interest is peaking in South Africa, which is an emerging market for the train maker. The company provided trains for the Gautrain railway in Johannesburg in 2010.
Simmons says: “There is an estimate that they will require 8,000 cars over the next 20 years. We are currently looking at what product we would offer as we are expecting a bid to come out in March.”
Closer to home, the company is preparing its bid for the eVoyager contract to upgrade the Bombardier fleet of diesel Cross Country Voyager trains to run on hybrid electric power. If awarded the contract in March, the company plans to add a car fitted with a pantograph that will enable the train to run underneath the 25kV electrification wires and replace the non-Bombardier train control and management system.
In December, Bombardier won a contract worth £189 million to supply Southern with a further 130 Electrostar cars. The project is at the concept design phase with manufacture due to start by the end of the year.
Electrostar is already running on the rails of the Southeastern and Southern networks that cover London, Sussex, Surrey and Kent, as well as on the c2c line that connects London Fenchurch Street and Liverpool Street with Shoeburyness in Essex. Similar trains went into service on the National Express East Anglia route to Stansted airport in March 2011.
Looking ahead to the 600-vehicle Crossrail tender, Bombardier hopes to use the experience gained with the Electrostar, and its work on trains for the London Underground Victoria and Metropolitan lines, to inform its designs. Simmons says: “We have so much feedback about how they perform in service and we want to put that into the next new product.”
An area of innovation that Bombardier has been working on is passenger counting systems. “We have a system that counts passengers on and off the train,” explains Simmons. This means operating companies can understand how many people are using the vehicle and change the service accordingly.
Another area of developing technology is condition-based maintenance, which promises to help operators improve efficiency. It uses sensors to identify potential failures before they happen.
One such system monitors the fuel in the diesel tank and communicates with control when levels drop. Currently, trains get sent for refuelling before diesel levels get anywhere near low because operators have to be very careful about running out, explains Simmons. This might not always be sensible if the train is far from fuelling facilities.