Thursday, 26 March 2009

377/5 delays and its impact

377501 at Brighton

New Electrostar unit 377501 sits at Brighton after running a Thameslink fast service from Bedford. The unit returned shortly after on a slow service back to London.

Now that the first part of the Thameslink programme has been in effect for nearly a week, I thought it was time to look back at how the week has been - and to take a look at Bombarbier and how its problems have spread into the wider rail network. As well all know the original plan was for 12 377/5 to be in service with First Capital Connect by now as part of the Thameslink Programme Key Output Zero (known as KO0). This was because of the shutting of Moorgate branch along with Blackfriars bays means peak Southeastern services from Ashford and Medway town along with the Sevenoaks service all needed to be run by dual voltage stock. The original delivery dates for the units when they were originally ordered by Southern were for 12 units in late 2008 and 11 more by May 2009.

The delays have been caused by supplier problem of equipment to Bombardier before it fits out the trains. Due to the credit crunch many of Bombardier's suppliers have faced issues getting credit to allow them to make parts to sell onwards. On of these companies, Time 24 ended up being acquired by Bombardier to ensure its supply lines were maintained. In Time 24's case, they supplied control and panel wiring inside the units and the cabs. other suppliers have been paid in advance to ensure that they produce the goods for the 377/5 before going bankrupt.

On Christmas Eve 2008, Bombardier, FCC and DfT sat down for a serious discussion as they told FCC that the 377/5 weren't going to be ready and the bad news was that only five 377/5 were going to be finished in time. This would mean that either FCC/DfT find additional stock elsewhere or the whole Thameslink Programme would have to be put back for perhaps years. Add to the fact that all Thameslink trains need to be capable of transferring from AC to DC or DC to AC power supplies at Farringdon and this left no spare units for FCC to obtain. Now as the 377/5 are a newer version of the 377/2 it was natural that borrowing a few from Southern would be likely, especially as limited numbers of the 377/2's where currently with FCC for driver testing ahead of the 377/5 deliveries. In the end eight 377/2 where lent to FCC (units 201, 202, 203, 204, 206, 207 208 & 213). This lead to five dual voltage 350/1 being lend from London Midland to Southern to work the Milton Keynes to East Croydon service as well as SouthEastern making some 375's available to Southern. Also two four car 317 came from FCC's Great Northern route to provide up to one extra train in the peak flow each day. This train is know as the "Crowd Buster".

Now from a total of five units expected to be ready by March 22 (KO0 day one) around end of 2008, the nearer it got the deadline the less units. In the end only two units, 501 and 504 have been seen outside Bombarbier's Derby production centre. The first 377, unit 501 was delivered in the early hours of January 31st with the second unit following behind a few weeks later. 377501 suffered some major issues when introduced with the computer shutting down and rebooting the train every 250 miles. This was overcome in the end by a new software update. 501 make its first daytime running on test on the 14th February, to much excitement. During test running both 501 and 504 ended up at Milton Keynes with 504 on the country (i.e. side away from London) end. Then a week before the deadline both units were taken back to Bombarbier for another new problem, a structural issue with the underfloor equipment rafts beams. Both units were returned to Selhurst before the deadline although either were used on the March 23rd first day. 377501 however, was used for driver training. Come Tuesday 24th March 2009, 377501 came into public service running with 377208 for large parts of the day. I myself managed to ride on the unit when it was running for its first journey on its own from City Thameslink to Brighton and back again. For anyone interested the images and videos are here.

The deal for the 377/2 is a time limited one and seeing as the 350/1's have had a few operating issues, I'm sure Southern will be looking forward to having its Electrostars back. Southern is providing the 377/2 as follows

8 units up to 25th April
7 units up to May 2nd
6 units up to May 16th
3 units up to June 13th

Also once FCC get four 377/5 delivered they must then return a 377/2 to Southern before getting a 377/5. So hopefully this will kick in by May allowing the return of the 377/2 or otherwise services may have to be cut as the 377/2 borrowed fleet reduces.

Now attention is is turning back towards Bombardier now the first unit is in service. So far 504 has not been tested on Thameslink route yet but was at Selhurst this week as confirmed by drivers there. As for units 502, 503 and 505-523, no information has been made public yet but rumours are around 3-5 377/5 completed bodies currently sat in Derby await parts yet delivered. Modern Railways April 09 issue suggests that issues with ill fitting panelling and trims are one of many causes. This is something I myself picked up on when riding on 377501. See here and here for what I found on-board the unit. This seemed to be the norm on the unit but I can't remember seeing either on Southeastern's 375's or Southern's 377's. It also seems that London Overground's fleet of brand new 378 Electrostar units are also delayed but these are even further behind with the first expected in passenger service in May 2009. Now Bombarbier have stated they expect the first passenger suitable 378 (unit 378005) to be delivered in May. This means July is now likely date for the first passenger service runs. TfL/LO do currently have the the seat less 378001 for testing and driver training but that been the only unit for six months now.

Bombarbier is also building 39 Class 172 Turbostars for London Overground (8 172/0 two car units), Chiltern Railways (4 172/1 two car units) and London Midland (12 172/2 two car and 15 172/3 three car, these will look like Electrostars due to end gangway for customer moments in joined up units). These units are due to start in passenger service during 2009 and one of production lines currently working on the Electrostars is due to switch to these once they are completed.

Now the long term issue. Bombarbier have been know to have delays in their trains before now but never on this scale although to be fair to them, the current money situation is also very different. Bombardier are currently bidding on three massive orders. The 97 trains for London Underground Piccadilly Line, 1,400 cars for Thameslink (worth around £2bn) and 1,000 for Crossrail. Two of these are for TfL who are currently very unhappy with Bombarbier's failures so far where as FCC may bulk at the idea of Bombarbier supply it that many trains when it failed to deliver 23. Now its up to Bombarbier to prove that it can pull itself back and deliver all 23 377/5 by summer as it has promised along with all the 378's including the one for the extended East London Line so testing of that line can start in winter 09/10.

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