Some of you may remember that last September/October I spoke at Northern’s Engineering Conferences in York. They asked me to go along and let them know about their product – trains, performance, cleanliness – from a user’s perspective, “warts and all”. I told them, the good, the bad and the ugly! The engineers seemed to appreciate this – there’s nothing like the view from the outside world to help when you work inside a depot all day.
Paul Grimes, Depot Production Manager at Newton Heath (NH), asked when I had last visited. This was then over 3 years ago. He invited me for a follow up visit, and it took me some time to sort out a convenient date.
Thus, last Friday saw me, together with two fellow MCRUA Committee members, Harry Boardman and David Miller visiting Newton Heath.
It’s changed a lot. A huge amount since my first visit in 2001′s First North Western days – my description of the facilities then was “desperate”! And a phenomenal amount since Harry last “bunked the shed” in steam days when it was 26A!!
Paul welcomed us, with us starting in “The Boardroom” with mugs of tea, biscuits and a full safety briefing.
Then onto “business”.
Paul asked what the main factors of delay on the Mid Cheshire Line were these days. Very brave, but I think he’d been prepared!
I explained that the main factors over the 9 months up to last Christmas as featured on our Blog in order were traincrew shortages, infrastructure failures, unit failures, passenger “crowding” (to use quaint DfT terminology) and “SRTs” (the sectional route timings along the line which were accepted as insufficient in the Performance QIT last Spring, and are still awaiting formal measurement and amendment).
Since then (fingers crossed!), delays and cancellations due to traincrew shortages are well down, whilst although unit failures seem to be no more disruptive, they’re now the biggest cause of cancellation and delay along the line.
Paul took us through changes made over the last few years.
Performance is much improved since my 2001 visit in First North Western days. Overall performance for the Newton Heath based units (class 142 & class 150) is now over 7,000 mpc (miles per “casualty”). I remember in 2001 it was a little over 4,000 mpc, with the class 142s on less than 2,000 mpc; they’re now on 7,300 mpc. Gone are the days of doors regularly getting stuck on the Pacers! The three 5-car class 180s had been sent back to East Coast (to move from there to First Great Western for Cotswold Line services), and 4 class 156s had transferred to East Midlands to allow them to strengthen all peak hour Nottingham-Liverpool services to 4-car class 158s, alleviating the desperate “crowding” on that line. This leaves NH with 43 class 142s and 58 class 150s, 101 in total with 88 required for a Monday-Friday service.
They’re considering how to change the internal arrangements on the 142s and 150s. We discussed ways of providing spaces for more bikes, a regular requirement on the Mid Cheshire Line.
And Allerton Depot, close to the new Liverpool South Parkway Station had been reopened the previous December, now being the home of the 28 North West-based class 156s transferred from NH, Northern’s other 14 being at Newcastle’s Heaton Depot (HT).
Having donned high visibility vests and safety shoes, we were taken around the depot. Paul is clearly very proud of the new “wheel drop” facility which covers both no 7 road as originally planned and also no 6 road. We saw an engine being changed on 142001, recently returned from FGW. The new facilites are so much better and safer than the old arrangements using a fork-lift truck with fitters lying on the ground.
Then onto the unit refresh area in which stood 150211, the same unit as featured in its failed state in our January blog on unit failures seem to be rising. Externally it had been rubbed down and the body filled in the lower areas. The hole above the driver’s cab as seen in the post above was still there, to be filled in later prior to repaint. Internally all the fittings in the passenger and cab areas were removed. Floors were being renewed with high quality marine ply, with the seats sent away for reupholster and re-covering. Once completed it would be next in the paint shop.
Over on the far side of the shed was Heaton’s 142019, fresh from repaint. This is the first ex-ATN (Arriva Trains Northern) 142 to be refreshed, being the test bed for all the other ex-ATN 142s with their 2+2 seating. The lighting has been brightened up, the dull lighting being a regular source of complaint along the Mid Cheshire Line in the evenings, this from conductors who struggle to see the screens on their AVantix ticket machines and from passengers struggling to read. The intention had been to upgrade the seating, but this proved to be too expensive due to railway vehicle acceptance procedures, so the old seats have been sent away for reupholstering and re-covering. Sadly, this is only a “refresh”, not a “refurbishment”, so there’ll be no more space for luggage, prams/pushcairs or bikes, quite a problem on these units. Fortunately, we don’t get them along our line very often.
A programme has recently started fitting sanders to the 156s, 150s & 142s. We saw 150143 having just had them fitted. We’re told the drivers will be operating the sanders from the cabs. These sanders should make quite a difference in leaf fall time to our first two trains in the morning, the 0601 from Chester and 0617 from Piccadilly. Both of these are diagrammed for 142s, and both struggle with slipping and sliding in the dewy mornings in both directions over the section between Mouldsworth and Greenbank.
In the paint shop, installed by Northern about 5 years ago, was Heaton’s 156438 getting a good rub down by the painters, a firm of contractors from Oldham.
We were taken to the new washing plant installed last autumn. We’ve had lot of complaints about the dirty external state of units along our line. The 142s are reasonable (but no better than that), but many of the 150s and 156s are so bad passengers can’t see out of the windows when the sun shines on them. So much for viewing our lovely Cheshire contryside as we discussed in one of our blogs last year. We had expected that after a good scrub all the units would be externally spotless by now, but that’s not happened. We were told there have been difficulties identifying appropriate cleaning fluids to use, and also using the plant when the temperature fell below 2c. Paul told us they think they’ve found the right fluid, so units should be getting much cleaner soon, once each one has had a good scrub. However, the 2c problem is still to be solved. Also, the new Allerton Depot has a new washing plant, so with the two depots working on the units, external appearance should improve more quickly. We discussed how the 142s are often clean, apart from the doors that are recessed, apparently a “hand bashing” job. Paul noted this.
We were told all repairs are carried out at NH apart from more serious collision damage.
Then back to the offices where we met one of the York-based designers involved with the design of the refreshes and refurbishments. We heard about the various different types of units Northern has within each class and the minor differences that had to be accomodated. For example with the class 150s, on the class 150/1s, these were all ex-First North Western and now ex-London Midland, the internal fittings and toilets differring. The 150/2s are ex-First North Western, ex-Arriva Trains Northern (and prior to that Cardiff Valleys or Scotrail), and now ex-London Midland. And all types are internally different!
Then it was time to hand back our HV vests and protective shoe wear and a final farewell.
We very much appreciated the time Paul Grimes took to explain current processes and to his team for taking time to listen to us as experienced users and explain changes that had been made and those in the offing.
Paul’s invited us to view the new arrangements at Allerton. We’ve accepted this invitation, the plan being to go with him when he’s visiting there this summer.
We’ll let you know how it goes.