Our visit to Newton Heath depot ….

Posted on October 24th, 2014, by The Chairman

Following discission of the Mid Cheshire Train Running Performance figures a few months ago, Dave Allen, District Maintenance Manager West for Northern, invited us to send a party on a visit to Northern’s Newton Heath Depot. This is where the trains on the Mid Cheshire Line are maintained apart from the class 156s, which are maintained by Allerton. He was keen for us to see the improvements in place since our last visit 2 years ago.

Our party of 7 visited on Wednesday 8 October.

After being fitted with protective footwear for those who did not have their own, ….

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Photos (c) John Oates or Laurence Wheeler

…. Dave gave an initial briefing covering the safety procedures. He then moved on to something that he and his team are clearly very proud of, the much improved performance of the Newton Heath-based fleet with a failure rate better than 10,000 miles per casualty (MPC – a breakdown causing 5 or more minutes delay), more than twice as good as the figure of a few years ago and dramatically better than the figures under First North Western, North Western Trains and Regional Railways North West before them. Some discussion followed from our party, some of whom were engineers and technicians in their own right.

Then it was off into the depot ….

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The latest fleet performance figures are displayed on a live basis for all to see in the Shift Production Manager’s office, so we had to start there!

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Here are some of us, complete with the manufacturer’s labels still on the new “high vis” vests.

All working at Netwon Heath (NH to some, 9D to some of us older, and 26A to some with even longer memories …. as Harry informed us) regularly go into this office and see the latest figures displayed.

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Then off into the depot itself.

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The depot was built in 1876. Some of the original 138-year old parts are still in use, as we’ll see later. This is us entering the main shed from the north. All these units are under maintenance.

The older part of the depot to the left of the above pictures is used for “big work”. At present, NH are completing the last of the current contract for C6 overhauls. A C6 is a complete body overhaul, as opposed to a C4 which is for everything under the floor. Here’s the “57” vehicle of 150150 (the last in the series of 150/1 units), the other half of it, 52150 being on the left road of the picture above.

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Body patching, a completely new floor and seats sent away for a complete reupholster.

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What is now the welding shop is in the oldest part of the building, built before their own football team was formed which eventually became rather famous – Manchester United for the very few of you who didn’t know!

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The fitters at NH had seen and admired a trolley at the Heaton (Newcastle) Northern Depot adapted for quickly removing couplers and replacing them with refurbished examples. They reckon they’ve improved on that design, converting their own ….

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There used to be a lot of failures due to coupling problems, mainly failures of the related electrical connections. There are 42 studs on these BSI couplers used on all the NH-based Northern fleet, 21 studs that are fixed on the right-hand side, and 21 on the left that are pushed in on contact with the fixed studs.

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Another recent and very significant investment is for a crane to lift bogies onto road transport for removal to works for rebuilds.

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Investing in upgraded equipment is more difficult than might be expected. The depot is owned by Network Rail, Northern is run by Serco (a British company) and Abellio (Dutch State Railways), the franchise is extended, but only until February 2016. Getting agreement for investing in upgraded facilities given the current owners of the franchise won’t be the owners of the new one (Serco and Abellio are bidding separately for the replacement franchise) is a complicated business, we understand.

Outside in the stabling sidings, lines of 142s await the evening peak.
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The new “cycle / disabled” vinyls were apparent on all units including 142063 at the head of 4 x 142s waiting to depart for Piccadilly.

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2 of these 142s are destined for the Mid Cheshire Line forming the 1709 from Piccadilly, and another the 1758 from Stockport after it has operated the 1658 from Piccadilly to Hazel Grove and then run “empty stock” back to Stockport.

We also saw the refuelling area and the washing plant.

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All the units we saw were externally clean. A far cry from memories I have of being invited to a First North Western (FNW) Board Meeting at Newton Heath on 2 February, 2001. Then, I heard a report that the Railtrack-owned washing plant at Blackpool North used by FNW had just been audited and been shown to be 8% efficient. I asked if that meant that 92% of the dirt on the units going into the plant was still on them when they came out. Apparently it did and FNW were paying Railtrack £50 for each coach going through the plant. The one at NH was not much better. I suggested it would be cheaper for FNW to stop using the plants and take on a load of people and equip them with long-handled brushes, soap and water. David Franks, the Managing Director agreed, and that’s what they did. It was well into Network Rail days before the washing plants were sorted and the hand-bashing of units was dispensed with.

The contract for painting units at NH (by external contractors) is now complete, with the paint shop doors at the north end closed.

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The road adjacent is used for cleaning the dirt off the underneath of units before they go to be worked on.

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We were also given a quick trip around the stores.

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Although NH only maintain class 142s and class 150s (apart from work taken on from other Northern depots), the stores need to be quite comprehensive due to the different types of the units involved.

For example, the class 142s come in 5 different types:
– the ones as originally built
– the ones refurbished (refreshed) by FNW with revised luggage/cycle area
– the ones with the dreadful “Merseytravel” seats, which also have a different heating arrangement, and
– the ex-Arriva Trains Northern ones with 2+2 seating and another different heating arrangement (these are all based at Heaton, though not uncommon at NH), and lastly
– those that spent a few years with First Great Western coming back with some differences.

As for the class 150s, they come in 6 different variants.

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All very different from maintaining a fleet of similar new trains in a modern depot.

It was certainly a very illuminating visit.

Very many thanks are due to Northern for allowing this visit, to Dave Allen for spending so much time with us, and to all in his team who were very enthusiastic, open and helpful in explaining what they were doing and how.

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