Bombardier’s Litchurch Lane factory was formerly the Derby Carriage and Wagon Works. Built in 1876 by the Midland Railway, the long workshops are ideal for building carriages on a production line and, as today’s multiple unit trains are essentially a mixture of powered and unpowered carriages, that method continues.

Today, up to four production lines turn out trains for national railway operators as well as both sub-surface and deep tube trains for London Underground.

At present, the factory is the UK’s only train manufacturer. Even when Hitachi’s new plant at Newton Aycliffe is complete in 2015, Litchurch Lane will still be the only integrated works where trains are designed as well as assembled. Around 350 engineers work on designs not only for the UK but for other Bombardier sites around the world. For example, the new double-deck trains for Switzerland were designed in part at Derby.


For the last few years, designs for British railways have revolved around the Turbostar and Electrostar platforms. This family of multiple unit trains first saw light in 1998 when the diesel-powered Class 168 first emerged from Derby. The electrical multiple unit (EMU). Class 357 followed the following year. Since then, a total of four diesels (Classes 168, 170, 171 and 172) and six EMUs for the UK railway (Classes 357, 375, 376, 377, 378 and 379) have emerged from Derby, as well as the Gautrain which, after the first few complete units, was then supplied as a kit for final assembly in South Africa.

While the product has been developed over the fifteen years of its life, it is still recognisably an Electrostar. It is a good train – operators like it and, with its aluminium body, it is light and accelerates well. But the basic concept is 15 years old, so Bombardier recognised it was time for a change.

A new design was developed, and that formed the basis of the offer that Bombardier made to supply trains for Thameslink. Ultimately, that offer wasn’t successful, but it had started the design and manufacturing teams thinking what type of train Derby would be producing for the next ten years or so.

Completely new

Jon Shaw is Bombardier’s head of engineering for Western Europe, Middle East & Africa. He explained how every3EER400016-3779__ Intermediate End Lite [online]thing came together. “Although we had the new design, which we had called Aventra, we took the time after we heard we hadn’t won Thameslink to ask ourselves whether there were customer needs that we weren’t meeting.

“We also looked at what we do well. We have engineers who have been designing UK trains and building them for years. And that’s something we feel is extremely unique because maybe somebody else might assemble some trains in the UK, but what they don’t have is the blank sheet of paper, sketching it out, the brains of it is all here.

“And then we looked at it and thought we’ve also got depot engineers from Strathclyde to Surrey, all over the place, all looking after these trains in the field. How are they performing? Is there something we can do better there?

“So that was how Aventra was reborn. We took the opportunity to go around and talk to the market and to our customers, we’re extremely fortunate that they’ve willingly given up a lot of their time to do that. Also, what we’re also doing very differently is that we have the suppliers in here working with us on joint design development initiatives.

“We put forward a business case to develop Aventra version two in about October last year. This provisioned for a multi million pound investment, paying for around 100 people for that period. Bombardier agreed the funding for this plan, which was a major sign of confidence and commitment in our design and this team.”

The most obvious sign of that funding is a new office block at Derby. In between the long, blackened brick workshops dating back to the original Carriage Works is a modern, modular, two storey light grey building with Aventra branding over the door.

Inside are about 100 Bombardier engineers, supply chain managers, manufacturing and maintenance staff, some taken from the main design team and some
new faces, working in conjunction with designers and engineers from the major component suppliers.

“We basically started from scratch, and in a completely different way. It isn’t engineering-led any more. It’s a joint collaboration of our depot people, our manufacturing guys, procurement and engineering.”

The train has been broken down into four main zones with two or three suppliers working on main sub- systems within those zones. The idea is that on specific aspects of the design, such as door mechanisms, or heating and ventilation, or toilets, the specialist suppliers of that equipment have a lot to contribute to the overall package.

Looking forward ten years

Starting with a clean sheet of paper has meant that Jon and his team have been able to look at the bigger picture. Electrostar grew organically, every new class was a development of the one before. So all of them have different features, different train management systems and different components.

Aventra will be a single modular product, capable of being easily modified for different applications but in each case referring back to the core design. So whether the actual class will be a 90mph metro train or a 125mph main-line express, it will have the same systems and components as its basis. In fact, Jon thinks that the distinctions are becoming blurred anyway.

“We looked ahead for ten years and spoke to potential stakeholders and customers, including the Department for Transport, as well as Transport for London, and all of the operators and train leasing companies and passenger focus groups, and they told us what they thought was going to happen over the ten years ahead. Essentially, four styles of train will be needed. One will be the dedicated metro trains, running all day at high capacity. Then there will be slow-speed and medium speed commuter trains, as we have today. Lastly, there is what we see as a new market, which is high speed commuters – they can serve a commuter market, but when they go onto that main line, they’re going to hit 125 mile an hour and so they don’t delay the main intercity trains.”

As part of these discussions, another need was identified. Aventra will be an electric train, but how would it serve stations set off the electrified network? Would a diesel version be needed as well?

So plans were made for an Aventra that could run away from the wires, using batteries or other forms of energy storage. “We call it an independently powered EMU, but it’s effectively an EMU that you could put the pantograph down and it will run on the energy storage to a point say 50 miles away. There it can recharge by putting the pantograph back up briefly in a terminus before it comes back.”

This technology will be tested and developed this year in conjunction with Network Rail, using a Class 379 in East Anglia for trial purposes.

Whole life cost

Having a train that is light, and will run away from overhead wires will keep operating costs down. That is important to train operating companies.

“We spoke to all the different stakeholders,” explained Jon. “What they told us in terms of what they wanted was that it’s not just as simple as first past the post – cheapest – it’s actually about a 50/50 split between the whole life cost and the first capital cost. That makes it a bit more difficult because we’ve got be competitive on the first practical cost, but additionally we have to offer a really high availability, strong reliability, combined with much better energy consumption and less track damage.

So we’ve got to have the whole package. Because of this, we focused on making sure the first customer price is competitive, and also it’s going to have a 40 to 50% lower maintenance price than Electrostar, and a significantly reduced energy cost.”

Having all the experience of Bombardier’s depot staff around the country is key to keeping reliability high and maintenance costs low. They have contributed ideas to the new Aventra programme which will benefit both areas.

“So it’s a really strong balance, and that’s why we needed everybody together,” Jon stated. And then, with his tongue partially in his cheek, he added: “Because if we left it essentially to the engineers, they probably would have a gold plated train. And if we left it to procurement Screen Shot 2013-11-21 at 12.49.13 [online]we would have got a really dirt cheap one. And perhaps if we left it

to manufacturing, we would have got some huge big chunks to put together. So we’ve had to balance all of those things. That’s basically given us all the different attributes in terms of the different lengths we need, the different interior layouts we need, three doors per side for a metro, two doors per side for a commuter. And we’ve got this built-in flexibility within one train concept.”

So even such basics as the length of each carriage, and how many doors it has, can be altered within the framework of the core Aventra design. The new design will be totally flexible, yet always refer back to that basic core concept.

To achieve that, everything is modular, from the cab to the interior, and even the design team. There is a separate group for each major element, responsible for everything in its area including performance, cost, maintenance plans and reliability. Perhaps the most important is the integration team, which brings together all the individual ideas and makes sure that they mesh together.

Under construction

Aventra has not yet been built, and probably won’t until a launch customer is found, but that isn’t to say that systems aren’t already under development. In addition to the stored energy prototype already mentioned, a leaf has been taken out of the aircraft designers’ handbook. They use something termed an Iron Bird – basically an aeroplane without wings – to test new systems.

Bombardier’s Iron Bird is a train without bogies. However, it does contain control systems, wiring looms and other bits of kit and it is being assembled at Derby.

Although Aventra is a design for the UK market, and draws on the experience of UK engineers for its design, much is being made of Bombardier’s global capabilities as well. Jon Shaw commented: “Having Bombardier as the biggest global rail producer, means that you can actually say that they used a certain component or system in Australia, and they used another in the US on New York City Metro. Some of the things that they’re doing in France for example at the moment are really innovative too, so Dean Taplin (our senior vehicle engineer) has been over there to share best practice.

“There’s a lot of interesting things that have come out of this approach, and the benefit for being with Bombardier is that they’re actually proven in use; they might be innovative for the UK, but when we can actually go to a market, see a system in use, understand if they had any difficulties along the way, we’re getting the benefit of learning their lessons.

Using technology from other Bombardier products has another advantage. When offering a train to a potential customer, they can be shown the system actually working. Perhaps not in the train they will buy, but elsewhere in the world that concept may well be in passenger service, which makes it all much clearer than just a proposal on paper.

Aventra is getting close. Designs are well underway, systems are on test and suppliers have helped develop the sub-systems. Bombardier is talking to several potential customers, so a launch may not be far away.