It is now 52 years since Japan’s Shinkansen gave the world its first dedicated high speed rail line, which transformed rail travel in Japan. This also provided the country’s train manufacturers with a market for advanced trains. Hitachi, in particular, has been involved in all Shinkansen trains since then and has progressively perfected its high-speed train technology to become one of Asia’s leading train manufacturers.

Hitachi entered the European rail market in 2007 as the first of 28 Class 395 ‘Javelin’ units were delivered for use on domestic high-speed services on HS1 between London St Pancras and Kent. These trains were introduced into service in 2009 and are based on the 400 series Shinkansen, adapted to meet European standards. With a maximum speed of 140 mph, the Javelin trains are the UK’s fastest domestic train and have dual voltage operation (25kV AC and 750V DC third rail).

Also in 2009, it was announced that a consortium of Agility Trains and Hitachi Rail was the preferred bidder for the delivery of Inter-City Express (IEP) trains for the Great Western and East Coast main lines. Hitachi Rail Europe, as part of its growth strategy, decided to build these trains in Britain and, in 2011, chose Newton Aycliffe in County Durham as the site for its new rolling stock plant. Work started on the new plant in November 2013 after the IEP deal had been finalised in 2012. The facility, which cost £82 million and will employ 730 people, was opened in September 2015 by the Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, the first pre-series IEPs were under construction at Hitachi’s Kasado factory in Japan. After two months at sea, the first IEP test train arrived at Southampton in March 2015. Following testing and acceptance, service introduction of the first IEP is planned for December 2017 on the Great Western main line. However, as will be seen, ScotRail’s class 385 will be the next Hitachi train to enter service in Autumn 2017.

FSW technology

IEP is an example of the AT (aluminium train) series trains that Hitachi Rail has developed for the European market. These AT trains have a double-skin body shell produced using friction stir welding (FSW) in which a rotating tool heats two facing surfaces. The friction heat generated creates a region of very soft metal at each face, which the tool mixes together. The technique was invented in Britain by The Welding Institute (TWI) in 1991 and has since been further developed by Hitachi.

Unlike conventional welding, FSW does not melt the mating services so there is no requirement for filler materials. Hence the weld composition is almost the same as that of the parent metal, there is minimal degradation in strength or heat distortion due to thermal effects. The maximum distortion over the 26 metre IEP body shell is only 0.5 mm. Light dressing of the FSW join leaves a smooth finish with no filler required for painting.

To meet crash worthiness requirements, the body shell has corner posts, collision posts and anti-climbing devices, designed to prevent overriding and penetration into the cab and passenger compartment in the event of an end-on collision. The auto coupler can absorb impact energy at low speeds above which it is designed to break away from its mountings and be retained within its coupler pocket.

Caption not required [online]

Hitachi’s AT family

he AT trains use technologies that Hitachi has developed for Shinkansen trains over many years and come in four types. The AT100 is for metro services and is 20 metres long. For suburban use there is the 23 metre long AT200 whilst IEP is a version of the inter-city AT300 which have a 26 metre body shell. The AT400 is for high speed operations and has yet to be developed.

As far as possible, the different AT trains have interchangeable components. For example, the AT200 and AT300 modular traction packages are very similar and this allows for various train configurations to meet differing performance requirements. All IEPs have at least one diesel traction module, which can move the train in the event of overhead power failure. On bi-mode IEPs, just over half the cars (three out of five, or five out of nine) have a diesel power pack that uses MTU’s 1600 V12 engine.

ScotRail’s Shinkansen

Abellio ScotRail took over the operation of the ScotRail franchise in April 2015. One key requirement is the procurement of new electric trains for the soon-to-be-electrified Glasgow to Edinburgh line and other Scottish routes. To meet this requirement, Abellio ScotRail was in discussions with Hitachi Rail during the preparation of their franchise bid and, as a result, were able to sign a contract for 70 new trains in March 2015, just before taking over their new franchise on 1 April.

These new trains will be ScotRail’s Class 385 units. They have a Shinkansen pedigree and are the first UK order for a Hitachi AT200 train. The contract is for 46 three-car and 24 four-car units and includes a ten- year maintenance agreement. It gives the Scottish Government the option to buy back the fleet for £1 after 25 years.

The Class 385 trains will have a maximum speed of 100 mph. Four-car trains have two motor bogies fitted each end car while, on the three-car train, one end car has an unpowered bogie under the cab giving a total of three powered bogies. The traction system includes a transformer manufactured by ABB and a water-cooled inverter from the Czech Republic. Traction control is by an insulated-gate bipolar transistor system developed by Hitachi.

The three-car units have 206 seats, whereas the four car trains have 273 seats of which 20 are first class. Peak services on the Glasgow to Edinburgh line will be formed of two Class 385 four-car units which provide 45 per cent more seats than the current two three-car Class 170 diesel units.

Other passenger improvements include at-seat power sockets, large luggage racks and a flexible multi-use area for prams and bikes. The units have more bay seating (four seats around a table), and better alignment of seats with windows. The seats will be cantilevered out from a floor fixing next to the body side, leaving a clear floor. A passenger counting system will record people leaving and entering the train and will be linked to platform display screens and the ScotRail app to let passengers know where to wait on the platform to avoid crowded coaches.

Virtual gangway

To learn more about Hitachi’s new Scottish trains Rail Engineer was glad of the opportunity to meet Jon Veitch, general manager for Hitachi Rail Europe. Jon advised that one of the most challenging aspects in the design of the Class 385 was Abellio ScotRail’s requirement for front gangway end doors, which are not part of the original AT200 concept. One issue was the need to adapt the Japanese gangway doors to comply with European standards; another was driver ergonomics as the gangway results in a small cab and possible driver sighting issues.

To optimise the cab design, and other aspects of the train interior, Hitachi engaged the services of the University of Liverpool’s Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC). This was established in 2010 to offer virtual technology for industrial and commercial applications. VEC was also used to get feedback from drivers and train crews as part of the design process to ensure their buy-in. The Class 385 was finalised as a result of three design reviews – compared with sixteen needed for IEP.

ScotRail’s passengers had the opportunity to see inside the Class 385 recently when a half-coach interior model was unveiled at Edinburgh Waverley by Scottish Transport Minister Derek Mackay, ScotRail Alliance managing director Phil Verster and Karen Boswell, managing director of Hitachi Rail. This model was on show for a month and was manned by volunteers from all types of ScotRail staff, including apprentices.

A design model was specified in the Class 385 procurement contract, along with the supply of a driving simulator.


Inside class 385 model at Edinburgh Waverley station [online]

Production and testing

In December, the first Class 385 body shell was completed at Hitachi’s Kasado plant in Japan. The plan is to build the first six Class 385 trains there and the remaining 64 in Newton Aycliffe. The first four-coach Class 385 train will be shipped from Japan in June, destined for the Velim testing centre in the Czech Republic. The second train, also a four-car unit, will leave Japan four weeks later to arrive in the UK this summer.

Also completed in December was the combined testing of the traction systems on a static rig. This simulated all possible types of situations and duty cycles. Crucially, it proved that the Class 385 could achieve the required 42-minute journey time between Glasgow and Edinburgh with three stops. This is the time required by the contract, which does not specify a particular power output. Combined testing results show that a unit would consume 445 kWh for an Edinburgh to Glasgow journey of which 28 per cent was for the auxiliary power supply. The return journey from Glasgow requires an estimated six per cent more traction energy due to the climb out of Queen Street station.

To undertake the simultaneous production of both IEP and Class 385 rolling stock at its new Newton Aycliffe manufacturing facility, Hitachi has increased the workforce and is evaluating various options. For example, with its recent acquisition of AnsaldoBreda, the Class 385 bogies will be produced in Italy.

Hitachi Rail has a dedicated team for compatibility and acceptance testing. This is a challenging aspect of the delivery programme but benefits from the experience of introducing the Javelin units. Much of it needs to be done in signal protected zones to provide confirmed compatibility with the signalling system. The current requirement is to have the Class 385 train accepted and ready for the start of driver training by March 2017.

Service introduction

Once electrification of the Edinburgh to Glasgow Queen Street route is complete, its passengers will experience their first electric trains in December in the form of existing class 380 units. From autumn 2017, customers will be able to travel on the new Class 385 trains, which will then be progressively introduced so that, by December 2017, they will be used on all Edinburgh to Glasgow trains. This will enable an improved timetable to be introduced, with the fastest trains offering a 42-minute journey between the two cities.

Thereafter, Class 385 units will be introduced on North Berwick and South Glasgow services in 2018. December 2018 will see them running to Stirling, Dunblane and Alloa. Finally, by May 2019, they will be used on the Edinburgh to Glasgow route via Shotts.

The units will be maintained at Craigentinny depot in Edinburgh, which will also maintain the IEP trains. The depot is currently operated by Virgin Trains and is the base for its High Speed Train fleet, which will be replaced by IEPs from 2018 onwards. Hitachi will become the depot operator in August 2018.

Hitachi’s AT series trains offer digital train maintenance. As Jon Veitch puts it “trains have an indicator which may say ‘I’m not feeling very well’ alerting maintenance crews so they know what to do about it”. Thus the maintainer has real time access to train data providing up to date information on train performance and passenger comfort.

This includes CCTV from both internal and external cameras. As a result, when a train arrives in a depot there will be no surprises, engineers have enhanced capability for material and resource planning to optimise train availability for the end user. This is an enhanced maintenance philosophy, which builds on innovations already in place today at Ashford for the Hitachi Javelin trains.


Evolution not revolution

Jon Veitch is clearly enthusiastic, not just about his company’s new trains, but also the Japanese culture that led to their development. He considers Hitachi’s philosophy to be “evolution, rather than revolution” with the focus on growth and quality improvement. Jon describes how Japanese school children are taught quality techniques such as Kaizen and Six Sigma at school so it becomes second nature to them.

Further evidence of this culture is the 36-second average delay on the frequent Skinkansen service. On the rare occasions when a train is delayed over five minutes, passengers are issued a delay certificate to avoid them getting in trouble with their employers who would otherwise not believe that their train could have been late.

It is less than ten years since Hitachi introduced its Shinkansen-based train design to Europe, giving customers in Kent highly reliable 140mph Javelin trains. Since then, Hitachi has built a new train manufacturing facility and has secured orders for a further 1,134 new vehicles (IEP GW and EC HST replacement – 596, IEP IC225 replacement – 270, Great Western Bi- mode IEP -173, TransPennine bi-mode AT300 – 95).

The first of these new Hitachi trains will enter service in Scotland next year following a design and production programme that has seen the first train manufactured just over 12 months since contract signature. Jon considers this is a “phenomenal achievement”, due to effective collaboration between all partners. It is difficult to disagree with him.