Between 21:34 and 00:24 on the night of 15 March, fifteen trains, made up of 115 rail vehicles, arrived for servicing at Craigentinny depot in Edinburgh. Production manager Jim Donnelly ha to ensure that each of these trains is fit for service before it leaves the depot again between 04:02 and 08:59.

Only six of these trains belong to the depot operator, Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC). Three of these are 125 mph HSTs (High Speed Trains) made up of two class 43 Power Cars with nine mark 3 trailer coaches between them. The other three are Inter City 225s (their maximum design speed is 225km/h or 140mph, although they operate at 125mph). These have a class 91 electric locomotive, nine trailer coaches and a driving van trailer.

Of the other nine trains, seven are from CrossCountry Trains (two HSTs and five class 220/221 Voyager trains) and two are First TransPennine class 350 EMUs.

In addition, the depot maintains the class 73 locomotives that are starting to be used on the Serco sleeper trains to Inverness, Aberdeen and Fort William.

Also by 01:30, three class 67 locomotives have arrived at the depot for servicing. Although this work is undertaken by personnel from DB Cargo (formerly DB Schenker Rail), these locomotives take up part of a pitted road in the depot and are being used on the sleeper services until all six Class 73 locomotives are in service.

On his shift, Jim is assisted by a team leader who supervises the work and a planner who programmes trains onto the required maintenance roads. He normally has twelve Band A skilled staff at his disposal, but tonight there are only eight due to the others being on technical courses.

Managing overnight defects

As Jim starts his shift at 22:00, he studies defect sheets for the arriving trains that were printed in the afternoon. Some defects are not urgent and can be deferred to the next ‘A’ examination, others may be deferred subject to additional monitoring. His first priority is to identify the safety and operational defects that have to be fixed before the train can leave the depot.

These include an HST power car with a very quiet driver’s safety device (DSD) vigilance sounder and a failed driver’s air conditioning unit. This train had been turned at Newcastle to put the defective power car at the rear of the train. There was also a power car with the engine shutting down, one to be replaced for a ‘C’ examination and tyre turning and another with tripping wheel slide protection, for which a pitted road was needed to examine the WSP (wheel slide protection) probes.

Although Jim says that every shift is different, the common factor is that trains have to be available for their morning services. That night was no exception.

During the day, the depot is a very different place. There are fewer trains but more people as the focus is on heavy maintenance and repair work. Phil Buck, head of VTEC’s HST fleet, explains that the depot also undertakes a wide variety of work for other train operators. As well as servicing CrossCountry’s Voyagers and First TransPennine’s class 350 units, the depot undertakes wheel re-profiling for all operators and services the luxury Royal Scotsman train.

A power car receives an F Exam

HST maintenance

The depot’s core activity is HST maintenance for which its allocation is 32 power cars and 131 mark three coaches (including spare first, standard, buffet and guard coaches) of the VTEC HST fleet, 10 power cars and 40 mark three coaches of the CrossCountry HST fleet and the three HST power cars of Network Rail’s New Measurement Train (NMT).

The Virgin and CrossCountry power cars have a progressive examination regime with A, B, C and D examinations being undertaken after 7,000, 21,000, 84,000 and 252,000 miles respectively, while the three NMT power cars have a different, balanced examination regime. Mark three coaches have A and B exams after 15,000 and 30,000 miles. Thereafter there is a balanced exam every 90,000 miles.

Normally the ROSCO (rolling stock company – the train’s owner) would arrange for levels 4 and 5 rolling stock maintenance to be undertaken at a specialist workshop. However, Angel Trains and Porterbrook have agreed that the depot can do heavy maintenance of their HST fleets, for which there is a corresponding reduction train lease charge. Phil considers this to be a much more flexible arrangement which also avoids the need to move rolling stock to workshops and maximises fleet availability.

This heavy maintenance requires the depot to manage the supply of sub-components. For example, power car bogies are changed at E, F and G exams as they have a maximum life of 630,000 miles. The new bogies are supplied from the Doncaster plant of LUR, a joint venture of Lucchini and Unipart. LUR also supplies the mark 3 coach bogies required for a C4 repair which can be done in a single day. These bogies are guaranteed for the 600,000 miles running between C4 repairs, although this is soon to be extended to 750,000 miles between overhaul.

The Class 43 power cars have MTU V16 4000-series engines which are returned to MTU’s Magdeburg MRT (MTU Remanufacturing Technology) plant every 25,000 hours for remanufacturing, using components that have been restored to as-new condition. MRT also overhauls the alternator so MTU returns a fully overhauled and tested power unit. Thus, typically the depot will change one power car engine every two weeks.

Virgin red seats

From a passenger perspective, the most obvious work currently being undertaken by the depot is the interior refurbishment of its HST fleet as part of a £21 million programme announced by Virgin Trains in November.

This involves completely stripping out the nine mark 3 coaches in each train prior to replacing carpets and fittings throughout as well as refreshing the vestibules and toilets. The train’s 523 seats are replaced with those of a Virgin design which, not surprisingly, includes a lot of red – even in first class, the seats are charcoal leather with red trim. A search of the hashtag #PlushTush on Twitter shows this refurbishment to be popular with Virgin’s customers.

For this work, one of the cleaning shed roads has a wide scaffold platform erected between the side of the shed and the train to provide both easy access and a storage/ working area. Halfway along the shed, a part of the wall has been removed to create a loading bay to transfer deliveries from lorries onto the platform.

Other than for its project management, the refurbishment work does not use depot staff. Instead, personnel are supplied by a labour supply agency, with up to 41 staff working at any one time.

The complete interior renewal requires a train set to be out of service for fourteen days. It takes eleven days to carryout the refurbishment, after which the coaches each receive a B exam. This includes a battery check as the set has been on shore supply for this time.

Scotland’s biggest depot

With capacity for 176 rail vehicles, Craigentinny is by far the biggest depot in Scotland. When first built by the North British Railway company in 1914 as a carriage servicing depot, it was reputed to have had Britain’s first carriage washing plant. It was extensively modernised in 1978 to maintain HSTs as they were introduced to east coast services.

The depot complex is 11⁄4 miles long and is energised at 25kV except for the heavy maintenance and repair roads and the Portobello servicing facility. Its reception road begins two miles east of Edinburgh Waverley station and includes two fuelling roads for HSTs and Voyagers.

The main depot consists of an inspection shed with two 265 metre roads with centre and side pits for routine maintenance, an adjacent single 265 metre road with a centre pit, which is covered by a three-tonne crane for one hundred metres, for heavy maintenance and refurbishment, and a further 90-metre long road with a centre pit and two three-tonne cranes for power car maintenance.

The depot also has a carriage cleaning shed, with four 250-metre roads and facilities for controlled emission toilet (CET) servicing, and a further eight roads for stabling and servicing trains. An external 15-tonne crane lifts engines, cooler groups and bogies.

Furthest away from Edinburgh Waverley is the Portobello end of the depot. Here are three dedicated roads for the servicing and cleaning of six Voyager trains each night. Also at Portobello is the Hegenscheidt CNC wheel lathe. This was installed in 2014 by Cairn Cross Civil Engineering to replace an older lathe, which involved demolishing and rebuilding the wheel lathe pit and installation of the lathe. The tyre turning workload varies but is typically one to two vehicles per shift. If there is no tread damage, a full vehicle can have all its tyres re-profiled within four hours.

The depot also has a training centre and a dedicated component repair centre to overhaul and test components, including air conditioning and kitchen equipment.

Nightime caption not required

Most reliable HST fleet

The depot’s 256 staff includes 45 in servicing teams, 62 in repair and heavy maintenance and 54 in the cleaning teams including ‘finishers’ who hand polish the train’s bodysides which are not fully cleaned by the carriage washers as the coaches are not perfectly smooth. Also, each night one train receives a complete exterior hand wash. At any time of the day, this work is managed by one of six production managers who are supported by seven planners who work with Virgin Trains and CrossCountry controls to develop short, medium and long-term train maintenance plans.

The depot’s complement also includes 24 in operations teams to move trains within the depot. To do so, they are assisted by the recent replacement of four hand- operated points by Zonegreen Points Converters at the Portobello servicing sidings which are almost a kilometre from the depot’s operation’s control. These are operated by a computerised control system that provides route visualisation and can be set to route trains into sidings without physical intervention.

There are also small teams for the wheel lathe, Edinburgh Waverley station, stores, the repair centre, training and the maintenance of depot facilities.

Martin Armour leads the technical team which reviews all technical defects and develops prioritised action plans to reduce failures. This includes recent work on central door locking (CDL) and the battery charging system.

One current programme is the replacement of the trailer car three-phase power cables. This is a significant amount of work for a fleet which, by December 2019, will have been replaced by new trains. Phil Buck explains that performance improvements will be required until HSTs leave Craigentinny when the intention is to hand them over in peak condition.

The fleet’s reliability is measured in miles per technical notifiable incident (MTIN) i.e. failures that cause more than three minutes’ delay. In the recent period 12, the Virgin Trains HST fleet had a 33,886 MTIN. At the ‘Golden Spanners’ awards in November, VTEC was shown to have by far the most reliable HST fleet. Martin is clearly proud of this and recalls that about fifteen years ago MTIN was only about 7,000 miles.

All change

Craigentinny’s reliable train maintenance derives from its skilled staff which have years of experience. Yet this maintenance regime is soon to change. On 18 March, Virgin Trains East Coast unveiled its new ‘Azuma’ trains. These will be a fleet of 65 Class 800/801 IEPs (Intercity Express Programme), which will progressively replace Virgin’s HST and IC225 fleets from August 2018.

At the same time, VTEC’s lease of the depot from Network Rail will be transferred to the new trains’ manufacturer, Hitachi. However, prior to then, the depot will be maintaining Hitachi trains in the form of new ScotRail AT200 EMUs (Class 385s) which will be introduced from August 2017.

The Azuma fleet will be maintained at a new Doncaster depot, Bounds Green, as well as at Craigentinny where the VTEC HST fleet will be looked after until the last one is replaced in December 2019. Thus the transitional arrangements for Craigentinny to maintain the new Hitachi trains are quite complex. They also need to take account of the current work for other train operators and ScotRail’s introduction of 27 HST trains in 2018 with Scotland’s HST expertise being at Craigentinny.

From December 2019, Craigentinny will also see Hitachi trains operated by First TransPennine. These are the 19 five-car AT300 units, similar to the IEP trains, that the company has ordered from Hitachi in a contract announced on 31 March. They will be bi-mode units that have both electric and diesel propulsion with increased engine power output to cope with the gradients of the TransPennine network. These trains will also be maintained at Hitachi’s Craigentinny and Doncaster depots.

Getting the depot ready for Azuma trains started in November when Spencer Group started work to install a new Garrandale washing plant for them. This is housed in a 40-metre long x 6.5-metre wide steel clad building. It will wash trains in ambient temperatures as low as -5°C and will recycle 70 per cent of the water used. This work involves alterations to the fuelling point as well as significant track and OLE alterations and is due to be completed in July.

Close liaison between the depot and Spencer has ensured that these alterations will not reduce work carried out by the depot. Nevertheless, there are some operational constraints, for example during a week in May when a Kirow crane is to remodel the depot layout – it will only be possible to access the depot from its Portobello end during the daytime.

Working platform for mark three coach refurbishment

The next stage is the installation of additional facilities within the depot. Synchronous jacks are to be installed within the inspection shed for bogie replacement and number 2 maintenance road is to have a roof level inspection gantry installed. A bogie drop is also required in the maintenance shed. However, as the shed is not long enough both to accommodate an HST train and to build a bogie drop, this installation will not start until 2017.

From HST to Azuma

For over a hundred years Craigentinny has maintained coaching stock for east coast train operations. During this time, it has seen many famous locomotives including the iconic Flying Scotsman and Mallard in the steam era and the Deltic diesel locomotives. With the use of HSTs on east coast services commencing in 1978, it also became a traction maintenance depot.

The HSTs are the world’s fastest diesel trains. Their introduction transformed the east coast train services by reducing journey time between London and Edinburgh by an hour. Each day they travel about a thousand miles and, after nearly forty years, have now each covered about ten million miles.

In October 2014, the depot celebrated its one hundredth birthday at a ceremony attended by Karen Boswell, then East Coast managing director, who was “delighted to celebrate Craigentinny’s centenary with the dedicated team who provide such an important service to Britain’s railway” and noted that the depot had “grown to inherit the mantle of the once-great steam shed at St Margaret’s, becoming Edinburgh’s long- distance passenger train depot”.

Although the depot will continue in this role for the foreseeable future, there will soon be significant changes as it starts to maintain VTEC’s new Azuma trains under Hitachi ownership. However, it will still have the same managing director as Karen Boswell now holds this role with Hitachi Rail Europe.

As for the future of Craigentinny’s HSTs, surely someone would be glad to acquire these trains that have only 10 million miles on the clock and one careful owner.