The Tuscan city of Pistoia has an ancient cathedral and a central square largely unchanged since the days of Dante and Machiavelli. Although it is overshadowed by the historic cities of Pisa and Florence, between which it lies, it has something that they do not – a railway workshop.

This plant built many of Italy’s steam locomotives and was established in 1905 as part of Gio. Ansaldo, a company founded in 1853. In 2001, Ansaldo merged with Breda Costruzioni Ferroviarie to become AnsaldoBreda. The company also had rail workshops at Naples and Reggio Calabria. The Pistoia plant has produced driverless metros, double-decker and high-speed trains, including the 360 km/h ETR1000. The factory has a covered area of 107,000 square metres and has a workforce of 780.

In 2015, the Hitachi Rail Group acquired AnsaldoBreda and took a forty percent share in the signalling business, Ansaldo STS. Hitachi Rail Italy now has a business turnover of 800 million euros and a workforce of 2,000.

From Pistoia to Penzance

To meet the increasing demand for rail travel, over the past few years Great Western Railway (GWR) has been continually modifying its trains to give extra capacity by re-arranging the seats and reducing first class and buffet space. However, this can only be a stopgap as demand is forecast to increase, especially as Crossrail will soon bring Paddington twenty minutes closer to the City.

GWR is soon to see the entry into service of the first of 57 Hitachi class 800 units as part of the Intercity Express Programme (IEP). Although this will add extra capacity, it will not directly benefit the West of England.

After GWR was given a direct franchise award following the collapse of the West Coast franchise in 2012, they could consider how best to meet future demand, particularly in the West of England. Refurbishment of the current HSTs was considered but, as the 26-metre vehicles in a nine-car class 800 unit offer 115 more seats than an HST, the Department for Transport agreed that GWR could procure units based on the IEP trains.

As a result, GWR and leasing company Eversholt Rail placed a £361 million contract to procure and finance seven nine-car and 22 five-car class 802 units in July 2015. A further seven nine-car units were procured in August 2016, giving GWR a total of 236 class 802 vehicles on order. In addition, the company will operate eleven refurbished four-car HSTs on local services between Cardiff and Taunton and Exeter and Penzance.

With these additional trains, GWR will be able to introduce a much-improved timetable in January 2019 which will increase the frequency of trains on the Cornish main line to two trains per hour and reduce the journey time to London by up to 14 minutes.

Vivalto double-deck train in the Pistoia test-house

Vivalto double-deck train in the Pistoia test-house

The Class 802

As far as traction equipment is concerned, the class 802 has four types of coaches as shown in the table.

DPT — Driving pantograph trailer cab — Driving cab, trailer bogies, pantograph, transformer and auxiliary power supply
M — Motor coach — Motor bogies with 226kW traction motors (904kW per car), diesel generator with fuel tank and traction converter
T — Trailer coach — Trailer bogies and auxiliary power supply
T — Trailer pantograph coach — Trailer bogies, pantograph, transformer and auxiliary power supply

The arrangement of a nine-car class 802 is DPT-M-M-TP-M-T-M-M-DPT whilst that of the five-car unit is DPT-M-M-M-DPT.

Although the class 802 is almost identical to the class 800, there are some differences to take account of it being diesel-powered for longer distances and having to run over the steeply graded lines in Devon and Cornwall. Hence its 1,550-litre fuel tank is larger, as is the toilet tank. The class 802 also has a larger brake resistor for increased dynamic braking capacity and, in diesel mode, is more powerful. Rolls-Royce Power Systems is supplying its MTU 12V 1600 R80L diesel power packs, which produce 700kW at 1900 rpm. The class 800 has an identical power pack, although software limits its output to 560 kW.

MTU diesel power pack

The five-car units will seat 326 (36 in first class and 290 in standard) and the nine-car units will seat 647 (71 first class and 576 standard class). They will include bike-racks and kitchens. GWR commercial development director, Matthew Golton, confirmed that the company intended to continue providing its Pullman restaurant service and was not looking to make significant changes to its fare structure because of the introduction of these new trains.

Flat pack production

With Hitachi UK’s Newton Aycliffe producing IEP trains and ScotRail’s class 385 units and class 802s for TransPennine Express and Hull Trains, it was decided to produce the GWR class 802s at Pistoia with its bogies produced at Hitachi Italy’s plant in Naples. Rail Engineer was recently invited to Pistoia to learn about the new trains under production. As will be seen, there was also much to learn from those from GWR, Eversholt Rail and the West of England who also attended.

At the time of this visit, three pre-series class 802 units were at sea, having been manufactured at Hitachi’s Kasado plant in Japan. The first of these, a five-car unit, arrived in Southampton on 17th June with the other two due to arrive by the end of July. These will be commissioned at Hitachi’s Doncaster depot before being sent to the company’s Stoke Gifford depot for testing. Kasado had also supplied Pistoia with complete bodyshells for one train and bodyshell components for the other trains, of which two had been completed.

Unlike Newton Aycliffe, Pistoia has machine-controlled welding equipment and body jigs as part of its production line for the ETR1000 Trenitalia high-speed trains. It can therefore build its own bodyshells from sets of ‘flat-pack’ panels manufactured at Kasado using friction stir-welding (FSW), a process which gives a weld essentially the same composition as the parent metal with minimal heat distortion. Pistoia does not yet have this FSW technology and so uses MIG welding. These hollow double-skinned aluminium panels incorporate rails from which self-supporting internal modules are fastened, to significantly reduce numbers of fastening parts.

Machine welding of bodyshells

Since taking over the plant in 2015, Hitachi has made significant investments in the plant, including new testing facilities, additional welding equipment and a body-sized CNC machining facility.

Complex assembly

Hitachi Rail Italy’s chief operating officer Giuseppe Marino explained that there are five class 802 production lines, each with nine work stations. Assembly includes piping and wiring, windows, floors, toilets, roof equipment including air conditioning, underframe equipment, interior fit out and mounting the car on its bogies. The final step is the functional test in the purpose-built test house, a procedure which takes two weeks.

Giuseppe explained that the assembly sequence is driven by the smart manufacturing techniques that are part of a plan to drive growth through new technologies and digital transformation. He advised that, although the target time to complete each coach shell and fit it out is 45 days, the initial priority is familiarisation with the production process. Hence, as expected, the first vehicles are taking about twice as long as the quality has to be right before production is ramped-up.

Assembly production lines

The general impression from the tour of the spacious and tidy Pistoia facility was one of overall efficiency. The first unit with Kasado-built bodyshells were resplendent in GWR dark green. Although fit-out was well advanced, the only seats to be seen were a bay of four seats for the benefit of visitors to the plant.

Hitachi’s project director Berry Sas explained that the Italian-built class 802s have the same supplier base as the trains built at Newton Aycliffe and so will have a high proportion of British components. Appropriately, this includes some from the West of England – fuel tanks are supplied by Johnson Security of Gloucester, rubber flooring by Treadmaster Flooring in Cornwall and pantographs come from Brecknell Willis in Somerset.

Berry advised that the first Pistoia-built class 802 will arrive in Britain in December and that all 33 Italian-built class 802 units will be delivered by December 2018.

Cornwall’s contribution

Commissioning the Class 802 fleet will enable GWR to introduce its new timetable in January 2019, giving the West of England a step change in capacity and frequency and creating an additional 1,000 peak-time seats a day on the route.

However, it should not be forgotten that this timetable also depends on infrastructure improvements, including additional signalling over the 51 miles between Menheniot and Camborne, to enable a 30-minute service to be provided between Plymouth and Penzance.

Cornwall Council’s service director for transport and infrastructure, Nigel Blackler, confirmed that the council has contributed £15 million towards this signalling scheme. He also mentioned that the council’s contribution to the expansion of the depot in Penzance is £5 million with Network Rail and HS2 respectively paying seven and nine million pounds. HS2 is part-funding this depot as it will undertake some of the maintenance previously carried out at the soon-to-be-demolished Old Oak Common depot which lies in the path of the new high-speed line.

The enhanced Penzance depot will maintain the Night Riviera sleeper coaches, refurbished four-coach HSTs, local DMUs and will service five-car class 802 units for which it has been lengthened. Maintenance of the class 802s will be undertaken at Hitachi’s depots. However, unlike the IEPs which are the subject of 27 ½ year availability-based government-let contract, the class 802 units have a ten-year maintenance agreement with GWR who procured the units.

Nigel was clear that Cornwall Council has no doubt that its support of improved rail services is good value for money in view of the economic benefit that it will bring to the area. He added that the Council is also funding Wi-Fi for all Cornish stations, improvements to sleeper lounges at Paddington, Truro and Penzance as well as contributing to the Plymouth station modernisation.

There was much to learn from Hitachi’s impressive Pistoia plant and the way that class 802 units are being built there. Equally impressive was finding-out that the substantial increase in Cornish train services in 2019 will be the result of a fruitful co-operation between Hitachi in UK and Italy, Eversholt Rail, GWR, Network Rail and Cornwall Council.


This article was written by David Shirres.


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