It is a bright and breezy day in southwest Japan. A group of people, some wearing overalls and some in suits, have gathered before an open-fronted red-and-white striped tent. Alongside, two large, billowing white curtains are drawn across a section of railway track. Silhouetted by the low sun, a man could be seen behind them – struggling to hold them closed in the gusty wind.
A red and white ribbon, separated into sections by five rosettes, is hung between two poles at the front of the tent. To the right, a multi-coloured raffia ball hangs with a red-and-white rope coming from it.
Four men step onto the podium wearing distinctively-shaped Japanese hard hats. Three of them are handed scissors, the fourth stands under the ball and takes hold of the rope.
A lone trumpeter plays a fanfare, three pairs of scissors flash in the sunlight and, after a sharp tug on the rope, the ball folds open allowing multi-coloured streamers to fly in the breeze.
The man who has been struggling with the curtains gratefully pulls them back, and a shiny new train emerges from behind them, running forward about twenty metres to stand in the sunshine.
Cameras click and film crews follow the action as the first of the new IEP trains for the UK is revealed to the public.
This is Hitachi’s factory in Kasado and today is the culmination of a lot of hard work by many people who have been involved with a programme which dates back as far as 2005.
Planning ahead The Department for Transport first proposed a new class of train to replace the HST (Class 43) which were already thirty years old. Plans were drawn up for a single class of train in three formats – diesel powered as an exact replacement, an overhead electric variant, and a bi-mode train which could run on 25kV AC when under wires and be self-propelled on non-electrified sections.
The formal invitation to tender went out in 2007, but then the process was delayed as plans to electrify the Great Western main line called the proposed mix of train types into question.
After an open tender process, Agility Trains – a consortium of Hitachi, John Laing and Barclays Private Equity – was named as the preferred bidder in February 2009. More juggling of the numbers took place as plans for electrification were clarified and the all-diesel version was dropped. The bi-mode train was reconsidered against the option to couple a diesel locomotive to the front of an electric train when running beyond the extent of the electrified infrastructure, although this idea was later shelved.
At the same time, finance for the programme was being organised. This would be the first mainline rail project in the UK to be financed through a public private partnership (PPP). The first £2.2 billion, to finance the trains for the Great Western main line, was agreed in July 2012. £1 billion came from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), £235 million from the European Investment Bank, and the remaining £1 billion from a group of about seven UK and Japanese commercial banks.
Finally, the first order was placed in July 2012 – a total of 57 trains, 369 cars, for the Great Western. 21 trains would be 9-car all-electric ones and 36 trains would be 5-car bi-modes.
The second order, for 65 more trains (10 five-car and 13 nine-car bi-modes and 12 five-car and 30 nine-car all-electric units) was placed in July 2013 with financial closure in April 2014.
With orders in place, Hitachi crystallised its plans to build a new factory at Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, in which to build the trains. Criticism that this would be ‘merely an assembly operation from Japanese-made kits’ was countered when the company announced a hefty local content with components such as couplers, seats, braking systems, glass, pantographs and communications systems all coming from the UK.
So what of the train itself? True to the original concept, there is a high level of commonality. Put simply, it’s actually an electric train. A central busbar arrangement feeds the traction motors in the bogies, which power the train. Power for that busbar can come either from a pantograph on the roof, or from diesel-generator power packs mounted under the carriage frames.
All of the driving cars are the same in that they each have two powered bogies and a pantograph.
There are three variants of intermediate carriage. One is also an electric-powered car with two motor bogies. A second also has motor bogies but is fitted with an MTU diesel-generator slung under the frame. The third is a trailer car fitted with two unpowered bogies which have inside frames to reduce weight – the powered bogies have outside frames.
If, at some future date, the bi-mode trains are no longer required, the diesel engines can be removed from those coaches leaving just an electric-powered car.
A five-car bi-mode train thus consists of two electric- only driving cars and three diesel-powered intermediate cars. The nine-car has two driving cars, five diesel- powered cars and two trailer cars.
The two electric-only sets, five-car and nine-car, both include one diesel-powered carriage. This gives the train a ‘last mile’ capability to move under its own power either in a depot or to remove itself from an unpowered section of track which could be due to a failure or maintenance work. This flexibility could prove useful to operators where a true electric train would get stuck in section.
Three trains are currently being built in the Kasado factory. Train number one is the one used for the launch – a five-car bi-mode train destined for Great Western.
In one of the factory buildings, tucked out of sight behind a Shinkasen carriage, the finishing touches are being made to a driving car for the second train – a nine-car bi-mode for East Coast which, as the first one in that order, it is actually train number 58.
Third will be train number two, the second Great Western five-car bi-mode. All three will be sent over to the UK for testing, first of all at Old Dalby and then on the network.
The train that was shown to the press is almost complete. The cab includes a GSM-R radio and ETCS signalling.
In the cabin of the driving car, all the panelling and lighting is in place as is the carpet. A single rake of first-class seating is installed, to show what it will look like. It was actually ‘borrowed’ from the mock-up that was built in the UK. Otherwise the compartment is empty – waiting for its instrumentation when the test programme starts. The other four cars are even emptier with just rubber underlay on the floors.
The first-class galley is in place though, as is the toilet. Both are modular and are removable so, if an operator wants a different layout in the future, this can be easily accommodated.
One slight quirk is that having diesel engines under the carriages has meant that the floor has to be raised slightly to get them in. There is therefore a gentle ramp between carriages – not inconvenient but noticeable.
The sliding doors look odd to those used to UK-style plug doors. Won’t they cause noise at speed? And be unreliable? In fact – no. Hitachi believes on evolution rather than devolution in design and these sliding doors are already in use in the Class 395 Javelin trains operated by Southeastern and they are also fitted to all of the 200mph Shinkansen trains without any noticeable noise problems.
These three pre-production trains, and the first nine production ones, will be built at Kasado as they will be needed before the Newton Aycliffe factory gets up and running. So all of the European components, which includes the German-made galleys, will be shipped to Japan for assembly into the trains and then shipped back.
Thereafter the Japanese-manufactured components will be shipped to County Durham for assembly there. These will include complete aluminium bodyshells which are manufactured out of 300mm wide by 26 metre long double-skinned rectangular slabs using a friction stir welding process. The production line for this takes up one complete bay of the factory and is too costly to install at Newton Aycliffe for now. Long-term plans do include transferring this work to the UK once orders from European markets warrant it.
Bogies and traction systems will also come from Japan, as will the ETCS signalling system. However, most of the rest of the train is UK sourced.
The external design was carried out by Hitachi’s own styling studios in Tokyo while the mechanical and electrical design came from Kasado and other Japanese factories. The interior was designed in the UK by DCA Design International of Warwick as Hitachi felt it needed someone in touch with British taste and expectations to come up with the best solution. It is one of their sets of seats that is in the launch vehicle.
The experience and resources available at the 521,000m2 Kasado factory are vast. It first started building railway locomotives, steam at that time, in 1921. Electric locos and trains quickly followed and today the plant builds trains for Japan’s 1,062mm gauge network, for the standard-gauge Shinkansen railways and for a world market.
So a close involvement with both Newton Aycliffe and the new train will be maintained. As managing director Junichi Kawahata said, Kasado will be the mother factory to the UK plant. British staff are already working alongside their Japanese counterparts helping to build the pre- production units and, once the English factory opens in 2015, they will help train the workers there.
Keith Jordan, managing director of Hitachi Rail Europe, is looking forward to seeing the new trains in the UK. The first one ships in January 2015 and, with a 57 day shipping time, train number 800001 should be unloaded at Southampton by early April.
And what will happen to the first train in the meantime? It is reversed up, the curtains are closed and the long- suffering guardian grips them tightly against the wind, the coloured ball is folded shut with the streamers back inside and a new piece of red and white ribbon is produced. It’s time to do the whole thing again for the benefit of the Japanese media.