Like any major infrastructure programme, the Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP) must achieve many milestones to meet its end goal, in this case running faster electric trains between Edinburgh and Glasgow that are two coaches longer than the current service. On 10 December, the project delivered three milestones in one day, of which one, not visible to passengers, was Millerhill depot.

Initially, the depot will service a small number of trains. However, when fully operational, it will be one of ScotRail’s main stabling points, with many of its 70 new class 385 Hitachi EMUs serviced there overnight. At the depot, trains will be washed, cleaned, toilet tanks emptied, sanders filled, and screen washers topped up and there are also facilities for maintenance staff who may be called to the depot to repair minor faults.

Class 385 at Millerhill depot.

Class 385 at Millerhill depot.

Old yard transformed

Issues raised during the depot’s planning application were the requirement for a sustainable urban drainage system (SUDS) and that the site is within a development high-risk area with identified coal mining features. Once mitigation for these issues was confirmed, planning permission was relatively straightforward as the depot is on a site that has been in railway use since Scotland’s largest marshalling yard opened there in 1962. This had around a hundred sidings and, at its peak, handled 4,000 wagons a day, both from the Midlothian coalfields and for freight trains over the Waverley route to Carlisle, which passed through the yard and closed in 1969.

With the reduction in wagonload traffic, the west-side yard closed in 1983. As the remaining facility handled ever-decreasing freight traffic, some of its sidings were mothballed with the remainder becoming an engineer’s yard and a freight locomotive servicing and fuelling point. The main through line is electrified and leaves the new Borders Railway just south of Newcraighall station and connects with the East Coast main line at Monktonhall via a line built when the marshalling yard first opened.

Planning permission was granted for the depot in April 2013. However, this was for the construction of a heavy maintenance depot to maintain the electric trains that had to be procured by the holder of the new ScotRail franchise – due to be awarded in October 2014. Prior to this, plans for the depot needed to be well advanced, even though no-one knew where these trains would come from, or how they would be maintained.

As it turned out, the franchise was awarded to Abellio which bought AT200 series EMUs from Hitachi, now designated Class 385. These have many similarities to Virgin’s Class 800/801 IEP trains, derived from AT300 series units, and, as part of the supply contract, both will be maintained by Hitachi. Hence, it was decided to maintain both classes at the nearby Craigentinny depot, so a maintenance depot at Millerhill was no longer needed. It was therefore repurposed as a servicing facility to stable the trains to be used on EGIP and other stock.

EGIP alliance contractor Morgan Sindall started work on the £30 million depot construction work early in 2016. An early problem was the decommissioning of the contaminated locomotive fuelling point. The new roads and walkways in the depot were constructed by resurfacing contractor CPR, which also worked on the depot drainage system by building the separation tank and five-metre deep, 38-metre diameter SUDS pond.

Road and rail access to the new depot is from the northern end of the Millerhill complex, with its servicing facilities, half a mile to the south, built on top of the redundant east-side yard. There remain some sidings east of the depot for engineering trains. These are connected to the main line at the south of the yard.

For resilience of operations, both entrance roads are bi-directional and have their own connection to the Up line at Millerhill. Normally, these lines are operated as distinct arrival road and departure roads.

Remote condition monitoring

On entering the depot, all trains through the arrival road pass through a condition monitoring station supplied by MRX technologies. For the Hitachi class 385 units, this records pantograph wear, wheel profile, brake and disc pad wear. As Millerhill is a stabling facility, this station is visited by individual units on an almost-daily basis, allowing the team at Craigentinny to use the resulting information for maintenance planning. This is not a new arrangement for Hitachi, which has had ten years’ experience of using data from a similar MRX station installed at its Ashford depot.

Immediately after the MRX station is the train washing plant. This is next to the office of the yard controller, who liaises with signallers to accept trains and control movements in the depot. This includes setting the manually operated points between the washing plant and the depot’s seven servicing roads, which are actually numbered three to nine as the depot has been constructed with passive provision for two more roads between it and the main line.

These seven 305-metre-long roads can accommodate 12-car units. Each has a 276-metre-long platform on one side with water and power points. On the other side, each road, except for number 3, has an apron with controlled emission toilet (CET) emptying stations.

The 48-metre by 12-metre accommodation building provides changing facilities, locker rooms and a mess area for vehicle presentation staff, as well as carriage cleaning and maintenance stores. The accommodation block is large enough to provide facilities for drivers if Millerhill were to become a signing-on point.

At the Glasgow end of the line, Eastfield depot is being modified to service electric trains. In 2004, a depot to service DMUs was built on the site of the traction maintenance depot that closed in early 1992. Four additional sidings were added in 2017 and the depot was electrified so that it can also service EMUs.

Milestones two and three

The escalators that were installed a few years ago to connect Platform 11 to the mezzanine footbridge at Edinburgh Waverley had to be temporarily removed from the beginning of September to permit construction of another essential part of EGIP, the lengthening of Platform 12. Although the station has several long platforms that can accommodate EGIP’s longer trains, the station’s berthing plan frequently requires platforms to have two trains so, without this longer platform, it would not be possible to run longer trains between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

This work required the demolition of a redundant office building and extension of the overhead lines. Platform 12 re-opened on 10 December. With its new length of 204 metres, it can now accommodate eight-car trains. The escalators from the mezzanine footbridge will be relocated closer to the centre of the main concourse and will re-open in the spring.

The most newsworthy of the 10 December milestones was the introduction of the first electric trains to carry passengers on the Edinburgh to Glasgow line through Falkirk. With Class 385 production delays, these trains will be seven-car trains formed from four and three-car Class 380 EMUs. Two such trains are now working, about one in four of the trains on the line. This will provide some extra capacity as the maximum train length was previously only six-cars.

Still to come

Whilst it’s good to see the pieces of EGIP falling into place, both EGIP and Hitachi’s train delivery schedule are a year behind schedule. In its invitation to tender document for the ScotRail franchise, issued in November 2013, Transport Scotland’s specified milestones were:

  • December 2016: one seven-car EMU running between Edinburgh and Glasgow;
  • December 2017: trains between Edinburgh and Glasgow to be seven-car EMUs in peak periods;
  • December 2018: eight-car EMUs to be introduced between Edinburgh and Glasgow with a 42-minute journey time; Stirling, Alloa electrified with all services operated by class 385 units; Queen Street station development complete.

It is expected that, as Hitachi ramps up Class 385 production at its Newton Aycliffe plant, the original December 2017 milestone for a full service of seven-car EMUs on the Edinburgh to Glasgow service is likely to be achieved in the next few months. No date has been set for this, however, and ScotRail Alliance’s managing director Alex Hynes has stated that he does not want to jeopardise the line’s current good punctuality and passenger satisfaction by introducing the trains before sufficient numbers are fully tested.

The December 2018 milestone of a 42-minute Edinburgh to Glasgow service requires the Stirling Alloa electrification scheme to be completed by then. This is because faster electric Edinburgh to Glasgow services are not possible if EMUs must follow DMUs from Glasgow and Edinburgh to Stirling, particularly on the climb up Queen Street tunnel.

One of the original December 2018 milestones that has been delayed a year is the introduction of eight-car services, as these require the platform extensions that are part of the Glasgow Queen Street station development. The Queen Street work was originally programmed to start in January 2017. However, with the required Transport and Works Act order taking much longer to obtain than anticipated, work could not start until August. As a result, it will be 2020 before the station work is completed, although it is expected that the platform extensions will be completed by December 2019.

Once longer and faster trains are available, EGIP and Hitachi will have provided significantly improved passenger journeys, not just between Edinburgh and Glasgow, but also to Stirling, Shotts and other locations in central Scotland. With the delays to the programme, and inevitable disruption to services for major work such as Winchburgh and Queen Street tunnels, the electrification work has not been without its frustration. However, once all the milestones have been met, Edinburgh to Glasgow passengers will have 33 per cent more seats during the peak, faster and more reliable trains that are more efficient and environmentally friendly.

Let’s hope that the line’s passengers think it was all worth it.

This article was written by David Shirres.


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