The Department for Transport has published the second edition of its Rolling Stock Perspective and intends to update it annually.

Rolling Stock Perspective sets out the Government's thoughts on the improvements it wants to see in rolling stock to deliver better journeys for all passengers.  It needs trains that:

  • are well-designed both visually and in engineering terms – the competition for new HS2 trains that will start next year provides a great opportunity for manufacturers to realise this vision
  • use space as efficiently as possible, such as seat layouts that can be altered easily
  • are designed to have a low environmental impact (low energy consumption, reduced emissions and easily recycled at end of life)
  • offer much better on-board facilities – such as free Wi-Fi, adequate storage space and catering for passengers with reduced mobility (given the aging population)      
  • can be more easily transferred between train operating companies (TOCs) and routes – common coupling systems, train management and train control.  This is a key theme: making the most efficient use of existing assets
  • are self-powered where required – so there is still a place for diesel trains despite increasing electrification
  • are designed with manufacturers and TOCs working ever more closely with Network Rail – Network Rail will play a full part in the franchise award process.

The message appears to be that rolling stock needs will be determined through the passenger rail franchise process.  Fundamentally this will involve the ITT setting out the rolling stock requirements and train operators needing to find the most effective way of delivering improvements in line with those requirements, which will often mean either new build or extensive refurbishment of existing fleets where this is cost effective.  The rolling stock companies (ROSCOs) will play a key role in identifying options and choices alongside bidders and negotiating suitable financing terms for the refurbishments or new build options.

Where new trains are proposed, there should be more emphasis on "future-proofing" them to make it easier to move them between routes and so that they increasingly have common features.  The DfT would like to discuss with TOCs, Network Rail and ROSCOs whether the industry can evolve some "big ticket" common elements such as: standard vehicle lengths and door positions; train heights and widths; energy efficient trains; lighter trains; a smaller variation in couplers and on-board control systems, to make it easier to trains of different types and ages to couple together to provide longer trains.

Finally, the document gives a class by class and franchise by franchise overview of current British rolling stock.  It is interesting to note that much of it is at least 20 years old and so clearly an investment in new rolling stock is needed, although the document also notes that 1,000 new vehicles have been ordered in the last year alone, half of which are for the new Northern and Trans-Pennine Express franchises.

Comment

The DfT advises that lessons should be learned from the problems facing rolling stock that is fitted with technologies that are no longer supported.  It suggests that the industry explore the option of making on-train control systems modular, so that new technologies can be introduced (and then upgraded via software updates) with minimum physical intervention.  Technology is the first thing that could stop future-proofing of trains so is a big risk factor for all concerned.

It seems that the DfT will be using the franchise process and the ITT requirements within each tender to drive the rolling stock requirements, but it will be up to each ROSCO and TOC to work out the most cost-effective way of meeting those requirements, whether by building new trains or refurbishing existing ones.  Either way, the aim is to end up with a fleet of trains that are interoperable, flexible, lighter and more energy efficient.