In April 2016 Northern, The UK’s largest train operator outside of London, announced it was investing £580 million in 98 new electric and diesel trains. Just over a year later a new Engineering Director and a new Head of New Trains have been recruited to oversee the project, the design of the new trains has been finalised and construction of the 281 carriages is now underway.
Earlier this year, Ben Ackroyd joined Northern as Engineering Director after fulfilling roles at Midland Metro, c2c and Angel Trains. Ian Hyde, the train operator’s new Head of New Trains, joined the company in November 2016 from CrossCountry.
Northern’s new recruits recently visited train manufacturer CAF’s sites in Irun and Zaragoza, Spain with representatives from train owner Eversholt Rail to inspect the first carriages coming off the production line.
With 43 electric (class 331) and 55 diesel (series 195) trains to build, test and launch into service by December 2019 the task ahead of Northern is significant. The design of the units is substantially different to the specification Northern’s customers have experienced historically, with free Wifi, power sockets and digital information screens.
Currently a series of empty body shells are in various states of finish, the first new train will be completed in the autumn and will then go for testing in Vellim in the Czech Republic next year. It is anticipated that the first new train will make its way to the UK in spring of 2018, which brings with it its own engineering challenges.
The new trains, and the technology on board them, will require a completely new maintenance regime and while the new trains are being built Northern will be making major updates to some of its depots and training the employees who will be undertaking that work. In addition, all of Northern’s on-train crews need to be trained, ready to take the units into service in December 2018.
The first new trains will enter service in December 2018 and all 98 will be carrying Northern’s customers around the network by 2020.
The new and refurbished trains form just part of Northern’s modernisation plans, which also include more services, faster connections, better stations and improved customer service.