The new trains will be ‘iconic’, but don’t forget ‘diversity’

HS2 rolling stock special

All but one of the rolling stock manufacturers who have expressed interest in supplying the 60 or so Conventional Compatible Very High Speed Trains (CCVHSTs) were represented at the High Speed 2 rolling stock industry event on 27 March. Yet, according to informed sources, only the representative from the Chinese manufacturer asked a question.

Having gone through the presentations I find this entirely understandable. I can’t recall such a load of bien pensant, gush, including key words and phrases in bold type, in a techno/ commercial industrial presentation. The Inter-city Express Programme (IEP) was restrained in comparison and even Network Rail’s Traffic Management procurement could not match the hyperbole.

Its tone reminded me of nothing so much as a Blue Peter presenter trying to jolly along the kidz. Faux chummy and vaguely patronising. The temptation to shout ‘it’s only a modern train for heaven’s sake’ at my display screen was strong.

But that’s enough of my griping. I’m paid to extract useful signals from white noise, so here goes.

Of the 14 potential rolling stock suppliers approached, eight have registered interest. But only seven manufacturers were among the organisations attending the rolling stock industry day (Table 2). East Japan Railway and Mitsui & Co Europe were among those present, but informed sources discount the possibility of a second ‘Japan Inc’ bid competing with Hitachi.

Since Table 2 already contains the national champions of most of the world’s high-speed powers, the smart money was on Hyundai Rotem of Korea making up the aspirant eight. Starting with a technology transfer deal with GEC Alsthom back in the 1990s, by 2013 Hyundai Rotem’s experimental HEMU-430X had reached a top speed of 421km/h.

HS2 is aiming for a shortlist of a minimum of three and a maximum of five bidders to ensure both a competitive bid and a ‘manageable process’. Five sounds like a waste of time and resources.


According to HS2 Director Rolling Stock & Depots, Iain Smith, the ‘core fleet’ for Phases 1 and 2a (London-Crewe) will be 54 sets of CCVHSTs, also able to run on the national network. However, the final service patterns may require a larger fleet and there will be options for additional builds in the contract.

There will be a two-part contract, the Manufacture and Supply Agreement (MSA) and the Train Service Agreement (TSA), the latter covering maintenance for ‘at least’ the first 12 years in service. There will also be what Mr Smith called ‘a promise to cover the whole life of the train’, potentially extending the maintenance deal to 2060.

HS2 estimates the total value of the core fleet plus the 12-year maintenance contract at £2.75 billion. Separately, HS2 will be responsible for building the Washwood Heath maintenance depot in close co-operation with the rolling stock manufacturer, which will be responsible for fitting out the new facility.

Following the IEP and Thameslink deals, where the Train Service Provider also financed the rolling stock, HS2 intends to emulate Crossrail and procure and own the trains directly. That said, private finance may be introduced ‘at any time’ after contract award.

Coming to the UK soon: artist’s impression of HS2 train.
Courtesy HS2
Korean high-speed train: Hyundai Rotem’s experimental HEMU-430X.
Courtesy Hyundai Rotem, with thanks to International Railway Journal

Under such a deal, HS2 Ltd may nominate a private sector ‘entity’ to perform the roles of owner and, potentially, operator of the new fleet under the Manufacturing & Supply, Train Service and Technical Support & Spares Supply agreements in the contract.


Phase 2 of HS2, opening in 2033, is likely to require around 100 additional train sets. Allowing for the Conventional Compatible sets which will be replaced by Captive sets on Euston-Birmingham services, 60 more Conventional-Compatibles will be needed for Phase 2.

HS2 is proposing a separate procurement exercise for the Phase 2 fleet. As Andy Cross, HS2 Rolling Stock Procurement Director, told the workshop, the current procurement process must generate an effective competition, ‘while ensuring the decisions we make for Phase 1 don’t limit or jeopardise Phase 2’.

This remark illustrates how both the pervasive old-BR perception of the private sector as rip-off merchants and the Gresley/ Stanier syndrome live on in the 21st century public sector. Together, these predicate that only fierce competition can achieve value for money and that a brand new train, untrammelled by service experience, has to be better than your existing equipment.

Take reliability for example, where the specification equates to a Spanner-winning 186,000 Miles per Technical Incident (MTIN). No manufacturer in their right mind is going to sign up to that from day one. I would expect a rising trajectory over two or three years once the whole fleet has been accepted.


Yet by 2029, or so, with the last bugs being extracted from the Phase 1 fleet, HS2’s engineers are proposing to embark on another market-sounding exercise, write new specifications and spend millions on procurement. Going for an entirely new design of CCVHST from an unblooded maker just when you are stepping up to the 18 trains per hour timetable is about as stupid as it gets.

This is inexplicable given that in his presentation Iain Smith flagged up the technical demands of the Conventional Compatible units, in particular the need to fit the equipment for a Very High Speed Train into the restricted UK national network loading gauge.

Despite these ‘challenges’, CCVHST must be ‘high performance’, defined as ‘reliable, quiet and capable of delivering a step change in customer experience’. Describing this as ‘a real challenge which will require the best combination of innovation and proven technology’, Mr Smith came up with a ‘favourite saying’ which rang warning bells for this one-time engineer.

His mantra is: ‘we need 2025 technology in 2026’, which he amplified as meaning ‘not 2018 technology and not 2030 technology either’. Believe me Mr Smith, you don’t. I’ve been there and you really don’t.

What you want is technology at least on the production line when you place the order in 2019. This is especially true when, as Head of Rolling Stock Engineering Tom Williamson reminded the meeting, the combination of operating speeds of up to 360km/h on HS2 with through running on the national network will make CCVHST ‘different from anything you might have worked on before’.


■ The rolling stock will be the icon of our new railway.

■ The rolling stock will be an icon of British pride – when it’s seen entering a station or speeding across the countryside.

■ If HS2 is to have a truly transformative impact, we need to create a diverse supply chain to help us achieve high levels of creativity and innovation.

■ This is a huge challenge – we need a diverse supply chain to help address the needs of a diverse population.

■ Innovation for us is challenging the status quo:

• it’s pushing the boundaries of thinking;

• it’s improving beyond current best practice;

• and it’s setting new industry standards for the rest of the world to follow. n Delivering world-class trains which achieve all the things I’ve just been talking about will be impossible without innovation.

■ We love new ideas… The railway has always been an innovative industry, but has also been highly constrained by legacy and structure. HS2 is the opportunity to take a giant leap.

■ For us, innovation means doing something that goes beyond best practice; whether that be in design, manufacture, or operations.


Remember that with the Class 91, GEC minimised the considerable risk in a loco required to haul both tilting trains at up to 140 mile/h and 500-tonne West Coast sleepers by sticking with DC traction.

Or consider the Airbus 320neo, fitted with the Pratt & Whitney 1100G engine with its first commercial application of geared drive for the turbofan. Yes, the engine is meeting its fuel-saving targets, but initial service operation revealed that asymmetric cooling after shutdown caused a rotor to bow slightly. The procedures necessary to avoid damage on start-up mean it took seven minutes to get both engines running. This compares with 1-2.5min for comparable existing designs. The delay wrecked service schedules.

After a lot of work Pratt has got the start-up time down to 3min 30sec. But the alternative CFM International Leap 1A engine, also fitted to the A320neo, with a conventional fan arrangement, has been producing similar fuel savings and has given relatively little trouble. While its first flight was later than the 1100G, the engine was a development of CFM’s existing engine in this size range.


As we shall see when we get to the provisional technical spec, what will be needed for the CCVHST will be the latest technology with a track record, at the latest, entering service when the order is placed. It may be different to anything built before, and may need what my old mentor Walter Jowett referred to as ‘PhD and bar engineering’, but only in extremis and then only reluctantly.

That pioneer industrial designer Raymond Loewe thought styling should be MAYA – Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. For the Captive Compatible fleet replace ‘acceptable’ with ‘available’. And when it comes to procuring the second batch of trains for Phase 2, unless the first batch has been a total dog, place a repeat order, incorporating lessons learned and any useful technical upgrades. Latent Gresley/Stanier syndrome can be sublimated with the less important Captive fleet.


‘Just like you, these trains need a home which is fit to care for these trains.’

Name of speaker withheld to protect the guilty