Ricardo Rail’s design team have been working with Porterbrook, a UK rolling stock owner, to produce a demonstrator unit showing how the Class 144 fleet could be brought into line with modern-day expectations, and help fill an anticipated gap in the country's rolling stock requirements over the next decade.
Meeting the standard
The Class14x were introduced into service during the mid-1980s and serve local commuter routes in the Yorkshire and Pennine regions of northern England. Though structurally sound, the current fleet would fail to meet modern day requirements for rolling stock, particularly with regard to accessibility.
The Technical Specifications for Interoperability (TSI), the rules that define the essential requirements for rail operations within the EU, contain requirements related to Persons of Reduced Mobility (PRM) that come into force in 2019. From that point, all rolling stock must meet these standards if they are to remain in service.
Central to the PRM requirements is the need to provide “equivalent access” to persons of reduced mobility, including a minimum of two dedicated spaces for wheelchair passengers, and unimpeded access to the onboard toilet facilities.
Other specifications relate to the provision of handles, lighting and passenger information screens.
In light of these forthcoming changes, the Class14x would have to be withdrawn from service.
However, by working with Ricardo design, system and project engineers, Porterbrook have developed a demonstration unit, the Class144e, featuring a number of enhancements that not only bring the vehicle into line with PRM requirements, but also deliver an improved passenger experience all round. And in doing so, offers the UK market a fit-for-purpose diesel vehicle for much less than the cost of bringing into service an entirely new model.
Working within the limitations of a carriage that dates back over three decades, the Ricardo team were tasked with producing an internal design that would meet all the PRM requirements, whilst ensuring there was no increase in weight and that still offered sufficient seating for everyday operation.
The team began by looking at how each carriage could be fitted with a universal access toilet with appropriate clearance around a sliding door. Located nearby, but not directly outside, would be two positions for wheelchair users.
From this starting point, the designs progressed to show how 2x2 seating could be arranged, along with luggage stacks and draught screens.
The carriages would also feature LCD passenger information displays and media screens, plus door sounders to alert when opening and closing.
To reduce energy demands, and create a more modern ambience, the internal fluorescent lighting tubes have been replaced by central lighting units with modern spot lighting and side ceiling wash lighting for a brighter environment.
The unit also shows how each vehicle could be fitted with an integrated foot well ramp that can be raised between the internal steps to provide step-free access. This would replace one of the portable ramps currently used that must be stowed by the doors and assembled on demand, saving both time and storage space.
A genuine alternative
Shortly after its official unveiling in June 2015, the unit will be entered into service in order to begin gauging the opinions of passengers about its various enhancements, and demonstrate how it offers a viable, alternative solution to meeting the UK’s future rolling stock needs.
The project shows how innovative design can help to extend the life of vehicles that would otherwise be considered as coming to the end of their time.
A report entitled Rolling Stock Perspective, published by the UK government in July 2015, anticipated that upto 4,000 new vehicles would be needed on the national network over the next nine years, and that new trains alone will not fill the gap within that timeframe. "Good, high-quality refurbishment", the report stated, "can deliver a passenger experience comparable with new rolling stock".
With cost management high on the UK industry agenda, and a pause in the national electrification programme meaning self-powered diesel vehicles will remain a feature of the network for the foreseeable future, the Class 144e presents a genuine, alternative option for operators, without the costs and distraction of a wholsesale replacement.