Depots during Covid-19

Tuesday, 21 April 2020
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The country is depending on its rail workers to get other key workers safely to work in vital services such as the NHS and organisations who care for the elderly and vulnerable.

Rail employees are still staffing their stations, driving trains, maintaining them in the depots, cleaning every surface, and working behind the scenes to make sure essential workers can travel safely and reliably.

At our three train maintenance depots – Norwich Crown Point, Clacton and Ilford – work continues to keep trains fit for passenger service, albeit with some changes to the usual routine.

Because there are far fewer people travelling than normal, a reduced train service is in operation. As a result, fewer maintenance exams are required (because those routine examinations are based on the mileage travelled by the trains, so fewer miles mean fewer exams) - meaning there are fewer trains in most of the depots that need attention at any one time.

This also helps the teams to manage workloads when more staff may be off sick than usual, but it is also an opportunity to make progress on other important projects that help keep the trains running reliably – both now and when a normal service can resume.

An exception to this situation is at Norwich Crown Point depot, where the fleet of new Stadler-built trains is increasing every week, so with more trains (the new fleet has more trains and more carriages than the old one) activities are expanding and the team are busier than ever.

Norwich Crown Point Depot April 2020

At Clacton Depot, Lance Harrison, Depot Manager, and his team, are using the extra hours productively to get ahead, so that when the crisis is over and people go back to work, they can deliver even better performance. Last year, the delay minutes caused by Greater Anglia’s electric suburban trains was reduced by over 25%, thanks to the efforts of the Clacton and Ilford teams. They are keen to use this period to help maintain that momentum.

Clacton depot works a day shift and a night shift, with usually two trains in for regular maintenance exams per shift. It’s usually a packed schedule but now, because of the service reduction, this is now 1 train per shift and the team plans to use that extra time to their advantage.

Assistant Technician, Scott Friel, swapping components on an uncoupling cylinder for a Class 321 train.

Lance noticed a few months ago that some train uncoupling cylinders (that allow the train carriages to connect and disconnect from each other) were leaking and, through experience, anticipated that when a few go wrong, it could mean that they are all about to go wrong.

This could lead to cancellations due to trains being taken out of service for repair if not dealt with promptly. So, he started a process to create a dedicated maintenance slot during each shift to address this issue and ordered all the necessary parts in ready.

They’ll be replacing all the defective couplers on the Class 321 fleet that provides commuter trains in Essex, and they also plan to replace all the scratched windows and repair interior panels with the extra time that they now have available.

Lance says, "We don’t plan to sit on our laurels. Our aim is to use this time to get ahead with a few projects ready for when the trains go back to normal service.

"We always try to find ways to deal with the issues that we can see coming up. As a result, we’ve been seeing the best performance for the Class 321 fleet that we’ve had for four years. The quality of workmanship here is just brilliant."

Old and new trains at Norwich Crown Point Depot

At Crown Point Depot, work continues to prepare the old Intercity trains, which have now been withdrawn from service at Greater Anglia, to go to their new home. They are being repaired where needed, painted and readied for service in another area of the country.

Stadler - builder of 58 new trains for Greater Anglia and the company responsible for servicing all of them at Norwich Crown Point Depot - continues to manage the maintenance of Greater Anglia’s new fleet of trains.

They are now maintaining more trains since the start of the pandemic as additional ones are brought into passenger service.

The last old intercity train operated on 24 March, so since then, all intercity services are now scheduled to be operated by new intercity trains. A further two intercity electric trains have been accepted for service, meaning that there are now seven in operation and we have also accepted the first Stansted Express trains. Initially, they are being used on Norwich to London services and other test runs, whilst the other workstreams and projects (including training and any infrastructure work) needed to enable them to start operation on Stansted Express services, are completed.

In total currently, 35 bi-mode units and 11 electric trains have been accepted, so the depot is working flat out to deliver the service and new trains at the same time.

Greater Anglia and Stadler is committed to ensuring the required number trains the system needs to ensure that key workers in East Anglia can get to and from work are provided consistently. Daily tele-conferences for Stadler and Greater Anglia representatives have been set up to discuss plans and processes to ensure that despite having more staff off sick, the required number of trains are provided for service day in, day out.

The health and safety of staff and passengers are the cornerstone of Stadler’s activities, so they promptly implemented measures such as social distancing, increased hand washing and disinfecting surfaces and objects at the start of this current situation.

They have introduced additional cleaning regimes for all premises including the depot halls, offices and of course, the trains they are working on. Extra cleaning materials and personal protection equipment are now available in key high contact areas, and people are asked to use them before they start their tasks.

In daily briefings at the start of shifts, staff are reminded about the new ways of working and encouraged to take the necessary precautions. With cleanliness and hygiene absolutely critical, staff have adapted swiftly to the new procedures and fully recognise the importance of the heightened measures in place.

Jack Blake, Technician at Ilford Depot fitting an axle box cover.

At Ilford Depot, all non-essential work has been postponed to allow the depot to continue essential maintenance, whilst seeing a higher than usual number of staff absences.

While the crisis continues, staff at all Greater Anglia depots – Crown Point, Ilford and Clacton - are asked to keep a safe distance from each other, wash their hands and avoid the mess rooms.

Cleaning – especially of high touch point (like door handles) and communal areas - has been stepped up and arrangements have been made for anyone who can work at home to do so.

Together, the three depots have put plans in place in consultation with Greater Anglia’s Fleet and Stadler’s Technical teams to cope if more engineers have to self-isolate or cannot work because of the virus. The plans outline the critical work that must be done in order to keep the trains fit for passenger service, so that Greater Anglia can continue to help key workers get to work throughout the crisis.

They are also managing supplies of key components to ensure trains can keep running or be repaired if faults do occur.

The teams are absolutely committed to delivering a great train service for customers and communities, both throughout the current situation and when we are able to go back to a normal service. So far, they’ve done an excellent job running a really reliable service in challenging circumstances.

At Greater Anglia we are very grateful to all our amazing staff in our engineering and fleet teams at Ilford, Clacton and Norwich Crown Point, who are playing a pivotal role in keeping the railway in East Anglia going.

General Greater Anglia coronavirus update

We are taking every step possible to make sure our employees can continue to work safely and our customers travel safely.

Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak Greater Anglia has stepped up cleaning of trains and stations, especially high contact areas such as grab rails, door buttons and handles and ticket gates and topping up soap, water and toilet roll in toilets more frequently.

The company is following all Government hygiene guidelines and encouraging customers to wash their hands and cover their mouths and noses when sneezing or coughing. NHS posters are displayed on trains and at stations.

A reduced timetable began on Monday 23 March. The service is similar to a Sunday service, but with additional services at the start and the end of the day to enable passengers to get to and from work. Full details are available at greateranglia.co.uk for full details.

In line with the rest of the industry, the company has also made changes to its refund policy, so customers can change Advance tickets and get free refunds of walk-up tickets. A process is also in place for season ticket holders to claim refunds online.

More information about refunds and other coronavirus-related actions is already available on the Greater Anglia website.