1/ Why is depot modernisation such an important focus for European train operating companies at present?
European regulators want to enforce competition between different TOCs. Therefore they have changed the regulations for opening the market. This and the rivalry between different transport systems leads to high cost pressure. While maintenance cost plays an important role, it is important to enhance maintenance work efficiency and therefore optimise the maintenance facilities.
In present-day train car body and bogie design, engineers use margins of safety to full capacity to optimise their products. This in turn leads to more and more sophisticated control and measurement processes and equipment to verify the safety of these trains. Changes in the workshop layout are needed to do all of this efficiently. For example, long, exactly levelled commissioning tracks are necessary.
The aforementioned high cost pressure also makes it necessary to implement state of the art production organisations, which also impacts the depots.
We’ve changed rolling stocks, going from trains with single coaches and locomotives to railcar train sets. This change requires both the modernisation and modification of existing depots and workshops with production facilities for efficient light and heavy maintenance. Globalisation and the liberalisation of the European railway markets have also changed the “old” national markets. We now have more competition than before. Cost sensibility will become ever more important for securing regional passenger rail public tender offers.
While management at European rail operating companies are increasingly considering outsourcing, the cost pressure on internal maintenance divisions and departments is rising significantly. Production facilities with optimal life cycle costs are affecting maintenance costs per single railcar train set, and per transport kilometre or mile. With the disappearance of public subsidy agreements for train operating companies, TOCs must also be more cost effective. This necessitates modern, optimally-sized depots and workshops working a minimum of two shifts, thereby producing a better rate of return on investments.
The skills shortage in Switzerland calls for optimised production facilities with high ergonomic standards, enabling maintenance with minimal staff operating under the best conditions, in order to create a favourable image that can attract the most highly skilled workers.
2/ What choices in terms of depot design, layout and equipment selection do workshop managers need to consider in order to ensure that new fleets are successfully integrated into the depot?
For integrating new fleets into depots and workshops, the following is required:
- Good reachability for workshops and depots both now and in the future, with these preferably located near to terminal stations where trains ‘sleep’ at nights and weekends.
- Long enough tracks in depots and workshops equipped with lifting systems for handling entire motor train units, as well as with cranes, lifting platforms and other production facilities, so that work on all areas of motor train units (on the top, the sides etc.) may be performed simultaneously.
- An optimal logistics supply chain to deliver new spare parts and to take away used parts and components. This should be handled by a Kanban system located near to workplaces.
- Short travel distances to recondition parts and components; short travel distances to stocks/warehouses for spare parts and components, including bogies and wheelsets.
- Information systems and technology which support and document light and heavy maintenance processes, including logistics.
- Kaizen to optimise the production system periodically.
- Minimum of one track for start-up works and measurements for testing the railcar train sets and quality management.
The designing of the workshops should be done only after optimising the actual production processes.
The depot’s social facilities should be planned for shift work and then installed infrastructure must be as versatile as possible in order to comply with ever shorter product lifecycles and train design. Nowadays the TOCs order specific train layouts for different kinds of passenger traffic (long-distance traffic, S-Bahn traffic, rural regional traffic). To have a workshop for every train layout is not financially feasible.
3/ What kind of benefits can depot upgrades have for operators?
Firstly, upgrades offer high quality fast light and heavy maintenance for maximum availability and minimal down times for railcar train sets. Secondly, upgrades minimise the use of reserve trains, saving money for buying rolling stocks.
RL: The downtime of trains can be minimised, which is necessary when using an optimised number of railcar train sets instead of a lot of locomotives and a great number of passenger coaches.
It is also an opportunity for operators to question the maintenance strategy for the overhaul/repair of the trains’ main components. The “new workshops” are the conceptions of either strategic or economic make-or-buy decisions.
4/ Robert, you have been head of production engineering for SBB’s heavy maintenance depot in Olten, and have also taken on the same responsibility for the Yverdon depot. What are your main challenges in these depots? How do they vary? How have you overcome them?
In the past, Olten was the main workshop for the heavy maintenance of passenger coaches and Yverdon was the main workshop for the electric locomotives. Both were established in the 19th century. When the SBB tilting train (ICN) was introduced, a new hall with a 200m service track was built in Yverdon. Since the classic locomotive-pulled trains were replaced by railcar train sets, the depot in Olten also needs long service tracks.
Another challenge is that these trains are technically much more complex than the last train generation. Therefore, new skills must be taught to staff. An additional challenge is managing teams from different cultural and language backgrounds. The main benefit is taking the best of both worlds and implementing best practices at both workshops.
5/ Werner, you have recently been involved in a new SBB workshop for the maintenance of fixed formation trains – what have been the main challenges for you in this project? How have you overcome them?
The start of the project was itself a challenge. At times, the project was not on stable ground, with low acceptance levels leading to higher costs than those planned in studies.
An additional challenge was then posed by the project perimeter. It was stuck between the 2-shift work bogie heavy maintenance production and the 7x24h climate chamber, both requiring high levels of availability.
The situation of emergency exits has also complex, requiring extensive consultation with public authorities. Using a new sprinkler system based on CN Global along with a heat and smoke exhaust system, we have reached an internally and externally accepted solution.
Another challenge has been the reachability of the OL_3x150m project field. We have to build a new road through the track field for diggers, cranes, wheel loaders and vans. During the construction works, there will be shunting in the track fields. Overall, the various project phases have an ambitious timetable with no buffers and high cost pressure.
I have overcome all of this with structured project management, intensive stakeholder management, precise planning, cost and risk management and appropriate staffing for the organisation of the project. For the execution of the project phase, I have staged a “coordinator” connecting workshop operating management to the project.
6/ What steps do you take to deal with unscheduled maintenance?
In our project, Olten 3x150m, we have planned one track with an underfloor lifting system for all regular maintenance works on the railcar train sets, and one track with standard lifting jacks. In this project, we can perform unscheduled maintenance and repairs as well as rolling stock projects.
The operation of this requires precise and timely planning for tracks as a whole. using depots and workshops. I believe that an IT-based planning system will be needed at Olten for all maintenance and repairs of our railcar train sets. With such a system, we will be able to manage unscheduled maintenance all over the country.
You need to have some reserve capacities, not only in free track capacity but also in manpower with a third and fourth shift. For unplanned repairs SBB has a specialised repair centre in Zurich, one of the main traffic hubs.
7/ What is the most exciting or innovative depot project you’ve worked on at SBB or elsewhere?
The current 3x150m service tracks project in Olten with the multipurpose underfloor lifting plant and the long exactly levelled commissioning track with integrated static and dynamic measuring system for vertical wheel forces.
Undoubtedly, it is my project in Olten. We will carry out the same procedure for our workshop in Yverdon, located in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Indeed, I am working very closely with my colleagues in Yverdon. Yet Olten presents me with the biggest challenges: construction works at the same time as full two-shift maintenance near production areas, a solid timetable with no buffers, high safety requirements, as well as the first sprinkler system in Switzerland configured using a simulation based on the American FM Global Standard to optimise the emergency exit systems. And last but not least, we have a complex underfloor lifting system for all of our modern railcar train set types.
8/ What are you most looking forward to at Rail Depots & Workshops Modernisation 2016?
I am most looking forward to networking with representatives of other train operating companies. I also hope to compare experiences on low-cost services and simple solutions.
The discussions about technical progress in maintenance equipment with other specialists.
9/ Anything else to add?
The biggest challenge for all train operating companies is to deal with the competition from self-driven automobile systems, low-cost airlines and other transport systems such as long-distance coaches.
I am delighted to be in London and England once again. My last trip to London came in 2002, during which time I also visited Brighton. Then, in 2008, I visited historic steam engine railways and trains in Devon.