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Cauldwell: Success born from dereliction
April Issue 2009

When I last visited Bedford depot as an inspector with HMRI in the mid 1990s, the site was neglected and muddy with an overgrown pair of sidings just big enough to hold a ballast train or a tamper or two. Not only was the site run down but it suffered from fly tipping, vandalism and general nuisance. Recent publicity relating to a new extension to the Cauldwell Traction Maintenance Depot (TMD) prompted me to take a trip to Bedford one snowy morning in February to see what was happening. What a difference in a decade or so!

Historical note
Local railwaymen assert that the earliest use of a railway on this site was to transport injured First World War servicemen in ambulance trains from the coastal ports to Bedford County Hospital in Cauldwell Street, just a stone's throw from the depot. There is also reference to a hospital train taking casualties from Fenny Stratford Level Crossing in December 1925 to Bedford Hospital, following an accident in which a motor coach ran into the crossing gates just as a train was passing.

In June 2004, work was planned to start on the sub-surface 'box' for St Pancras Midland Road Station in connection with Phase II of the CTRL. This would result in the closure of the Thameslink route between Kentish Town and King's Cross Thameslink stations and effectively isolate the maintenance facility for the Thameslink fleet of four-car Class 319 trains. At that time, these were being maintained at Selhurst, south of the Thames. The only other access to Selhurst once the Thameslink route was closed would have been by means of diesel haulage via West London, with serious potential for costly disruption to the Thameslink service.

Most suitable site
The former Ballast Pit Sidings at Bedford - an area of about 4 acres (1.6 hectares) - was identified as the most suitable site for a TMD north of the Thames as it was already railway operational. It was close to the existing Thameslink Bedford Stabling Sidings and train-crew depot, with a local skilled workforce available. It had potential for further expansion by buying out and relocating the adjacent industrial units and scrap yard. The existing Bedford EMU traincare depot was not capable of expansion to provide sufficient room for the proposed TMD although stabling and minor work was proposed to remain there.

Work started on site in September 2003. The project involved main contractor VolkerFitzpatrick building a depot with a 130m long by 40m wide covered workshop containing four roads along with integral sidings, a train washing plant, pump room, controlled emissions toilet (CET) plant road, offices and staff facilities. Work was completed in 50 weeks, a fortnight ahead of schedule, and within the budget price of £8.5 million.

A staff of 40 set about maintaining the fleet of 43 Class 319s that had been allocated to run from Bedford to Kentish Town during the six-month blockade period. As a result of the high maintenance standards set at the new depot, a decision was made to move the maintenance of the whole fleet of 66 Class 319s to the new Cauldwell TMD following the removal of the blockade at St Pancras.

In April 2006, FCC combined the former Thameslink and West Anglia Great Northern (WAGN) operations into one new nine year franchise. One of the results of this change of franchise was that Selhurst Depot ceased to have any involvement with the former Thameslink Class 319 trains and Bedford Cauldwell became the only TMD servicing the Bedford-Brighton route, carrying out all A-D examinations on the fleet. By November of that year, Cauldwell's commitment had increased to 74 units, with Hornsey TMD (now also part of FCC) undertaking C & D examinations at the rate of two per week, along with wheel turning.

Reliability has improved
Over the past two years, major changes have taken place to the Cauldwell organisation. As a result, reliability has improved over the past 26 periods to an all-time high such that the number of FCC trains arriving on time has reached its highest ever level; cancellations are at an all-time low. In August/September 2008, 93.94% of FCC services arrived on time or within five minutes at their destination. This is the highest level reached over the past eight years of operating the route. In the same period, only 1.39% of services were cancelled, beating the previous low that was attained in March 2008.

Wheel condition is now the best that it has ever been and wheel slide protection faults have all but been eradicated with the consequence that wheel flats, which cause discomfort to the travelling public, are almost completely eliminated. Two Ultrasonic axle testers were trained and started to operate at Cauldwell.

Currently, Cauldwell Depot is carrying out a major refurbishment project on traction motors funded by the Department for Transport at a cost of £7.6 million. The work involves grinding the commutator in situ with specialised machinery supplied by Morganite Electrical Carbon Ltd. The project is now about 30% complete and is already proving its worth. The heavy snows of February 2009 created the usual problems with traction motors to the extent that there were 28 failures reported. Significantly, none of these failures were attributed to the modified motors and perhaps the old 'wrong sort of snow' legend may now be laid to rest.

The new extension
On 15th January 2009, the extension of the existing four-road depot with the addition of a fifth road was officially opened. The new road has a full length inspection pit and elevated platforms in order to provide door-level access to units by maintenance staff.

Main contractor, VolkerFitzpatrick completed the £2.2 million extension on time and budget despite having to work in a very constricted site with staff and trains working around them every day. This extension is vital to the operational success of FCC in maintaining a new fleet of air-conditioned Class 377 Electrostars. These will introduce new levels of passenger comfort and safety as well as providing a much needed capacity boost on the Thameslink route. 

By the end of 2009, Cauldwell Depot will be required to carry out maintenance on a fleet of 109 four-car units consisting of 86 Class 319s and 23 Class 377s, more than double its workload of 43 four-car units five years ago. To do this, an additional 27 skilled staff have been employed.

Every train that enters Cauldwell is washed first to avoid subsequent shunt moves. It then proceeds to the CET plant on roads 1 and 2 for toilet tank emptying and header tank replenishment – once that is completed, it is split into four-car units, cleaned internally, with mechanical and electrical maintenance then carried out. The 319 and 377 units are dual voltage (750V DC and 25,000V AC) but Cauldwell carries no 750V DC supply. Testing on this part of the equipment is therefore done by means of self-testing equipment on the train where a 750V supply can be simulated.

Further expansion at Cauldwell is a possibility but will be difficult. On the west side, there is a large trading estate with a busy scrap metal processing plant whilst, to the east, residential properties and a school inhibit any development in that direction. On the plus side however, the covered workshop could be extended to take eight-car sets without having to split them into two four-car sets as is the case currently.

Personnel protection
Personnel protection during the movement of trains into and out of the depot is achieved by the use of Zonegreen SMART™ Depot Personnel Protection System (DPPS). This system was featured in the rail engineer back in February 2008. Satisfaction with the system, which was fitted on the original layout's four tracks, resulted in it then being employed on the new fifth road. It is a tribute to the efficiency of the SMART™ DPPS that there have been no reported incidents or accidents related to the movement of trains. The health and safety record at Cauldwell is also excellent, with only one reportable accident in the past four years. 

The Electrostar train is a well proven product with over 1,600 cars already in service with c2c, southeastern and Southern TOCs. They have been named as the most reliable Electric Multiple Unit in the UK for the past three years. The latest generation of 377s to enter service on the Bedford-Brighton route will have a top speed of 160 km/h (100 mph). Passenger comfort and safety will be greatly enhanced with air-conditioning along with audio and visual passenger information systems linked to GPS. Each car will be fitted with CCTV for enhanced internal security, allowing drivers to view car interiors whilst the train is stationary.

The future
It is the intention of Cauldwell's management team to continue to improve the performance of the Thameslink fleet by making further inroads into 'miles per casualty' and 'delay minutes' figures. Bombardier technicians will provide technical support to Cauldwell staff, some of whom have already been to Selhurst for training on Southern's 377s. There is also some cross-depot training between Cauldwell and Hornsey depots which make up FCC's engineering division.

When all new trains are running, all but ten rush-hour trains will consist of eight-car sets. Eventually, the Thameslink Programme will radically transform capacity on the route with a proposal to eventually provide an infrastructure that will allow 12 car trains to run from Bedford to Brighton.

Many thanks to Jason Long, Cauldwell's Depot Manager, Richard Farish, FCC's Operations Standards Development Manager and Dave Crawley for their help in providing information, photographs and access for this feature.


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