Siemens Northam Train Care Depot

In April 2001, the Strategic Rail Authority announced "Stagecoach" as the preferred bidder for the South West Trains franchise. On 24th of the same month, Stagecoach announced a £1,000 million investment in new rolling stock — a total of 785 carriages — to replace the franchise’s existing electric multiple units (EMU) that were slam-door and built to the BR Mk 1 profile. Siemens was selected to build the then new EMU fleet — which came under that company’s "Desiro" family of trains — and leasing company "Angel Trains" financed the purchase. The order included a maintenance contract for the fleet, and a separate agreement with financier HSBC Rail involved the procurement of a £25 million maintenance depot to be operated by manufacturer Siemens.

The site selected for the maintenance depot was in the Southampton suburb of Northam, little under ⅔-mile south of St Denys, on the eastern side of the main line, which at that time was occupied by sidings. A four-track maintenance building, measuring 233 metres by 23 metres and capable of accommodating ten-car EMU formations, was the main feature of the depot’s specification. This structure was steel framed; within it, all tracks were to be supplied power by an overhead trolley system, and the eastern-most set of rails would feature a bogie-drop facility allowing a wheel set of a unit to be replaced within a two-hour window. An inspection pit was to be situated in-between the rails of each track, the latter of which would also be flanked by two tiers of elevated walkway. Along the main building’s eastern elevation were to be offices and stores, beside which were planned four electrified berthing sidings. Of the latter, two of these would be able to accommodate up to twelve vehicles; the remaining pair up to sixteen vehicles.

In the September 2001 edition of The Railway Magazine, it was reported that construction work at the depot site had started in the previous July. The contract for building the facility was awarded to "Fitzpatrick Rail" and it was estimated that works would be finished by the end of 2002. On 14th March of that year, a ceremony was held to mark the completion of the main depot building’s steel framework — fitting out of the structure and track laying was scheduled to last until the following October. The formal opening of the depot by South West Trains and Siemens was not, however, until 2nd July 2003 (ref: The Railway Magazine, September 2003).

The aforementioned EMU berthing sidings, located on the eastern side of the site, adjacent to the depot’s offices, are electrified in the conventional manner by third rail and are equipped with controlled emission discharge toilet equipment. These tracks are also spanned by an enclosed footbridge forming a pedestrian route into the depot’s offices. 105-metres south of the main building is situated a lathe shed, which is used to re-profile the wheels of the Siemens units (not necessarily just those in use by the incumbent train operating company). The southern-most depot structure is that of the automatic carriage washer, which is a fully-enclosed structure, 67-metres in length, that accommodates a single track. The washing plant is designed to recycle 75% of the water it uses, function down to temperatures of minus five degrees Celsius, and handle four trains each hour (ref: The Railway Magazine, September 2003). An integrated computer system was part of the design specification, to identify when an EMU was last washed. The depot covers an area of 6,415 square metres, and the site is accessed by trains via a series of lengthy reception sidings that are illustrated on the accompanying diagram.

By November 2002, the first "Desiro" unit for South West Trains — Class 450 No. 450012 — had arrived at the Ministry of Defence railway site in Shoeburyness, Essex, for fitter training. Delivery of the first units was always forecast to precede the completion of Siemens’ depot at Northam, so commissioning of the new fleet was to initially take place at Strawberry Hill Depot, Twickenham. It later emerged that Bournemouth Depot was also likely to be used for bringing new units into service.

Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool

March 2012

Siemens’ depot is evident on the left of this view that shows “Freightliner” Class 66 No. 66549 heading northwards in the St Denys direction with a rake of aggregate hopper wagons in tow. To access the main depot building, units perform a reversing manoeuvre through a series of reception sidings. In the background, beyond the main building, can be seen the automatic carriage washer, whilst further still is the well-stayed roof of Southampton Football Club’s St Mary’s Stadium. © David Glasspool Collection