Sunday, 12 December 2010

So as we pass the 4th anniversary of the rebirth of Eastleigh Works its worth a few moments to consider just how much has been achieved and what a change has been wrought in those years.

Back in late 2006 the Works was a strange place to be. Alstom still held the lease and seemed intent on razing the site to the ground. All of the track to the south end of the site had been ripped up in the preceeding months and wherever you looked there were contractors removing equipment and scrapping vital machinery. Even the 3rd rail system was within days of being ripped out for the scrap value of the conductor rails.
Yet at the same time there were many tangible signs of the fact that the place had been in full use only a few months before.
At first we were only able to use the tracks for storage although we took very little time to fill them with DMUs and 442 Wessex Electrics. We had no shunting engine and hired 73136 to move the stock around until we were able to buy D2991 / 07007 from ERPS. Even that was surreal for the little loco was covered in a film of rust and grime and looked as if it would never run again.

Moving the clock forward a few months, what really started the change was when we agreed to rent part of the Lift shop from Alstom, intially to store rolling stock but then to allow us to maintain trains. It was at that time that we started our relationship with Arlington Fleet who had 2 x 47s that had been purchased from a scrap yard and that needed to be fully overhauled for COLAS. Within a few months they had the locos in sparkling condition and we hosted a naming ceremony/ press day to launch the locos into COLAS service. The significance of overhauled locos leaving a Works that was supposed to be shut caught the imagination of the industry and was the catalyst for many of the projects that were to become so critical to the future of the Works.
Hot on the heels of Arlington came Wabtec who set up a full production line to overhaul 153s and 158s in Bay 4. Although Wabtec have since vacated Eastleigh, their role in re-establishing the Works as a place where rail vehicles were overhauled once again can't be overstated. At their peak they had 40 or so people working on their projects, many of them former Eastleigh staff who were happy to come back to the Works.
Alongside all of this we had Network Rail's MPVs operating out of Bay 3 and then taking a much larger area in Bay 2 on a long agreement. It was through their experience of operating MPVs from the Works that they brought the overhaul programme for the rail grinders into Bay 3, making this the third area within the main building where overhauls were taking place.

A programme of test runs for the 442s was another demonstration of the value of the Works and kept the fleet in good order.

No review of the past 4 years can be complete without mention of Eastleigh 100. In many ways this was a microcosm for the story of the four years. It started in a small way through our desire to tell the world that we were still here, as well our understanding of the historical significance of the place where we worked. Left to our own devices we would probably just had a small celebration, but Chris Milner from the Railway Magazine had different ideas and offered the support of his team to make it a much bigger event. It was also interesting to talk to the local council when we planned the event. They didn't even realise that the Works was open again and the look of delight on their faces when they found out was priceless. Like the RM they were to give us invaluable help with what was becoming something completely unrecognisable from the small celebration we had originally planned.

It is history now that the E100 weekend was an astonishing success, bringing both enthusiasts and the local people onto site to show their support for the Works that refused to die. Nineteen thousand visitors came to the Works and we had peak time live broadcasts on both the BBC and ITV news programmes that weekend.

My own memories of that crazy weekend are of being overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the 40 locomotives that came home, in particular the steam engines that were such an integral part of the history of the place. One warm evening when the public had gone home I found myself alone with 3 Bulleid engines in light steam standing outside the shed where they were built and maintained throughout their life. It was one of those rare moments in life when everything is just perfect and can't be improved. I still get shivers up my spine when I recall the emotion of the weekend and all that we were able to achieve.

Since 2009 the big development has been arrival of Siemens for the overhaul of their EMUs. Since it was the winning of the South West Trains order for new trains by Siemens that was the final coffin in Alstoms tenure of the Works, it is completely fitting that the major work in Bay 4 is once again the overhaul of EMUs for the Waterloo services. Siemens are excellent people to work with and we all hope that they will be with us for many years to come.

And so to the present.

Looking around the Works last week I counted the number of synchronised (Mechan) jacks on site and was surprised to find it that there are 40 0f them in use. If you had told me that this would be the case on a cold December day in 2006, when I was shutting down the first 153s to come on site, I would have laughed in your face.

Now we have a Works where you can find skilled staff employed on the overhaul and repair of modern EMUs and class 66 diesels, alongside wagons and track mainteinace machines. There is even an Eastleigh built steam engine under overhaul in the Van Shop and apprentices halfway through their training at the Works.

I can't possibly guess where the Works goes from here. At some stage in the future we will have to spend large amounts of money undoing the neglect and under-investment of the Alstom years and to do that we will need continued success in winning big contracts. Whether or not the rail industry needs Eastleigh Works will depend on factors outside our our control and decisions made by politicians who know nothing about the railways.

Whatever else happens we have the satisfaction of knowing that in small corner of Hampshire we have proved that those people who say that we can't or shouldn't do heavy engineering in Britain in the 21st century are wrong.

Here's to the next 4 years

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