How to refurbish… an Avanti West Coast Pendolino


With the oldest Class 390 Pendolino vehicles now over 20 years old, the whole fleet is undergoing a comprehensive internal refurbishment. On April 28, Rail Express was invited to Alstom’s Widnes depot to see first-hand work progressing at full tilt on two units. All text/images by Mark Simmons.

Peeking out of Road 1 in the three-road facility at Widnes, No. 390156 is the fifth set to undergo full interior refreshment. One of the depot’s two shunters No. 08454 is visible (the other, No. 08721, is out of view on the single line siding to the left).

AVANTI West Coast had hoped to celebrate the twentieth birthday of the Class 390 Pendolinos with a record-breaking run from London to Glasgow. Sadly, the attempt, as featured in our August 2021 issue, didn’t quite come off, though a rerun remains on the cards.

In the meantime, the West Coast Main Line train operator is putting the whole fleet through an internal refurbishment programme, while a new fleet of 23 bi-mode and electric Class 805 and 807 units are under construction at Hitachi’s Newton Aycliffe plant.

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The grilles over the floor level heating system have been removed to allow the areas to be washed clean. As well as 20 years’ worth of grime visible in the bucket, many small items (including old style pound coins) have been recovered and removed (view inside 390156).

The Class 390 refit will see most interior fittings removed and either replaced or refurbished. A total of 1372 tasks need to be completed on each set, progress monitored and checked via digital means, including tablets and computers. Around 60 people at any one time will be working on the units as they pass through the three-road depot at Widnes, where Alstom has invested £3 million in providing multi-level platforms for working the full length of trains. (The facility is also working on the reworking of Class 458 express EMUs for South Western Railway – the first units Nos. 458517 and 458507 arrived in January).

Some of the original seats are retained for reuse in the First and Standard Premium parts of the train. These, removed from 390156, will be refurbished, before being reupholstered. The remaining original seats from each set are expected to be reused away from the railway.

The Pendolino project will see the units given three class interiors for the first time, following AWC’s decision to offer a ‘Standard Premium’ option between Standard and First Class. The 35 11-car units will be refurbished first, followed by the 21 nine-car sets. Younger units have been selected at the start of the programme to allow the process to bed in, as older units will require more intensive floor works following the discovery of floorboard degradation.

Set No. 390155, the fourth to be refurbished, which was around 90% complete at the time of RE’s visit, stands on the Widnes facility’s single line siding awaiting installation of final parts, including tables in Standard class.

Set No. 390125 was the first set to undergo refurbishment, with work starting under Covid conditions in July 2021. Completion was 30 weeks later, with the second set (No. 390123) emerging just 16 weeks later and the third (No. 390148) taking half that time. (These units have gone to Longsight for commissioning.) The two units at Widnes at the time of RE’s visit (Nos. 390155 and 156) are expected to pass through the facility in four weeks and two weeks respectively. A night shift was due to be implemented in early May to work towards an aspiration to ultimately process units at the rate of one per week. All units are expected to have been refurbished by 2024.

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Pendolino refurb – in numbers

25,000Seats replaced
11.5Kilometres of new Axminster carpet flooring
4900New tables (with integrated USB and wireless phone charging)
462Toilet upgrades
56New shop installations
22Passenger infotainment screens in each 11-car set
80%Total project spend within the UK supply chain
Many interior fittings are removed before remaining surfaces are thoroughly cleaned (view inside 390156).
Sadly, no panoramic dome is to be installed here, rather a section of roof has been temporarily removed to allow easy extraction of the old shop fittings and insertion of the new ones (view inside 390156).
A largely completed Standard class coach (the protective carpet covering will be removed before the unit re-enters service). New glass partitions have been installed (view inside 390155) and, cleverly, three-pin plug/USB sockets have been put at the bottom of the seat in front, rather than under each seat. A new ceiling-mounted seat occupancy system monitors seats in real time to indicate where in the train seats are unoccupied.
The only area not to be fully refurbished in each set is the kitchen. The WCs will be partially refurbished including new vinyls in the interiors and new seats
Normally unseen and covered up, the locking on points in the floor for furniture panels in the shop area of the train briefly see the light of day (view inside 390156).
First and Standard Premium class sections are fitted with refurbished/reupholstered original seats and to the same pitch, to allow these areas to be used flexibly (more or less First seating), depending on the service. The difference between these two classes is now focused on the level of service (view inside 390155).
The new Standard class seats have winged headrests in a similar style to Lumo’s Class 803 Hitachi trains. RE would describe them as firm, but with definitely more ‘give’ than IET and other modern train seats. The amount of leg room is generous, and impressive, given that overall seat numbers have been maintained (view inside 390155).

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