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The ageing Southend pier trains are expected to be replaced early next year after the announcement that a leisure transport company has been brought on board by the council.
The Warwickshire-based company Severn Lamb announced it had secured a contract with Southend Council to build the new trains and promised they will be “eco-friendly” and cheaper to run.
Severn Lamb was behind the two existing diesel trains which were opened by Princess Anne in May 1986. While they were only supposed to have a lifespan of 20 years, the council has kept them in service for more than 30 and last year funding of £3.25million was allocated for their replacement.
The design of the new trains is still being finalised with the council considering four ‘nose designs’ for the train, along with three potential colour schemes.
Severn Lamb have promised the trains will offer passengers a “fantastic viewing experience” thanks to large panoramic windows and a modern design.
The company will also produce zero emissions, have reduced running costs and be able to run with fewer carriages during off-peak times.
Matthew French, sales and marketing executive at the Severn Lamb said: “We are honoured to be working on this project again after many years and these completely custom designs are shaping up to be something truly special.
“We were awarded the contract about a month and half ago after being in tender against number of businesses in the UK.
“This is a really important project for us as we previously did the trains in 1986 so this is keeping in the Severn Lamb and Southend family.
“We’ve not finalised the details in terms of design yet but we will be working with the council to do so and as with many of our other projects, the trains will be running on battery system which is far more eco-friendly than the hydraulic system in the existing trains.
He added that that the plan is for construction on the trains to begin in the middle of the year and coming into operation early 2021 but this will also depend on the council.
Councillor Carole Mulroney, deputy cabinet member for business, culture and tourism, said: “Southend pier is iconic. It brings thousands of visitors to our town every year, and we know that part of that draw is to travel the length of the world’s longest pleasure pier on the traditional diesel trains.
“As we continue our drive to create a carbon neutral Southend, we are pleased that the new trains will be fully electric and produce zero emissions, which we know is something that is very important to local residents.
“This is in line with the council’s ambitions to be carbon neutral by 2030.
“I am excited to see the proposed designs, and would like to hear the views of local people and residents to help inform the decision we make on what to go ahead with.”
The company behind the next generation of pier trains
The company behind the new pier trains is no stranger to Southend having previously created the two diesel trains that have been operating on the line for more than 30 years.
The engineering firm Severn Lamb has been building trains for attractions around the world since 1947 and have supplied transport to some of the world’s top attractions including Disneyland in Paris and in Hong Kong.
Their relationship with Southend began in 1986 when they built the two trains which continue to operate and introduced a simplified line for the pier, which involves a single track with a passing loop and twin track terminal stations.
But after operating for far beyond their 20-year planned lifespan, the trains are set to be replaced at a cost of £3.25million.
This week it was announced that Severn Lamb had won the contract to build the replacement trains and while they have said it is too early to reveal details of the design, they have promised they will be eco-friendly and offer passengers panoramic views of the seafront.
Much of the design work will be carried out in cooperation with the council.
A spokesperson for Severn Lamb said: “Our process is to understand the clients’ requirements, to understand if we have an existing product or components from existing products that might be suitable, to design and certify the design against the nominated standards, and then move into production.
“There are several design reviews along the way.”
The company is aiming to finish the designs in the coming months and to have begun construction by June or July. If all goes to plan the trains will be on the tracks before April 2021.
The added that replacing trains when they reach the end of their lifespan is important because finding replacement parts can be challenging, if not impossible.
They added: “When this begins to impact the reliability, safety and uptime of the train and then in turn the commerciality, it is at this point, or earlier, that operators begin to think about replacement.
“Maintaining a safe operation is obviously also critical, which often goes hand in hand with reliability.”
History of the trains
The Southend pier train dates back to 1890 when an electric tramway was installed by the company Cromptons.
It started with just a single car travelling along a 0.75mile track but became so popular that a year later the track was lengthened to 1.25miles and the number of trains gradually grew until there were four in operation with seven cars in each.
It wasn’t until 1949 when there was another major overhaul on the line and the old trains were replaced with new ones similar in design to those operating on the London Underground. In 1978 the electric railway stopped operating due to the wear and tear of the track and the high cost of repairs.
A new track was laid between 1984 and 1986 and Severn Lamb was brought in to resurrect the famous seafront transport system with two new diesel-hydraulic locomotives running on a single track with a passing loop.
Those continue to operate today and will be replaced in early 2021.
Council investment in the pier
In budget proposals for 2020, Southend Council has said it will allocate £5.3million to maintenance work and the refurbishment of the pier.
Details of exactly how the money will be spent remains unclear but shortly after details of the budget was published the council’s deputy leader Cllr Ron Woodley explained that it is vital for the long-term survival of the pier and the introduction of the new pier trains.
The plan to replace the trains was approved by councillors last year as part of a package of investment that aims to make significant improvements to Southend’s most famous landmark.
That funding includes £3million to be spent on replacing the trains, £10.5 million for a new pavilion deck on the end of the pier and £1 million for the refurbishment of the Cliffs Pavilion in summer 2020.