SCOTRAIL has launched a £2.2 million bid to upgrade its most unreliable trains, which have been condemned as the product of "garden-shed engineering".
The move came as punctuality worsened in half of the train operator’s main route areas this month, with only two of the six hitting timekeeping targets.
The diesel-class 158 Expresses, which run on some of ScotRail’s routes, have been plagued with engine, heating and bodywork faults since being introduced in 1990. The entire fleet of 46 was withdrawn at one point after an alternator fell off a train on the Forth Bridge.
Other problems have included faulty brakes, stiff suspensions causing cracks in the bodywork and frequent air-conditioning breakdowns.
The 158s have undergone several overhauls but are still much less reliable than ScotRail’s best-performing diesel trains. They break down on average every 4,000 miles compared to 10,000 miles on other diesels, causing a total of more than ten days’ worth of delays every year. The trains are even less reliable than ScotRail’s newest diesel fleet, the fault-prone class 170 Turbostars, the engines of which are being replaced.
The ScotRail bid is believed to be among the first to the new Strategic Rail Authority’s (SRA) 400 million Rail Performance Fund to improve train timekeeping. The SRA said it was still considering the application.
ScotRail has 40 of the two-coach trains, which run on some services between Edinburgh and Glasgow Queen Street and between those cities and Inverness. They also run between Edinburgh and Fife and Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh and Wick.
Eddie Toal, a ScotRail spokesman, said the work was expected to improve reliability by a third, significantly reducing delays and cancellations.
He said when the trains were introduced on the Highland routes, punctuality slumped and caused more frequent use of buses to replace failed trains.
The bid comprises 1.3 million from the SRA and 900,000 from Porterbrook, the rolling stock company that leases the trains to ScotRail.
Robert Samson, the depute secretary of the Rail Passengers Committee Scotland, said: "We fully support this bid because we recognise there are ongoing reliability problems and it would help deliver the service that passengers deserve."
Porterbrook, which is part of Abbey National, said the trains had never been properly "bedded down" before being introduced by British Rail.
They were used in Scotland before being introduced to other parts of the UK. BR initially refused to accept the trains from Brel because of their "garden-shed engineering".
Punctuality slipped in the Edinburgh, central and south-west ScotRail areas in the month to 20 July by up to 1.3 per cent.
Trains on express routes, such as Edinburgh-Glasgow Queen Street and in the Highlands, are the only ones meeting targets, with improvements of up to almost 4 per cent.