Armstrong Way depot: Abellio builds a sustainable future

Armstrong Way, Abellio London’s new depot in Southall, is a demonstration of its dedication to a safer, cleaner future for the transport industry. Routeone paid the new site a visit

The future of sustainable bus travel is in Armstrong Way in the heart of West London, Abellio London’s latest addition to the Southall bus network. The new site is a demonstration of the company’s investment in public transport and is, according to Abellio, a “futureproof, ethical investment”.

Abellio only recently celebrated its past with a 10-year anniversary function at its Battersea depot last week. Over that time, the company says that in working closely with Transport for London (TfL) it has taken British public transport to a world-class level – and Armstrong Way will continue that trend.

Sights are set firmly on the future. Backed by Abellio’s owner Dutch Railways and funded by the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), one of the largest principal private pension schemes in the UK, the new purpose-built depot is a major investment in an area where the company says buses are crucial.

Armstrong Way: Purpose-built

exterior shot of the armstrong way depot
Exterior shot of Abellio London’s Armstrong Way depot

Inside the six engineering workshop bays, it’s business as usual. Most of the maintenance work at Armstrong Way is routine – such as MoT inspections and wheel changes. Abellio relies on its network of suppliers for other major work.

But shifting away from the routine is the company’s decision to move from paper maintenance records to digital. Combined with Earned Recognition (ER) – the result of a five-day audit of matters such as recruitment, operations, performance, schedules and engineering – the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) now has full access to its maintenance records for total transparency of its work.

All scheduled maintenance and MoT work is done using Freeway Fleet Systems’ fleet and asset management software. The digital system – manifested in tablets assigned to engineers – makes all staff aware of any faults and defects for instant correction or scheduling.

Convenience is one side of the modern depot. Safety is another. With Vision Zero now part of TfL’s safety approach, which aims to eradicate road deaths on London’s transport network by 2041, it’s not surprising to see safer methods employed at its depot. This includes doing away with traditional pit barriers. No longer is there a trip hazard of barriers and chains. Motorised pit covers eradicate risks when deployed and while this is a first for the company according to Engineering Director Jon Eardley, it sets the pattern for installation into all its depots.

Outside, meanwhile, are full wash facilities, and a traffic light system to ensure no pedestrians pass in front of vehicles in the fuel line. This, too, is a first for Abellio, and will be applied next into Walworth depot and into other sites as time goes by.

Environmental standards

The move to zero emission is happening. As part of the London Mayor’s transport strategy, TfL has committed all its buses across London to be zero emission by 2037.

The Southall depot is part and parcel of those aims. Photovoltaics and a central system manage power consumption and lighting. Low energy air source heat pumps are used, and Abellio says it intends to superimpose electric charging points in phases as TfL moves towards electrification.

Speaking to routeone, Managing Director of Abellio London Bus Tony Wilson says: “The depot itself is built to the latest environmental standards. It’s very much up to the minute in design.”

The phase-in approach of electrification strikes a balance between the current prevalence of hybrid vehicles, and the anticipation of electric in the future.

“Full electrification is many years away,” Tony adds. “But within the next two to three years, we will potentially have 20 to 30 vehicles in operation.

“The prospect that we need to ensure is that we get full useful life out of the hybrid double-decks, which are still being bought into the business today. As far as electric is concerned, it’s the early adoption where there’s opportunity.”

Sustainability has also played a part in finding the location for the depot, which, from identifying a suitable site to finding developers and landowners who saw the opportunity, has been fraught with difficulty – the search began back in 2013. “It’s a very heavily bus reliant area,” Tony adds. “You have to have bus depots somewhere, and the most efficient way is to have them within the community.”

Safer transport

A demonstration of abellio London's driver training, using a special livery double-deck
Driver training at Armstrong Way

Already demonstrated by its workshop, safety has played an important part in Armstrong Way. But the buses which leave the depot each day must be safe, too.

Abellio London was one of six operators who shared in TfL’s Bus Safety Innovation Fund. Last year, it began trialling Mobileye, and saw dramatic reductions in collisions and incidents.

It was also the first UK operator to take order of the Caetano e.city Gold, which will be deployed next year.

Abellio says the e.city Gold applies some of the most crucial and difficult innovations for the industry from the outset. The company will also work on retrofitting safety innovations into the existing vehicles in its network. When the Caetano arrives, it will be the most compliant vehicle in London for safety standards for years to come, Abellio says.

Alongside its dedicated driver apprenticeship scheme, Abellio London’s approach to its depots and its vehicles maintains its reputation as one of the cleanest, and safest, fleets in the city.