Guest author: Tom Bowman, commercial director at Dura Composites.
The year-long independent rail review announced by Chris Grayling in October, described as a “root and branch” review into the rail industry and led by former British Airways boss Keith Williams, is set to focus on the effectiveness of the franchise system, infrastructure upgrades and how best to ensure that the government’s £48 billion investment programme delivers value for money over the next five years.
But with the latest half year ‘Network Rail Monitor’ report from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR – the independent safety and economic regulator for Britain’s railways) showing punctuality and reliability at their lowest levels since the current five year control period began in 2014, it’s critical that Network Rail, train operators, contractors and suppliers to the rail network work effectively together to ensure that innovation keeps pace with changing needs.
The ORR has now approved £24.3 billion to be spent in Great Britain on maintaining (£7.7 billion) and renewing (£16.6 billion) the existing railway during Control Period 6 (1 April 2019-31 March 2024), which amounts to a 17 per cent increase in renewal work from the £14.2 billion earmarked during CP5. Commenting on the decision, ORR chief executive John Larkinson said: “There is no time to lose; Network Rail and, in particular, the routes and system operators, must make sure they are ready to deliver from day one of the new control period.”
Importance of material selection
One way in which this can feasibly be achieved is through the appropriate selection of material for key infrastructure projects. Advanced materials such as FRP/GRP (fibre or glass reinforced polymer) composites can provide major design flexibility, time saving benefits and significant life cycle advantages, and recent clarification of key standards areas such as fire performance have made them more accessible than ever.
It’s been almost 30 years since FRP composites were installed as part of Britain’s transport network within bridge structures, but the composite material innovation that the industry has seen since then has been staggering.
In the UK, the market for composites is growing rapidly as asset owners reap the benefits that a low-maintenance, lightweight, non-conductive and robust alternative to traditional materials can have on the modernisation of an aging infrastructure.
With over 4.7 million rail journeys made in the UK every day, the stations where people start and end their journeys are a key focus for improvements to the passenger experience. Changes to rolling stock require longer platforms, and Victorian platform installations require replacement or refurbishment as they reach the end of their service life after more than a century of heavy use. Traditionally, remedial works using materials such as concrete can require long possessions and road-rail vehicles are required for the transportation of associated materials. Even when concrete is used, there is still no easy solution to fixing the problem of stepping distances between the train and the platform when subsidence means they have become out-of-gauge.
Dura Composites entered the market with a viable and award-winning solution to the problem back in 2014, with the introduction of the patented GRP Dura Platform. Dura Platform allows contractors to replace or overlay onto damaged or subsided platforms with a low maintenance, height adjustable GRP structure that enhances safety with anti-slip surface options, in-built water management, integral lines, integral lighting, snow melting capability and that has similar or lower overall project costs than concrete.
The modular lightweight sections are suitable for lifting by hand and are designed to be assembled in hard-to-reach sites where large cranes or heavy machinery cannot be used.
Of the 18 platforms completed, recent Dura Platform installations have included Platforms 1 and 2 at East Croydon station, where the existing brick paving and tarmac surface was causing issues with the passenger train interface due to a combination of platform curvature, track geometry and rolling stock. Efficiently designed and installed by Hammond ECS whilst the station remained open to passengers, the Dura Platform surface featured integral LED lighting strips and certain areas were installed with underfloor heating to minimise risk of frost and slippery surfaces in winter.
In Scotland, Livingston South station has also benefitted from the significant time and cost savings offered by Dura Platform. Its non-conductive properties met compliance requirements for electrified railway environments and the new six-carriage trains that will be introduced on the route.
For 2019, Dura Platform now includes the option of a solid surface on the 600mm plank, which removes the need for longitudinal cover plates to cover the fixings and provides a more uniform, aesthetically pleasing finish.
And, what’s more, in recognition of the increased need for advanced fire, smoke and toxicity (FST) properties to enhance safety, Dura Composites has worked closely with Network Rail to update the GRP fire safety specifications aligned to particular test standards for common applications such as station platforms, bridge walkways and stairs and driver walkways.
Classifications have now been published that cover both structural and non-structural applications for GRP and include fire tests including flame spread, burn time and load bearing testing. All Network Rail projects are obligated to use products that meet these British and European Fire Safety Standards.
Commenting on the standards, Dura Composites commercial director Tom Bowman said: “Our GRP Rail solutions meet or exceed all of Network Rail’s upgraded test standards and Dura Platform performs better than any other product on the market. We’re delighted to have worked with Network Rail to bring clarity to the standards to help project designers and specifiers make an informed choice about the right materials that will accelerate improvements to the rail network”.
In addition to new-build composite station platforms, extensions and major redevelopments, Dura Composites is also instrumental in a raft of other cost-effective, non-conductive and time-saving station upgrade projects utilising its market leading GRP/FRP solutions including footbridge refurbishments, dagger boards, end-of-platform gates and boundary fencing.