HomeEditor's ViewAt last, an (unofficial) plan!

At last, an (unofficial) plan!

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Following recent editorials entitled ‘Where’s the plan’ and ‘There is no plan’, this issue also focuses on the need for one. In doing so we make no apologies for emphasising the need for a whole system plan to engineer the railway of the future.

In May 2021, the Williams-Shapps report committed to the production of a 30-year ‘Whole Industry Strategy Plan’ in 2022. There is as yet no such plan and the Great British Railways Transition Team (GBRTT) is unable to advise when it will be produced. There is thus no (Westminster) Government long-term plan to get the best from its railways.

Rail Engineer is therefore pleased to report that the Railway Industry Association (RIA) has published a pragmatic, credible plan entitled ‘Delivering a lower cost, higher performing, net zero railway by 2050’. This shows how, with the right strategy, all these things can simultaneously be delivered in an affordable manner as this plan is largely based on existing plans to which the Government is committed.

RIA’s report also shows how ‘boom and bust’ procurement can be eliminated to reduce costs, save jobs, and give the railway supply chain a predictable workload.

However, this report has no official status. Hence it recommends that Government empowers a cross-industry group to further develop and test its analysis, and that GBRTT is empowered to work with this group to develop an official strategy. Although GBRTT has not been idle in this respect, its analysis is not in the public domain. After the election, it is to be hoped that the new government will act on RIA’s recommendations as a matter of urgency.

RIA’s report proposed extensive use of battery electric multiple units (BEMU) which, without any further electrification, could replace diesel trains on over half the routes they currently operate.

In his feature about battery electric and battery hybrid trains, Malcolm Dobell considers the latest developments in battery traction. This describes the introduction of ex-Vivarail Class 230 battery trains on the GWR Greenford branch and its fast charging system. It also considers the introduction of Siemens Mireo plus B BEMUs in Germany which are charged from the overhead line and can run for 120km off the wires with the same performance as electric traction.

Hitachi has also announced a trial to replace a 6.5-tonne diesel generator with a battery pack of equivalent weight on a TransPennine Class 802 bi-mode unit. It is hoped that the replacement of all diesel generators by batteries on these units will give them a range of 100km off the wires. In another development, Southeastern trains has announced that its new third-rail DC EMUs could have batteries for power supply failure as well as enhancing safety in stations, depots, and sidings.

Clearly, increasing numbers of the UK train fleet will be battery powered. Yet it has to be recognised that traction batteries are not cheap. Hence, for an intensive service, electrification is likely to be the lower whole-life cost option.

Credit: RIA.

Although RIA’s plan makes the best use of existing electrification, it does envisage a further 4,400 route kilometres of electrification by 2050 to increase the proportion of the network that is electrified from 38% to 66%. It is therefore essential that the industry can deliver this electrification in a cost-effective manner. We show how the Siemens Sicat SX overhead line system offers one way of doing this by increasing span lengths to significantly reduce the number of masts required.

Important though it is to optimise future traction and electrification options, a future rail strategy has to consider much more than this. Looking to the future, we report from an event that considered the legal, passenger, trade union, and industry perspectives, and the eventual creation of Great British Railways. Just how the railway will be structured and operated remains unclear, but it is clear that finance will be key to everything.

Reducing both installation and operating costs as well as improving performance was the aim of the West Country signalling upgrade project. Clive Kessell explains how this was achieved. Another recently completed upgrade project in the Hope Valley will provide more services and better, more reliable connectivity between Sheffield and Manchester as Paul Darlington describes. We also report on HS2’s major construction projects at the Bromford tunnel portal and the Thame Valley viaduct with its innovative LEGO-like construction
There is always much to learn from RIA’s annual innovation conference especially from speakers outside the rail industry. As we describe, AI and robots were a key part of this year’s event. In another feature we describe RSSB’s portfolio of rail freight research projects. As this article makes clear, successful rail freight innovation requires a whole system approach.

RSSB also supports the Vehicle/Track System Interface Committee (V/T SIC) of which a sub-group is the Adhesion Research Group (ARG) which manages the ADHEsion REsearch challenge (ADHERE). Each year, V/T SIC presents its research findings to an industry seminar. As we report, this year’s event covered trailing arm bushes, axle bearings, wrong side track circuit failures from rail contamination, enzyme leaf fall treatment, and the use of machine learning to estimate rail adhesion.

Poor ride due to hunting was another topic considered by the V/T SIC seminar. This showed how hunting can occur when both track and wheel profiles are within allowable wear limits. Hence this problem can only be resolved with joint action by operators and infrastructure managers.

A further article from this seminar concerns rail breaks which, although at a record low, still present a safety risk and cause major delays. This shows the potential of AI to further reduce rail breaks by identifying rail break precursors from track recording data and videos.

We highlight the very real risk of cyber-attacks in two features. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) considers that the UK’s critical sectors face a threat that is ‘enduring and significant’.We describe the nature of this threat and the action that needs to be taken.

The UK rolling stock fleet is a mix of “super computers on wheels” reliant on cloud-based systems and older trains running updated versions of software originally coded 25 years ago. Our feature explains how rolling stock is vulnerable to both bugs and cyber-attacks and why train software must have a software quality assurance plan detailing its full validation, verification, and testing activity.
As always, Rail Engineer highlights the complexity of today’s railway engineering and the achievements of the industry’s engineers in maintaining and enhancing trains and infrastructure. It is to be hoped that, after the election, a strategic plan will be developed so that the nation can make the best use of this expertise.

Lead image credit: Siemens Mobility

David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEM
David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEMhttp://therailengineer.com

Rolling stock, depots, Scottish and Russian railways

David Shirres joined British Rail in 1968 as a scholarship student and graduated in Mechanical Engineering from Sussex University. He has also been awarded a Diploma in Engineering Management by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

His roles in British Rail included Maintenance Assistant at Slade Green, Depot Engineer at Haymarket, Scottish DM&EE Training Engineer and ScotRail Safety Systems Manager.

In 1975, he took a three-year break as a volunteer to manage an irrigation project in Bangladesh.

He retired from Network Rail in 2009 after a 37-year railway career. At that time, he was working on the Airdrie to Bathgate project in a role that included the management of utilities and consents. Prior to that, his roles in the privatised railway included various quality, safety and environmental management posts.

David was appointed Editor of Rail Engineer in January 2017 and, since 2010, has written many articles for the magazine on a wide variety of topics including events in Scotland, rail innovation and Russian Railways. In 2013, the latter gave him an award for being its international journalist of the year.

He is also an active member of the IMechE’s Railway Division, having been Chair and Secretary of its Scottish Centre.


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