HomeEditor's ViewFor the want of a torque wrench

For the want of a torque wrench

A loose 10mm nut caused the derailment of ten 100-tonne tanker wagons at Llangennech, resulting in a fire and the spillage of nearly half a million litres of oil. Malcolm Dobell’s report explains how such an apparently small failing led to such a serious event and shows that, on a hi-tech railway, the basic nuts and bolts of engineering must not be forgotten. For example, the difference between a properly torque wrench tightened bolt and one with insufficient pre-load is a fraction of a spanner’s turn.

Yet the Llangennech derailment was about so much more than a loose nut. The RAIB report shows wagon work to be the Cinderella of rolling stock maintenance with depot facilities being ‘suboptimal’ for safety critical wagon maintenance. It also found significant deficiencies in maintenance practice and regulatory oversight. In a strongly worded statement, RAIB’s Chief Inspector Simon French stressed the need for improvement as deficient wagon maintenance has factored in more than 10 investigations over the last decade. The comprehensive recommendations in the RIAB report must surely bring the required improvement.

A further aspect of the Llangennech derailment was that a hot axle box detector (HABD), which was 14 minutes running time before the derailment, could have prevented the derailment had it alerted the signaller. This had both bearing and wheel temperature sensors which detected abnormally high wheel temperatures on one wagon. However, although this provided useful information for the RAIB investigation, it was not configured to provide alerts despite dragging brakes being a known derailment risk. A possible factor in this respect is that Network Rail own the HABD but have no responsibility for defective wagons.

By bringing together the management of infrastructure and trains, Great British Railways (GBR) should provide an improved whole system approach. To shape its strategic plan the GBR transition team has called for evidence from interested parties. We describe the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ response which highlights the benefits this approach in respect of issues such as maximising capacity, skills and development, the integration of rolling stock and infrastructure projects, innovation, and line closures for engineering work.

However GBR develops, the railway can only provide the required customer service with reliable assets that are available when required. We explain how the RAMS process supports this by considering the relationship between reliability, availability, maintainability, and safety and why this must be an essential part of any project or asset management system.

The increasing number of line closures concerns Clive Kessell who considers that a ‘blockade mentality’ results in excessive passenger disruption that would not have been allowed in previous years. The conflict between railway engineering access and passenger requirements is a difficult balance, yet current practice does not seem to be putting customers first. Some in the industry believe that this is due to financial pressures which result in a single point focus on narrowly defined engineering costs.

Hopefully, GBR will take a broader view on this and other issues. Our ‘Reforming Britain’s Railways’ feature outlines some of the challenges faced by GBR which includes working with devolved administrations. This also features in the Union Connectivity Review which concludes that the UK needs a strategic network of multi-modal corridors between Britain’s four nations. However, this does not include a fixed link to Northern Ireland. We report on this and the recently published Scottish Transport Projects Review.

The first railway connecting two UK nations was completed in 1850 when the Royal Border Bridge at Berwick opened to complete the rail link between London and Edinburgh. It now requires a major repair programme as Bob Wright reports. An earlier railway was London’s first inter-city railway to Birmingham which opened in 1838 to reduce the journey time between the two cities to a then remarkably quick 4 hours and 48 minutes. At Birmingham, this terminated at Curzon Street station which was a passenger station for only 16 years. Huw Fenwick explains why in an article describing the history of this station which is about to be reborn 200 years later as part of HS2.

In the latest of our articles on the professional engineering institutions, we feature the multidisciplinary Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and explain how this worldwide establishment can trace its 150-year pedigree. Prior to COP26, the IMechE staged two events, one on refocusing the railway in a post-pandemic world and a two-day event ‘Engineering a net-zero future’. Another pre-COP26 event was the Railway Industry Association’s RailDecarb21 Unlocking Innovation event. Although it is now some months since COP26, our reports on these events remain highly relevant.

Preserved railways are particularly good at introducing innovative signalling technologies to supplement their 19th century mechanical equipment. As Paul Darlington explains the heritage S&T community is supported in this, and other aspects, by the IRSE’s Minor Railways Section.

It is not that long since the Christmas period, which offered railway project managers the gift of a railway shutdown. As Rail Engineer reports, this enabled the delivery of over £133 million of engineering works in 1,900 possessions that incurred far fewer delays from overruns than in recent years. We should not forget the thousands of rail professionals who miss their Christmas times to do this work, often in foul weather, which gives passengers an improved, more reliable railway.

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

SPECIALIST AREAS
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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