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From TESCO to SNC-Lavalin

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Between 1994 and 1997, British Rail was split up into almost a hundred separate companies. Amongst these, TOCs, FOCs and ROSCOs are well known within the industry. Not so well known are the TESCOs (Train Engineering Service Companies), the sale of which raised £2.5 million in 1996. Of these, there were two management buy-outs, Engineering Link (later bought by AEA Technology whose rail division was sold to become DeltaRail) and Interfleet, whilst Network Train Engineering Services was sold to WS Atkins.

Interfleet was formerly the fleet engineering division of British Rail’s InterCity sector. When sold, it employed 99 staff, had a turnover of £5 million and an office in Derby. On celebrating its fifteenth birthday in March 2011, it employed 600 staff in 22 worldwide offices and had a turnover of £50 million. Six months later, Interfleet was acquired by the Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin Group, which delivers projects in the infrastructure, mining & metallurgy, oil & gas and power sectors. This includes rail projects such as the design and build of a new automated metro to Vancouver airport.

Until 2016, Interfleet continued to trade under its own brand with Richard George as its managing director. However, in January 2016, it became SNC-Lavalin Rail & Transit, part of the group’s infrastructure sector with Richard as its group managing director. This enabled the group to serve its global rail clients better by uniting its rail expertise.

Although the company is well known for its technical rolling stock engineering expertise, it also provides associated business services, safety and assurance services and manages rolling stock projects. Rail Engineer was glad to accept an invitation from SNC-Lavalin to find out more about the work carried out at its Derby offices.

Long term planning

Rolling stock director Jason Groombridge is clearly proud of his team which, he notes, has a combined 4,000 years of rolling stock expertise. He considers the maintenance and development of this expertise to be a long-term investment that is vital to the success of the business.

An essential aspect of this is the recruitment of eight to twelve graduates each year. Part of the company’s graduate scheme is their participation in the IMechE’s Railway Challenge. Entering first as Interfleet, and in 2016 as SNC- Lavalin, the company is the only organisation to have entered the challenge each year since it started in 2012. It won the first competition and repeated that feat this year, winning by a comfortable margin.

Andy McDonald, director of system consulting and assurance, offers another example of a long-term strategy. He explains how SNC-Lavalin is evaluating Britain’s rolling stock requirements in accordance with the franchise bid timetable and Department for Transport franchise requirements, which now include quality criteria. In this way, for each forthcoming franchise, cost models are produced for new and refurbished fleets. This enables the company to develop an optimum rolling stock strategy in support of prospective franchise bidders.

SNC-Lavalin, supported by Arup, is the rolling stock and depots technical advisor to HS2. As such, it is providing technical, business case and commercial advice on the specification and procurement of high-speed trains. This includes the development of a rolling stock and depot strategy, a performance-based technical specification for both classic- compatible and captive high-speed trains, and determination of the optimum mix of this rolling stock.

South Africa and Hong Kong

Another rolling stock project is the replacement of South Africa’s electric commuter trains. In 2011, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) engaged SNC-Lavalin to undertake a feasibility study to assess the replacement of its ageing EMU fleet. Later that year, the company was appointed to lead the procurement of a new fleet of 3,600 vehicles and, in 2013, to undertake a design review of the new fleet.

The resultant £3 billion contract for 600 trainsets, to be delivered between 2016 and 2027, was let to an Alstom Gibela joint venture in October 2013. This included a requirement that 69 per cent of the train’s value would be sourced locally by year two as well as the  provision of technical support and spares over an 18-year period.

Kevin Crofts leads the specialist rolling stock engineering team. As an example of this work, he described how SNC-Lavalin supported the Changchun Railway Vehicle Company (CRC) in its contract to supply 148 new metro cars, and to life-extend a further 348 cars, for Hong Kong MTR’s East-West Corridor.

This commission required SNC-Lavalin to support CRC in developing the design of the vehicles’ car bodies and bogies to meet MTR’s specification, which is based on British Standards, and could therefore potentially help CRC to enter the British rail market. The requirements included confirmation of a 40- year bogie fatigue life, refining the lightweight five-door-a-side vehicle body shell and the development of innovative repairs for vehicle life extension.

Product acceptance

SNC-Lavalin’s novel approach to gauging was explained by Stephen Pell, who joined the company graduate scheme in 2009 and now leads the dynamics and testing team. He described how the GAUGYX system was being developed. This uses a multi-body simulator to predict vehicle movement for more accurate dynamic gauging and quantifies the risk of a vehicle infringement. Stephen expects that this system would help manage potentially bigger vehicles or reduce the cost of infrastructure works.

In recent years, much has changed in the world of assurance. The European common safety method on risk evaluation and assessment (CSM-REA), along with Technical Specifications for Interoperability (TSIs), have replaced Railway Group Standards.

An example of this approach was provided by John Ovenden, section head for on-track machines, who described the challenges of assurance for Plasser and Theurer’s fifth High Output Ballast Cleaning System (HOBCS5) which involved the delivery of 53 individual vehicles of ten designs. These include the RM900 ballast cleaning machine, 09-2X/

CM tamping and consolidating machine and material, conveyor and hopper (MFS) wagons. The system also has transport systems and wagons for spoil and new ballast.

John describes how this is split into two work streams. The first, safety assessment, covers CSM-REA risk assessment, infrastructure compatibility and Network Rail product acceptance, while the second, conformity assessment, involves compliance TSIs and other standards.

With each different machine having hazards that are both distinct and similar to other machines, the assessment was packaged as appropriate. For example, the safety assessment was split into material conveyor and hopper wagons, self-propelled machines and other dead-hauled machines (the core system).

Plush train interiors

In contrast to utilitarian yellow plant, plush train interiors are conceived by SNC-Lavalin’s industrial design section. Its head, James Alton, makes the point that the company not only designs trains that look good, but has the expertise to ensure these interiors can be built and maintained in a cost-effective manner. An example of this is the way his team worked with Saudi Railway Company (SAR) and Spanish rolling stock supplier CAF on trains for the new 1,320km Saudi North- South Railway.

These are 200km/h trainsets with diesel- electric power cars at each end. The trains include executive, business and economy class accommodation as well as restaurant and sleeping cars. They have to cope with sandstorms and desert temperatures up to 55°C and will be first used when passenger services are launched between Riyadh and Qassim at the end of the year. James explains how his team worked with CAF and SAR to develop high-end designs that had to satisfy complex cultural issues, customer aspirations, operational requirements and extreme environmental conditions.

James’s team also supported the 20-month £16 million programme to refurbish 14 Heathrow Express Class 332 units, which was completed in 2013 on the fifteenth anniversary of the launch of the Heathrow Express service. The refurbishment included new vehicle interiors, including 1+1 first class seating, and an upgrade of the passenger information system. SNC-Lavalin undertook the required vehicle acceptance and developed the specification for the refurbishment work, which was undertaken at Railcare’s Wolverton works (now Knorr-Bremse).

Electrification and plant

A presentation from Ganesh Ayyanan, section head of electrification and plant, showed that SNC-Lavalin’s Derby offices are not only concerned with rolling stock. Ganesh explained that, to deliver electrification projects, the company has a 48-strong team (E&P – 18, building & structures – 15, track and survey – 15). Many of these are graduates and technicians who have been trained in-house.

As part of the National Electrification Programme (NEP), Ganesh’s team has been engaged on three distinct packages of work for Network Rail and its contractors.

Between 2012 and 2014, as part of the forthcoming electrification from London to Sheffield, the team undertook a feasibility exercise to analyse upgrade and replacement options for the overhead line equipment (OLE) between London and Bedford, which was originally installed in the early 1980s.

This was followed by work on two sections of the West Coast power supply upgrade, which required both outline and detailed design of OLE and structure modifications for the autotransformer upgrade following a laser survey of the route.

SNC-Lavalin is also currently working for the lead design organisation on four of the Great Western electrification’s ten route sections.

Software solutions

An increasingly important aspect of the business is the software provided by Rail & Transit’s business services for asset management and service delivery. This is being led by head of software solutions Adam Collins, who considers that the success of these applications is due to SNC-Lavalin having the software and rail expertise to understand both what is required and how best to provide the required solution.

The suite of software consists of around 30 applications to support design, maintenance, management, control and train running. SNC- Lavalin also runs clyx.net, a web-based solution for managing data to support this software. Applications include Diagnostyx, for remote condition monitoring, as well as SSiFT (Signal Sighting Information Form Tool) and NIR online which were developed in conjunction with RSSB to manage the industry process for signal sighting audits and reporting high risk defects.

These applications have won a number of awards. Energyx won the ‘Environmental & Sustainability’ category at the 2015 UK Rail Industry Awards. It uses data from electric trains with energy meters and has enabled train operators such as London Midland to save energy by influencing driving styles and reducing consumption at depots.

Also shortlisted at these awards was Rail Companion, which uses a tablet to give different types of rail staff easy access to all the information they need. It also provides an overview to show how users have accessed this information.

Winner of the technical development category of the 2014 Rail Freight Group awards ceremony was the Timetable Advisory System (TAS) which had also won a Railway Industry Association innovation award the previous year. TAS operates on a tablet to advise the driver how the train is progressing relative to timetable. Adam advised that running a train just to timetable can provide energy savings of between two and eight per cent.

Derby’s pride

Derby’s locomotive works once employed 8,000 and had 20 acres of covered workshop on its 80- acre site. It built its first locomotive for the Midland Railway in 1851 and its last one in 1966. This was the last of over a thousand Derby-built diesel locomotives for British Railways.

The works was also a pioneer of rail research. Its laboratories were part of the LMS scientific research laboratory, which opened in 1933, and later became part of the British Rail Research Division.

After the works closed in the early 1990s, its buildings were demolished except for the manager’s office and the Roundhouse, which now forms part of the city’s college. The rest of the site has been redeveloped into Pride Park, where SNC-Lavalin has its offices on the site of the former wheel and traction motor shops. The work done in these offices continues Derby’s rail engineering tradition and, as shown above, makes a valuable contribution to the rail industry, both in the UK and overseas.

Written by David Shirres

This article was first published in November 2016.


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