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Infrarail’s oddities and novelties

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For over a hundred years, London’s once-thriving Royal docks drew people and produce from all over the world. They were once the world’s largest enclosed docks. However, containerisation and bigger ships required even bigger docks further down the Thames, resulting in the Royal docks closing to commercial traffic in 1981.

Today, it is hard to imagine the desolation that was London’s docklands after they closed. An essential part of its regeneration was new transport infrastructure. The first line of the Docklands Light Railway opened in 1987. London City Airport, built on the quays between the Royal docks, also opened that year. The Jubilee line extension through docklands opened in 1999. This year will see the opening of the Elizabeth line with its dockland stations at Canary Wharf and Customs House.

Also, part of this regeneration is ExCeL (Exhibiton Centre London) built on a 100-acre site on the northern quay of Royal Victoria Dock and opened in 2000. As the provision of new rail infrastructure has, and continues to be, an essential part of docklands development, this was thus a fitting venue for this year’s Infrarail exhibition at which over 200 exhibitors showcased the latest rail infrastructure technology.


Food and flames

There were certainly many quirky and interesting things to see as exhibitors sought to entice visitors to their stands. Italian cable manufacturer Tratos certainly attracted a long queue at its stand for the wine and food prepared by chefs from Sicily. The company has recently invested £20 million on Merseyside in a training academy and new manufacturing facilities which produces some of the electrical, electronic and fibre optic cables on display on its stand. A fifth of the company’s products are for the rail market.

Cables were also on display at the Prysmian Group’s stand, with a realistic imitation flame below an enhanced fire-resistant cables and connectors assembly. These can withstand a two-hour fire at 850°C, immediately followed by immersion in cold water.

Virtual flames were also to be seen in the simulated welding display on the stand of Flamefast, which provides innovative engineering training. An augmented-reality welding training system allows welding trainees to repeatedly practice their technique without any additional costs, as well as minimising physical risks and gas emissions. In reality, they are ‘welding’ pieces of plastic with a simulated welding torch. What the trainee and instructor see is a 3D image of what a real weld would have looked like.

MRL Eye.
MRL Eye.

Track safety

Various track safety products were on display. Over the years, Schweizer has continued to develop its track warning systems, which are now more portable and include options for axle-counter and radar train detection. However, Schweizer advises that, typically, only five of its systems are used each day on the UK rail network compared with 400 in Germany. The stand also featured the VaMoS processor-controlled level crossing system – fifty have been ordered for user worked crossings of which twenty have been installed.

The Dual Inventive ZFL3000RC remote controlled line blockage system is a remotely operated TCOD (track circuit operating device) which takes around ten minutes to fit and has a battery life of six to eight weeks. Around 140 are in use in Britain, many of which are semi-permanent installations. Their locations are identified by GPS and shown on a mobile phone app into which a PIN is entered to operate the device. Due to its speed of operation, its use is reported to have saved £500,000 on one job.

On the operational railway, the signalling system ensures collision avoidance. To provide similar protection within a possession worksite, Protran Technology had its collision avoidance system on display. This operates in ‘travel’ and ‘work zone’ mode. It provides a visual and audible alarm to give machine-to-machine, machine-to-man and machine-to-worksite protection. The system is widely used in the United States and is being trialled by four companies in Britain.

To provide enhanced communications within possession worksites, High Motive has a Bluetooth radio headset with long battery life and voice recording which is currently going through the product approval process. Another impressive piece of headgear on show was the PureFlo 3000 lightweight battery-powered respirator with integral hard hat, manufactured by Gentex in Stranraer.

By keeping surveyors off the track, drones are also improving track safety. We reported in issue 161 (March 2018) how unmanned aerial vehicles can now produce highly accurate surveys for track renewals, so it was good to visit the MRL Eye stand to inspect the Altura Zenith drone that does these surveys. With its eight 17-inch propellers and a 20Ah battery, this has a flight time of 35 minutes and can carry a 3kg camera payload.

Another way of keeping surveyors off the track is the use of Fugro’s train-mounted rail infrastructure alignment system that was on display at the company’s stand. We reported in issue 151 (May 2017) how this has been used on the Great Western route modernisation project to produce profiles at 10 cm intervals to an accuracy of 10 mm when operating at 100 mph.


Treating steel

It was hard to miss British Steel’s track display with its orange steel sleepers. This showcased the company’s innovative products including their Zinoco® corrosion-resistant rail coating, jointly developed with Network Rail to resist aggressive environments, SilentTrack® blocks that give overall reductions in train noise of between 3dBA and 6dBA, and HP335 rail, another joint development with Network Rail, to reduce wear on curved track.

To go underneath the track, Low & Bonar had its Enka Solutions geotextiles on display. This included the radar detectable Enka®-D-Tect geocomposite that incorporates a thin aluminium sheet to facilitate the monitoring of track bed deformation and is in widespread use in Hungary.

Sometimes the old way is the best. On its stand, Wedge Group Galvanizing had nothing new on show. Instead, staff explained how hot dip galvanising, which was first patented in 1836, is the most environmentally-friendly steel corrosion process which offers protection for up to fifty years. The company has 14 galvanising facilities throughout the UK , one of which includes, at 21 metres, the country’s largest galvanising bath.

We often report on structures that require grit-blasting as part of their repair. On its stand Hodge Clemco had a wide range of blast machines, abrasives and associated equipment. This included the particularly interesting, EnviraSponge which is sponge covered grit to minimise blasting dust. When the abrasive breaks after hitting the surface it is held by its sponge. However, the sponge does not prevent the abrasive cleaning the steel as it penetrates the sponge on contact.


Products for the cess

On its stand, Cubis was displaying its fire-retardant PROtrough cable trough system which is the same size as, but a fifth of the weight of, concrete troughing. This has a small number of parts and can accommodate the bend radius of large cables and, with its non-slip surface, it is designed to be walked on.

Ellis Patents showed various ways of carrying cables outside troughs. Its Pegasus corrosion-proof non-metallic cable hanger system meets London Underground’s requirements. It is made from high strength nylon, has a 60-year life and is half the weight of its galvanised steel equivalent. Another non-metallic product is the “No Bolts Cleat”, which provides a stackable design of multiple cable runs and allows for easy installation of additional cables.

Another worthwhile lineside product on show was Asset BaFix ballast shoulder retention system developed by Asset international structures. This lightweight system has Network Rail approval. It has a design life of 120 years and creates a stable level area adjacent to the track which, amongst other benefits, facilitates the examination of bridge structures.


Innovation in electrification

The most noticeable feature of Spanish company Telice’s stand was its large background photograph of a Spanish high-speed line with its lightweight electrification structures. A unique giveaway on their stand was a cardboard cutaway model of an OLE structure. Therefore, it was no surprise to learn that Telice design and install rail electrification systems. On the stand was a demonstration of tCat, a lightweight laser-system to measure OLE heights and staggers. The company is working with Network Rail to launch this as a product.

On its stand, Pace Networks had its rail electrification cantilevers on show. Its lightweight Omnia master series has only five major components, comes preassembled in standard sizes and is easily adjusted and installed with all bolts the same size requiring only one tool.

Freyssinet personnel were explaining the company’s innovative structural and civil engineering techniques on their stand, many of which are electrification clearance solutions. One such technique is BigaBore which can enlarge a tunnel by cutting chases into its roof which become strengthening ribs once reinforcement and spray concrete is added. Once these ribs are cured, the brickwork lining can be nibbled back to provide the required clearance.

The company’s ElevArch concept of lifting complete brick arch bridges was demonstrated in 2016 (issue 146, December 2016). Since then, there has been no apparent UK interest in its use despite its potential to address consent issues associated with historic structures such as Steventon bridge on the Great Western main line. However, Freyssinet reports that there has been interest in this technique from outside the UK.

The Digital Railway clearly involves much innovation. Underpinning this is its early contractor involvement approach to programme delivery. On their stand, members of the digital railway team explained how collaborative teams were being established to progress specific aspects of the digital railway programme such as the TransPennine route upgrade and the Moorgate branch ETCS L2 rollout.

This description of what caught the editor’s eye is of necessity only a small part of the exhibition and so certainly will have missed other worthwhile products for which we can only apologise to the companies concerned. If anyone feels they have a worthwhile story about an innovative product that we missed at Infrarail, do get in touch.

Rail Engineer looks forward to seeing more of what’s new on 14 to 16 May next year, when Railtex returns to Birmingham’s NEC.

Read more: Infrarail 2018 review 


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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