HomeRail NewsOddities and novelties at Railtex

Oddities and novelties at Railtex

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My iPhone told me that I had done over 10,000 steps whilst walking around the 20,000-square-metre hall at Birmingham’s NEC that housed Railtex this year. There was certainly much to see and do and a lot that was new, quirky and interesting as exhibitors sought to entice visitors to their stands. Italian wine and food prepared by chefs from Naples was certainly an attraction on the Tratos stand, which was a strong contender for the exhibition’s best cuisine. Having been fed and watered, visitors could then learn about the company’s cables – including a new generation of fire resistant cables and ruggedized optical fibre cables.

Continuing the Italian theme, Westcode had a rebuilt first-generation Mini car on their stand, a reminder of how today’s so-called Minis have grown. The company plans to enter the car in the Italian Job rally, which is open to any make of car featured in the film. The aim is to raise money for children’s charities using the WESTCODEUK ‘Just Giving’ webpage. Once on the stand, Westcode’s brake and door systems rail expertise was on display.

The American bald eagle on Go Custom’s PPE stand was another unexpected sight which drew visitors to see the premium-quality stylish Hi- Vis clothing range that the company is about to launch, including women’s fit and sizing. This is made by ORN, an environmentally aware company with a hawk on its logo.

Ballyclare was another PPE company with a special attraction. The Bally Bear – a cute little fella in a high-viz waistcoat, was promoting a range of GORE-TEX® Products and new polycotton clothing, on show for the first time.

On orange track

British Steel’s orange sleepers under the on-track display caught the eye but will not catch on, unless railway PPE is to be a different colour. What are likely to become popular are the products on offer. Zinoco® corrosion- resistant rail coating has been jointly developed with Network Rail to resist aggressive environments and more than 40km has been installed at level crossings, tunnels and coastal routes.

Clipped to the rail were the company’s SilentTrack blocks, which were developed in association with University of Southampton to reduce rail noise. These are tuned rail dampers, with three resonant steel masses embedded in elastomer, that can reduce rail noise by 3-6dB(A). Also attached to the rail was the magnetic safety barrier provided by Rail Safety Systems. This has only two components: a stanchion with a rail-magnet and tube clamp locks weighing 8.5kg and three-metre long extruded reinforced glass fibre tubes with a tube lock connection weighing 4.5kg. Installation is so straightforward that the company advises a hundred metres can be built in ten minutes.

The distinctive feature of the nearby Hilti stand was what it lacked. It had no printed handouts, Hilti believe that its on-line catalogue tells it all. They had sixty new products on display. The demonstration of a rapid motion sensor that stops a jammed tool was impressive. This is used on all tools where there is a risk of injury if the rotating bit jams and is faster-acting than the legally required mechanical clutch.

Signature Aromas provides a niche product to ensure trains smell right. Vaporoma biodegradable discs are impregnated with natural oils and are installed in self-contained units that blow air over the five discs held in them. The discs last up to six weeks and are used in Pendolino toilets, amongst other places.

Trains for HS2

The biggest stands at the show were the train manufacturers – Siemens, Alstom, Hitachi, newcomer Stadler and Chinese train manufacturer CRCC. All had much on display including their vision of trains for HS2. Each of these large stands was worthy of an entire article, so I focused on initial impressions.

On the Hitachi stand, the model of a class 802 unit was made entirely from standard Lego bricks. Siemens had a driver simulator on which I tried to use less energy than a train under ATO operation. Of course, I failed. Immediately apparent on the Alstom stand was their new CLever OLE cantilever as described in last month’s Rail Engineer.

With 182,000 employees CRCC claims to be the ‘largest rolling stock supplier in the world’. It has supplied 11,000 high-speed rail vehicles since 2004 (including high-speed sleeping coaches) and its revenue is greater than Alstom, Bombardier and Siemens combined.

Stadler’s articulated FLIRT train for Greater Anglia has low floors that have extending platforms to give step-free access and will be very different from any other UK train. The bi-mode units have, in the middle of the train, a seven-metre-long power car which has a passenger corridor with above- floor diesel engines either side. The concept is to put “all the noisy, smelly and vibrating bits in one coach away from passengers”. Stadler’s distinctive train designs for the Glasgow Subway and Merseyrail were also on display.


At the other end of the scale are shunting locomotives. The trusty class 08 shunter can probably be kept going forever, but is not cheap to operate. As an alternative, the Zephir Locotractor range of shunting vehicles supplied by Depotrail can move between 375 and 3,500 tonnes on a 3 per cent gradient. They shared a stand with Danobat, which is installing its first UK underfloor wheel lathe at Reading depot. This is being expanded as Old Oak Common is to be demolished as it is in the path of HS2.

Adaptable interiors

Two stands showed how rail vehicles could be adapted to meet varying demands. Priestman Goode’s flexible seating solution provides regular seats off-peak which can be transformed into a higher density configuration at peak times to increase seating and standing capacity by 15 to 20 per cent.

42technology’s solution provides cargo space on trains by a rapid reconfiguration of the interior of the vehicle – a motor-driven belt compresses specially designed collapsible seats and tables cantilevered out from the bodyside. This caught the imagination of the BBC, which showed the idea on its breakfast show. Although a good idea, whether logistics companies will invest in the facilities to make it work remains to be seen. In the meantime, this concept could be used to provide a flexible space for bikes and wheelchairs.

Underneath the train

Normally, the interesting stuff below rail vehicles gets pretty mucky. It is therefore a treat for rolling stock engineers to see pristine transmissions and wheelsets on display. This is a hostile environment, for example, ballast thrown onto axles can cause cracks which reduce wheelset life. For this reason, the wheelsets on display at the Lucchini Unipart Rail stand had a special protective axle coating. The company was also demonstrating its smart wheelset condition-monitoring, which can extend the time between ultrasonic inspections.

Schaeffler also had a wheelset on display, complete with an impressive cutaway traction motor transmission from a Chinese high-speed train.
The stand also featured a FAG detector for bearing condition monitoring at depots. However, this does require the wheelset to be turned, so perhaps is a job to be done during tyre turning.

The balloons on the Voith stand marked the company’s 150th birthday year. On display was the DIWRA transmission which won the ‘Most Interesting Rolling Stock Development’ category at Rail Exec’s 2016 Most Interesting Awards. This 320kW automatic hydro-mechanical transmission has a high efficiency, compared with conventional DMU transmissions in which the fluid flywheel slips at low speeds. The resultant fuel savings are up to 16 per cent, depending on the nature of the service.


Light rail vehicles The flywheel fitted to the Class 139 enables it to be powered by the smallest engine on any UK passenger rail vehicle, a two-litre propane gas engine. This vehicle is ten metres long, weighs twelve tonnes and has a maximum speed of 20mph, which is perfectly adequate for its operation of the shortest rail journey in the national rail timetable, the 1,200-metre journey between Stourbridge and Stourbridge Junction, on which it carries around 600,000 passengers per year. It is operated by Pre metro operations, which believe there is scope for other such services.

WMG, formerly Warwick Manufacturing Group, employs the latest techniques to create lightweight structures from combinations of metals, alloys, polymers, composites and hybrid materials including nanocomposites and additive-layer manufacturing. It, too, considers there is a demand for a lightweight rail vehicle, for which a unique self-powered bogie has been developed.

Whether the successful Stourbridge operation is a one-off niche market or there is a significant demand for such lightweight vehicles, which cannot run on the main line, remains to be seen. However, it is clear that WMG’s technologies are of great potential benefit to the rail industry.

Civil engineering innovation

Although Freyssinet’s ElevArch concept of lifting complete brick arch bridges for electrification clearance drew the crowds when it was demonstrated last year (issue 146, December 2016), there are currently no plans to try this technique on Network Rail’s infrastructure. However, the company has some other interesting ideas, such as BigaBore – a technique to enlarge a tunnel by cutting chases into its roof and haunches that then 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. It was explained that this method is more cost-effective than using a tunnel-boring machine to ream-out a narrow bore, as on one recent high-profile project.

The Mabey Pedesta footbridge was another civil engineering innovation on show. Designed by Arup, this is a modular footbridge system made from glass fibre reinforced plastic with bolted shear connectors that are post-tensioned with stainless steel bars. The system can have a 1.8 metre parapet for rail use with integrated drainage and service provision. At 200 kg per linear metre it’s about a third of the weight of a comparable steel span and is virtually maintenance free. To date it has not been used in a rail environment.

Findlay Irvine, provider of specialist sensors, had information about an earthworks monitoring system which uses wireless tilt sensors. These are sealed units, dimensions 100mm x 40mm diameter, incorporating a transmitter and battery with a five-year life. An array of these sensors transmits data to a solar-powered data-logger which relays information via GPRS. The installation also has cameras to give visual confirmation of conditions. There are now about 180 of these earthworks stations, the first having been installed at the beginning of 2016, which are currently being evaluated to assess their practicability.

Optical fibre sensors

Two years ago (issue 128, June 2015) Rail Engineer reported on a collaboration between City University and Brecknell Willis that used a fibre- optic cable to measure pantograph forces to both control this force and detect overhead line abnormalities. It was good to see a pantograph fitted with this device on the company’s stand. Although it has not yet entered service, pantographs fitted with this sensor are expected to be in use on a First Trans Pennine Class 355 and Network Rail’s high-output electrification train within a year.

The Pantobot provided by Camlin rail is another pantograph monitoring arrangement. This consists of cameras and flashlights, mounted on poles, which produce a three-dimensional model of pantographs as they pass at speed. Any pantograph faults are identified by machine-vision algorithms. The company is hopeful that Rete Ferroviaria Italiana will soon confirm that Pantobots are to be placed every 70 kilometres on the Italian high-speed lines.

Frauscher explained how it is using fibre-optic cables for distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) as part of its Frauscher Tracking Solutions (FTS). This locates acoustic signatures that can identify the location of wheel flats, broken rails, people walking along the line and cable tampering. Each DAS unit can cover up to 40 kilometres. The company intends to use it to develop non-safety basic applications and combine it with its wheel-detection systems to develop safety-critical applications.

Intelligent video

Panasonic business systems had a demonstration of its intelligent video systems which analyse crowds to detect those who are drunk, acting suspiciously or are potential suicides. Such technology has been used by banks, supermarkets and stadia for about five years. On the railway, there are soon to be pilot schemes to detect potential suicides. It was explained that this technology should be able to reliably detect passengers trapped in doors by analysing the video images on the driver’s DOO (Driver-Only Operation) screens.

Two stands promoted businesses in their geographic area. The East Midlands Rail Forum considers itself to be Europe’s most dynamic rail industry cluster as it contains more than 250 such companies. The University of Derby, Datum, Design Analysis and Birley were all represented on the Forum’s stand. A further twenty-one of its members had their own stands at Railtex, and visitors were encouraged to find them in a special Railtex treasure hunt.

The Welsh Government has been at Railtex since 2013 and has been actively seeking out opportunities for Welsh SMEs as suppliers to, for example, Bombardier, TfL and Crossrail. There were eight companies on its stand including Morgan Advanced Engineering and Furrer and Frey. One of the companies advised that they could not, otherwise, have justified the cost of attending Railtex. The stand also promoted the SE Wales Metro plan which is likely to be a mix of light rail, trams, improved trains and faster buses by 2020 in Cardiff, Bridgend, Newport and the valleys, transforming the economy of the region which is expected to grow to 1.6 million over the next 20 years.

Just a sample

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 promising new products. It shows that exhibitors have innovative ideas to both entice visitors to their stands, and more importantly, for new products and techniques that have the potential to provide a real benefit.

As many of these ideas have yet to see practical use, this raises the question of whether the rail industry is able to take full advantage of such products without undue delay.

Rail Engineer looks forward to seeing what’s new on the first to third of May next year, when Infrarail comes to London’s ExCeL.

This article was written by David Shirres.


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  1. The Orange sleeper bit brings to mind my days in the Army when working on Military railways.The M.O.D safe method of working was to paint the sleeper ends gloss white to mark the point of fouling of a turnout . When shunting if you left stationary wagons beyond this white mark on the sleeper you knew you were well inside the fouling point of a turnout .I can never understand why this system was never adopted by the civilian railways especially since the number of shunting collisions and sideswipes involving new and expensive rolling stock in recent years!


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