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Preparations well underway for Railtex/Infrarail – the meeting place for the rail industry in 2021

From 7 – 9 September 2021, Railtex/Infrarail will gather the whole railway industry together in Birmingham. It will be the first time the exhibitions have taken place since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the initial decision to postpone Infrarail 2020 to 2021, Mack-Brooks Exhibitions, Organisers of the events, made the strategic decision to co-locate Railtex and Infrarail to better serve the needs of the market. Now gathered under one roof, the exhibitions will serve the entire railway supply chain and present an impressive array of technologies and innovations ranging from total railway systems to the smallest specialised components.

A new format

For the first time, Railtex/Infrarail will become a hybrid event. The new setup will merge the onsite offering with interactive digital networking opportunities. A new matchmaking system will connect visitors to relevant suppliers, allowing them to arrange meetings based on complementary profiles. International visitors who won’t be able to attend due to travel restrictions will have the advantage of exploring the latest innovations and services online. Powered by this new matchmaking technology, a new scheme – ‘Meet the Buyer’ – will aim to promote fruitful exchanges and the establishment of new commercial partnerships.

An impressive array of sessions and a strong line-up of speakers

As the leading one-stop-shop event for the entire railway industry in the UK, Railtex/Infrarail reflects the dynamic developments in the sector and the vision of the rail network of the future. This year, conversations on the future of the industry will once again take centre stage with RIA’s ‘Future Focus Conference’, a three-day feature that will offer insights around four main themes:

  • Growth – rail can be a catalyst for economic growth, how to ensure it is supporting investment, jobs and GDP?
  • Geography: how to ensure rail reaches and benefits all corners of the UK?
  • Green: rail will be essential to meet decarbonisation goals. How can clients and the supply chain work together to decarbonise the network even further?
  • Global: across the world, nations are investing in rail infrastructure. It is a truly global market, which the UK – as the home of the railways – should be at the centre of. What opportunities are there for the UK and where do its strengths lie?

The programme will include keynotes, Q&A sessions and panel discussions held by a remarkable line-up of speakers, including prominent industry figure Graham Stuart (MP, Minister for Exports), Robert Ampomah (Chief Technology Officer, Network Rail) and Mike Muldoon (Head of Business Development UK & Ireland, Alstom).

Also returning to the programme will be the ‘Unlocking Innovation Zone’, organised by the events’ Main Partner RIA and supported by Network Rail and UKRRIN (UK Rail Research & Innovation Network of universities). The sessions will focus on new ideas and thinking to be explored in order to benefit the railway sector, as well as its passengers and economy. Sessions will run each day, covering:

  • High-Level Challenges – Opportunities from UK rail clients
  • Near Term Challenges – Opportunities from Tier 1s and Tier 2s
  • Funding and Partners conversations to take innovations to market
  • Elevator Pitches from a range of contributors, including SMEs and startups – curated in collaboration with UKRRIN and other associations.

Visitor information

Ticket registration is now available on the exhibition website. Online tickets for Railtex/Infrarail 2021 are free of charge and will give attendees fast-track admission to the event, allowing them to skip the queue onsite. Entrance tickets are valid on all three days of the exhibition and include free access to all conferences and associated events.

The Railtex/Infrarail 2021 visitor flyer has just been published, offering compact information about the show, such as opening hours and travel & accommodation information. Visitors can download a copy via the Visitor Hub on the official show website.

Hotel registration is also open and discounted room rates for attendees are available. The hotels are located close to the NEC and each of them offers StaySafe™ policies in response to COVID-19. Attendees can book their hotel room and view hotel policies directly from the official show website.

Railtex/Infrarail 2021 will take place from 7 – 9 September 2021 in halls 11 & 12 of the NEC Birmingham. The Midlands is home to 250+ globally renowned rail companies – 9 rail and engineering specialist colleges, 5 rail test facilities and 20 rail centres of excellence – making it the perfect location to host the events. The NEC has taken numerous measures to create a safe and controlled environment to ensure all attendees can safely meet in September.

Visitors can sign up to the newsletter for regular updates and notifications prior to the show. Further information is available at www.uk-railhub.co.uk

Back on track: Railtex & Infrarail 2021 confirmed to go ahead in September

As the country nears stage 4 of the roadmap established by the Government, the entire railway industry expresses its support and commitment

Following the successful show launch of the innovative meeting platform EuroRail Hub, which brought the whole European railway industry together in March, Mack-Brooks Exhibitions are now looking ahead with a mind to continue to bring added value to the market at Railtex/Infrarail to support the recovery of the UK rail industry, all the while delivering a secure environment at the event for all participants.

To do so, the Organisers are keeping up to date with the latest government guidelines and closely working with the venue to ensure a safe return to events. “We’re looking forward to hosting Railtex/Infrarail at the NEC on 7-9 September. This promises to be a fantastic exhibition and a great opportunity for the rail industry to reconnect. In the meantime, we continue to work hard behind the scenes, preparing to resume full operations and ensuring visitors can return safely to the venue under our NEC Venue Protect measures,” expresses Ian Taylor, Managing Director of NEC Group Conventions & Exhibitions.  

Whilst the impact of COVID-19 has been strongly felt across the entire railway supply chain, with a loss of revenue and decrease of productivity, the rail sector is still thriving. Significant improvements to the network are still being made and more than £48 billion will be spent over the next five years. Many major new rail projects such as HS2, The Great North Rail Project, the East-West Rail, Crossrail 2, and the TFL Four Lines Modernisation amounting to billions of pounds are underway or planned. The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, which was drafted by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and chair of the review Keith Williams, will be implemented in 2023 and includes the creation of Great British Railways (GBR), a new public body that will oversee the entire infrastructure and manage fare collections.

These substantial changes, along with ongoing projects at the heart of the rail industry, highlight the growing need for a rail marketplace as short and long-term plans are now being made across the whole country. “As we emerge from the Coronavirus pandemic, rail will play an essential role in rebooting the economy. The rail industry is crucial, not only for keeping our railways running successfully, but also for supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of investment – all around the country. Railtex/Infrarail comes at a vital time for the sector and will provide a fantastic opportunity for professionals to meet, network and engage, after so long apart. The Railway Industry Association is really pleased to be Show Partner of the event and support a trade show that provides so many opportunities for the rail supply sector. By meeting, sharing ideas and finding new business opportunities, suppliers will be better placed both to win more work and also to help leads the UK’s economic revival,” says Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of Railway Industry Association (RIA).

With planning security and clear guidelines in place, a need for face-to-face encounters and genuine networking opportunities is emerging, a fact borne out by the number of exhibitors signing up every week to express their desire to reconnect, get together and get back on track: “Alstom is looking forward to exhibiting at the UK’s premier rail event and exhibition – and in the flesh too.  As the UK’s leading private sector rail organisation, we are excited about engaging with customers, stakeholders and suppliers on sustainable and smart mobility and the future of rail,” declares Kathryn Lancaster, Communications Manager, UK & Ireland, Alstom.

Other exhibitors have also highlighted the urgent need for a platform to showcase new technologies and latest innovations to an international pool of prospective customers in order to facilitate the establishment of new strategic commercial partnerships: “Hilti will be once again exhibiting at Railtex/Infrarail & will be using this to promote our innovative product & system solutions. It will also be an opportunity to introduce our newer items to a wider audience especially with some exciting kit that has recently been launched. But most of all, it is an opportunity to meet in person fellow railway professionals to discuss various topics, which is something we haven’t been able to do for some time,” stated Colin Burnikell (MPWI), Strategic Key A/c Manager at Rail, Hilti (Gt. Britain) Ltd.

The UK’s No1 event for Railway Technology, Products and Systems

Among the ranks of confirmed exhibitors at Railtex/Infrarail are small and medium-sized companies as well as large enterprises serving all aspects of the infrastructure and rolling stock technologies, including Deutzer Technische Kohle GmbH, Hitachi Information Control Systems Europe Ltd, Schweizer Electronic Ltd, Stadler Rail Management AG, Pandrol – Vortok, Lucchini Unipart Rail (LUR Ltd) and many more.

Railtex and Infrarail have successfully served the rail market and received the support of prominent associations and trade publications for over 25 years, including The Railway Industry Association (RIA), Railway Gazette International, Rail Media and Rail Business Daily. In 2021, it will be the first time the two exhibitions have come together, forming the ultimate show for railway specialists at all management levels, from key industry contractors, suppliers and sub-contractors, equipment manufacturers, to public transport operators and management authorities.

Seminars & conferences hosted by high-level industry experts and speakers are in the programme. Railtex/Infrarail’s recurring features also include an On-Track Display and Plant & Machinery Exhibits for live machinery demonstrations, allowing companies to find smart solutions to meet their needs.

Organised by Mack-Brooks Exhibitions, Railtex and Infrarail are part of a series of targeted trade events for the railway industry, including SIFER in France and EXPO Ferroviaria in Italy, all taking place in the second half of 2021 to support the recovery of the European rail market. Altogether, the exhibitions form a network of 25,000 visitors, 40 industry partners and 1,300 exhibiting companies looking to grow their business.

For more information on Railtex/Infrarail, visit the official show website: www.uk-railhub.com

A new future

The Great British Railways organisation to be created under the Williams-Shapps plan will run the rail network, manage its infrastructure, procure passenger services and produce timetables. Thus, the whole railway will be under a single national leadership, providing a whole-system view to eliminate perverse incentives and do what is best for passengers and freight customers.

Not surprisingly, most of the plan’s press coverage concerned its new deal for passengers which includes simplified fares and new flexible season tickets. Yet, for railway engineers, the section on ‘accelerating innovation and modernisation’ is perhaps of greatest interest. This notes that no organisation currently has the overall authority to implement programmes across the wheel/rail interface such as digital signalling. It also commits to publishing a long-term strategy next year to set out the whole rail network’s key strategic priorities for the next 30 years.

Williams-Shapps has much to commend it. However, it does not address the requirement for an informed client organisation to advise Ministers and provide strategic direction to ensure that Britain can get the best from its rail network. The need for such a body is indicated by erroneous UK Government pronouncements on rail decarbonisation. For example, Network Rail’s Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy concluded that rail decarbonisation requires electrification of 85% of the unelectrified network. Yet the Williams-Shapps plan states that “electrification is likely to be the main way of decarbonising the majority of the network” and falsely attributes this comment to TDNS.

Acting as an informed client, Transport Scotland has persuaded Scottish Ministers that large-scale electrification is essential for both rail decarbonisation and the long-term sustainability of the rail business. As well as being cheaper to buy and run, electric trains drive the required modal shift to rail as they attract more passengers and enable longer freight trains to run at higher speeds, resulting in more trains on existing infrastructure.

Our feature on decarbonising Scotland’s railway describes how Transport Scotland, Network Rail and ScotRail are now delivering a programme to make the Scottish rail network net-zero carbon by 2035. To do so, there is an integrated long-term infrastructure, rolling stock and timetable strategy which will provide a steady programme of work for the supply chain. As well as electrification, this infrastructure work includes freight gauging and capacity enhancements.

Thus, the way ‘Team Scotland’ has developed its strategic plan – and is working together to deliver it – is a foretaste of the new way of working that the Williams-Shapps review intends to promote.

The need for urgent action on the climate emergency was tragically underscored by the Carmont accident. This was caused by a severe storm overwhelming a drain installed just ten years ago. Whilst the final RAIB report will consider the design and construction of this drain, much has already been learnt. As we describe, the comprehensive reports produced by the earthworks and weather task forces established by Network Rail after this accident offer clear lessons to reduce risk from earthworks failures.

Grahame Taylor describes how state-of-the-art monitoring systems are one way of reducing this risk whilst Paul Darlington’s feature on earthworks asset management highlights the importance of good drainage. Both these features consider how most railway earthworks were built in the 1800s when there was little understanding of the science of soil mechanics.

At Dawlish, the climate threat is from the sea. Mark Phillips describes how a new sea wall is designed to give 100 years resilience and is being constructed between the tides. Another problematic legacy of historic infrastructure is hidden tunnel shafts. Bob Wright investigates how those in Shugborough Tunnel were identified and stabilised. In contrast, he also explains how HS2 is to use the latest construction techniques to build Britain’s longest railway viaduct over the Colne Valley, west of London.

With its long history, the permanent way has benefited from years of experience, research and development to provide the most efficient form of transport in respect of capacity and low rolling resistance of steel wheel on steel rail. However, with the resultant tiny contact area comes the challenge of rail adhesion. Our feature on an RSSB ADHERE 2021 webinar reports progress on adopting recently developed solutions.

When designing their new ‘Inspiro’ trains for London Underground, Siemens had the challenge of designing more spacious walk-through trains for the Piccadilly Line’s 3.66m diameter tubes. Malcolm Dobell explains why the solution involved there being no wheels on four cars of these nine-car units. Limited tunnel space was also a problem for the pilot project to trial the use of 4G radio on the Jubilee Line. Clive Kessell describes its challenges and potential benefits.

The Railway Industry Association’s innovation conference showcased many worthwhile innovations and the research capabilities that the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network has to offer. This included initiatives to reduce electrification cost, such as the surge arrestors described in Peter Stanton’s article. Despite this being a virtual event, the information and insights were in no way diminished.

Williams-Shapps, strategic decarbonisation delivery and managing earthworks are amongst the big-picture issues we cover this month. Yet let’s not forget that infrastructure repair and enhancement work is done on a 24/7 basis in all weathers. Our round up of the £196 million worth of engineering work at 7,500 worksites over Easter and the May bank holiday weekend is typical of what that involves.

Peak Performance

For most of us, bank holidays are a time to gather in the pursuit of enjoyment. But all that has been curtailed this year and last by…you know what. When we’ve most needed things to smile at, they’ve been hard to come by.

It was business as usual though – more or less – for the railway family over Easter as the supply chain progressed £116M worth of engineering work at 4,000 worksites in 1,200 possessions, completing major enhancements, core renewals and routine maintenance. And over the May bank holiday weekend, there was activity at a further 3,000 sites, with a value of around £80M. At 50 of these locations, the projects were identified as ‘red’ through the Delivering Work Within Possessions standard, bringing a greater risk of overrun and significant impacts on services.

The ongoing East Coast Upgrade was pushed forward at King’s Cross with the replacement of track, signalling and overhead line equipment through the one-and-a-half mile section approaching the station. The signal box was taken out of service on 23 April during a four-day closure of the station; control has now been transferred to York ROC. Gasworks East Tunnel reopened after 40+ years of redundancy on 26 April.

Enabling works for HS2 were undertaken at Euston whilst large-scale enhancements continued in Leeds. But, away from these bright spotlights, a collection of smaller schemes came to fruition over the two bank holidays, bringing benefits both operationally and for the railway’s customers. Here are the edited highlights.

An underpass constructed beneath the Marylebone- Aynho Junction line at Bicester.

New bridges

The A4095 strategic link road is an important element of the North West Bicester eco-town master plan. To build it, a new underbridge was needed to support the Marylebone-Aynho Junction line, together with a nearby underpass. Both structures were constructed over Easter, together with 400m of track renewals.

During the 100-hour possession, 21,000 tonnes of embankment were removed, allowing the prefabricated structures – with a combined weight of 2,100 tonnes – to be moved into position on transporters.

In Dartford, three metal bridge decks over Hythe Street were replaced with ‘U’ decks and holding-down restraints to mitigate against bridge strikes. Repairs to the brickwork and abutment drainage were also undertaken. The structures were life-expired and contained hidden critical elements which could not easily be inspected.

A crane and transporter were used to replace a bridge at Warrington Bank Quay Station, lifting out the old deck sections and installing two concrete-encased steel units. Another bridge, which had previously been infilled with foam concrete, was also taken out. The removal of longitudinal timbers from the workbank will reduce future maintenance requirements.

Over the May Bank Holiday, the EWR (East West Rail) Alliance completed the installation of 103 deck beams over the West Coast Main Line and re-registered overhead line equipment on all four main lines through Bletchley. This work continued the Alliance’s programme to complete a flyover, allowing construction of the new railway towards Bicester to get underway this winter.

Track replacement

Significant plain line and S&C projects were undertaken, including at the site of the Brent Cross West Station which will bring 7,500 new homes within 15 minutes of central London. As well as slewing the Slow lines and renewing three sets of points, signals were relocated and the OLE realigned.

At Stratford, 687 yards of plain line was renewed on the Up Main through Platform 9 using seven engineering trains. The new track was welded and stressed, enabling the site to be handed back at 60mph rather than the booked 50mph TSR.

Track quality data had deemed a site at Newark Castle Station in Nottinghamshire to be very poor, with numerous track defects recorded historically. Here, the renewal of 40 yards of track through a level crossing has removed the risk of a speed restriction being imposed.

Work gets underway on the replacement of Hythe Street bridge in Dartford.

The upgrading of Wilton Junction between Salisbury and Wilton included the renewal of all the S&C and associated plain line. The primary driver was to renew the life-expired ballast and track components, improving performance and geometry.

Meanwhile at Nunnery Junction, Sheffield, a two-stage project was completed involving the relaying of the Up/Down Main and Worksop lines, four point renewals, two points being plain-lined and reballasting across the entire junction. The use of a welding supervisor allowed all 80 welds to be completed, with the railway opening on time at 70mph.

Overhead line work near Stratford in east London.

Operational improvements

The Stratford rewire project is replacing the existing overhead line equipment with a modern auto-tensioned design between Stratford and Maryland stations. Currently, the OLE is fixed termination and cannot maintain full tension during periods of hot weather, requiring speed restrictions to prevent dewirements. Considerable progress was made over Easter.

Meanwhile, works were undertaken to increase the resilience of overhead line equipment within Beechwood Tunnel, west of Coventry, following severe disruption caused by a failure during summer 2019. Included was the replacement of the contact wire and installation of an equalising plate.

The Feltham & Wokingham Resignalling Programme involves the renewal of all signalling assets and recontrolling the system to the Basingstoke Rail Operating Centre (BROC). Phase 1 covers the area from Richmond to Whitton and Norbiton to Twickenham, extending the ElectroLogIXS signalling system and delivering enhancements with the installation of two new crossovers at Twickenham and St Margarets.

Over the five-day Easter commissioning period, the project completed a number of key tasks including the renewal of the road lights and barriers at Strawberry Hill level crossing, whilst 45 life-expired signals were removed, six new signals erected, telecoms alterations completed for signal post telephones, system testing and recontrol of the Shepperton branch to BROC.

A bridge replacement makes progress at Warrington Bank Quay.

In May, engineers finished an interim stage on the replacement of Scotland’s highest-risk Automatic Half Barrier (AHB) level crossing at Cornton with manually-controlled barriers monitored by obstacle detection. The AHB crossing was decommissioned from the signalling interlocking and work got underway on the installation of equipment for the new system.

Overall performance

There’s an understandable tendency to focus our attention on the big high-gloss schemes with budgets measured in billions, but strategic benefits are delivered every night of the week through the efforts of a workforce that rarely gets the credit it deserves. Key commissioning milestones are often concentrated around bank holidays and yet, despite the heightened risks, early May saw a successful possession hand-back rate of 98.9%, whilst Easter hit 99.6%.

There was a major injury near Wickford, Essex, when a MEWP basket was struck by an RRV attachment, causing an operative in the basket to suffer a broken leg. Rail Engineer extends its best wishes to the casualty and hopes for a speedy recovery. But the fact that such incidents are worthy of reporting is a reflection of how thankfully rare they are.

For all the stick the railway gets, it does so much right so much of the time.

Track work at the site of the new Brent Cross West Station.

Level Crossings – delegation of responsibility

I have memories of seeing and, on occasions, examining level crossings in a number of European countries. Unsurprisingly, the safety record across the continent varies widely but, between 2014-2018, an average of 1.33 incidents occurred for every 1,000 track kilometres. Ireland and the UK perform best at 0.2, while Estonia and Slovakia are at the other end of the scale at 4.9.

Statistics never tell the full story, but nowhere appears to be quite as hazardous as India where trains operate on around 64,000km of railway with 40,500 crossings, equating to one every 1.5km. Indian Railways are looking to increase the number of crossings with manned barriers from the current 16,000. Crossings adjacent to canals have warning signs, but reports indicate that over 2,800 are open crossings, devoid of barriers and signage. Fatalities rose from 1,408 in 2018 to 1,788 the following year.

In Britain and Europe

Even in European countries, signage and barriers often look less substantial than those used in Britain. In decades past, groups of British Rail office staff worked exclusively on level crossings, ensuring they met the standards decreed by the then Railway Inspectorate and Department of Transport. Not only were the barriers and gates subject to a prescribed standard, so too were the road markings, signage and road approach visibility.

PHOTO: AI PHOTOGRAPIC

Generally, the number of fatalities at UK level crossings has followed a downwards trend over the past 20 years. Back in 2003/4, 11 pedestrians and five vehicle occupants lost their lives; in 2019/20, two pedestrians were killed but no vehicle occupants. There were however 316 near misses with pedestrians, the highest number since 2011-12.

For context, we have around 5,800 level crossings on main lines in Britain, with user-worked and foot crossings each amounting to around 2,000. We have over 800 automatic crossings and a similar number under manual control. In addition, 1,500 level crossings are found on our heritage and minor railways.

The industry’s continued focus on this major risk area has seen the creation of enhanced, modelling tools using the latest intelligence. Safeguards such as obstacle detection technology have been deployed and red-light enforcement cameras installed. A cost-effective train-detection warning solution is being developed for footpath and bridleway crossings. These all add to previous performance improvements brought, for example, by the introduction of precast road surface units that fitted between and alongside running rails, and could be removed relatively easily to allow the track to be maintained or replaced.

Safety principles

In 2011, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) published its ‘Level crossings: A guide for managers, designers and operators – Railway Safety Publication 7’ – usually referred to as RSP7 – which is currently in use. However, on 20th January this year, the ORR opened consultation on its replacement by a draft document entitled ‘Principles of Level Crossing Safety’, described as a guidance publication.

The ORR says that RSP7 can be difficult to use because it is long, prescriptive and contains information that is out-of-date or superseded. In particular, it duplicates information that is available elsewhere, such as in technical standards.

The new draft document is divided into four sections. The first describes the role of the ORR, while Section 2 deals with risk assessment. The following sections detail a total of 23 safety principles and are: Section 3 ‘Safe for the user’, Section 4 ‘Safe railway’ and Section 5 ‘Safe highway’.

The ORR has said that its aim is “to support the assessment and control of risks at level crossings” and to provide a resource that supports “the design, management and operation of level crossings”. My initial assumption was that the ORR’s intention was to step back and let crossing owners take greater responsibility.

ORR webinar

Rail Engineer joined 40 individuals who were invited to attend an ORR webinar on 23rd February. The speakers from the ORR were Tracy Phillips – Head of Safety Policy and Corporate Support, Paul Appleton – Deputy Director, Railway Safety, Clare Povey – Principal Inspector of Level Crossing Strategy, and Dawn Russell – Senior Policy Manager, Railway Health and Safety.

Paul, with 20 years’ experience as an inspector, said that the intention was to replace the current prescriptive and rigorous rules with improved risk assessments. Local authorities and others have been involved in steering groups and new technologies are providing options for pedestrian crossings.

PHOTO: NORTH LIGHT IMAGES

Clare Povey reminded us of the ORR’s role, with their 300 professional staff operating from six offices, including one in Scotland. She described the ORR as an “independent, non-ministerial UK Government Department”. Of RSP7, she said it was in need of revisiting and replacing by a system with a wider scope. Although it will be withdrawn, she suggested RSP7 should continue to be used by others and be adopted as an industry standard.

Dawn Russell said that the withdrawal of RSP7 was part of a wider review of ORR-published information and reminded us that the safety of users, the railway and the highway are paramount, as well as discouraging trespass. She spoke of the need for collaboration to improve understanding of users and how they behave, and the ORR’s intended move away from categorising crossings.

Reassuringly, we were told that the ORR is developing “two or three more case study-based guides” which will be made available on its website in future.

Question time

Questions were limited to those submitted in message form as the presentations were made and, for the most part, were of a practical, site-specific nature posed by council highways staff. Barrier down time, signalling delays, planning legislative requirements and the challenges posed by bridleways and private roadways all were mentioned.

The speakers reminded us that the long-term aim is to eliminate all level crossings, although they acknowledged that this is not a realistic objective.

With the replacement of RSP7, the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) will provide further information for the ORR website. Interestingly there were no references to light rail or tram crossings.

Network Rail is proposing to close two crossings in Burscough, West Lancashire.

The delivery conundrum

Reflecting after the session, I concluded that the ORR will be stepping back from leading, even through the recommendation of factors to be taken into account when specifying safety systems, and installing or upgrading level crossings. How will this affect crossing safety? Perhaps only time will tell.

One area that the railway cannot easily influence is changes in road traffic which can increase existing hazards or introduce new ones. Vehicles have generally grown in size over the years to provide more capacity and push up productivity; the pressure on delivery drivers has increased, with the number of drop-offs and collections influencing their pay. And they often come from further afield, with little local knowledge. Although satnavs are much more reliable these days, they can direct vehicles down lanes for which they are not suitable, sometimes with tragic consequences.

In years gone by, post vans were regularly driven by locals who would also collect mail in country areas and might well offer to deliver other small items to householders. These drivers knew about the hazards of occupational level crossings on their patch, how they were operated and what to look out for. That knowledge has largely gone.

The closure option

We still have many under-used level crossings and Network Rail is rightly pursuing a programme to “reduce the risks that level crossings pose to the public, passengers and rail industry workforce”.

A good example is the proposal to close two crossings in Burscough, West Lancashire, to motor vehicles and realign the routes for pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders to shorten the time they spend on the tracks. Affected are Shaws level crossing on Sutch Lane and Crabtree crossing on Crabtree Lane.

Network Rail has said that “this will improve safety for everyone and reduce the risk that level crossings present to passengers and crossing users”. They also state that, when implemented, “the maintenance and operation of services between Wigan and Southport will be easier and costs will be reduced”. Local MP Rosie Cooper recognises that the changes may prove inconvenient for some, but “safety has to come first”.

In many parts of Britain, industrial development and new housing have taken place, swallowing previously quiet and remote level crossings so that road traffic far exceeds the original design remits in terms of types, weights and frequencies. In some places, replacing a crossing by an overbridge or underpass may be a reasonable option, but elsewhere is often difficult to justify.

The way forward

The draft ORR document recognises the importance of all parties working together to assess level crossing risks so that opportunities can be taken to eliminate hazards where possible. Early engagement and consideration of solutions from different perspectives provides better opportunities for innovation in risk management. Crucially it makes clear that good level crossing design understands the needs and limitations of the user, taking into account normal use, reasonably foreseeable human error and deliberate misuse.

The consultation period on the new principles ended on 26th February. Publication will follow consideration of the responses which will all be published on the ORR website.

Gauge clearance software: an unavoidable pain?

Colin Johnson, Managing Director of D/Gauge has a straightforward view on gauging software: it should be inherently fast, intelligent and fuss-free. The Derby-based company launched its much-anticipated D/Gauge Rift product in an online launch to over 300 attendees, marking a new era in intelligent clearance assessment.

So, what is D/Gauge Rift and why is it important? The largest software update in the market for 20 years, gauging engineers and software specialists combined their skills to create a revolutionary new system in an area that was in need of modernisation.

Why is gauging important?

Gauging can be likened to accountancy, which also used to have complex associated software, inaccessible to the occasional or non-specialist user. Then QuickBooks was introduced, changing the way individuals perceived finance management. The power of simple, clean software unlocked wider potential and introduced more people to managing books.

Finance and gauging are both critical subjects – tasks that inevitably need to be done. Mistakes could be far-reaching and the longer you leave it, the more painful it could be to do.

The challenge was to transform gauging from a painful chore to an integral part of the design process for track and infrastructure designers. D/Gauge Rift is set to release the gauging software environment from its historic shackles and start the next era of clearance assessment.

Colin comments: “We know gauging is a necessary evil for some and it’s one of those really important things that is implemented for a whole multitude of reasons, such as network capacity, route opportunity and passenger safety. What we want to do is make it a lot more enjoyable! We’re confident with D/Gauge Rift that gauging can become less mundane and an intuitive part of the process.”

From wet string to LiDAR

David Johnson, Technical Director of D/Gauge, was the first person to digitalise gauging, advancing from poles and wet string to laser scanning and computerised software. His first programmes led to the birth of VDP Gauging, ITD Gauging and Clear Route, to name a few.

With a strong pedigree of clearance assessment and an exceptional team of engineers behind him, the D/Gauge team expanded to engage their software design capabilities. The aim was simple – to create an easy-to-use but powerful piece of software to write clearance assessment for the future.

Technology is changing rapidly and the speed of innovation in the railway industry is at an all-time high. From SMEs like D/Gauge to large corporations, the railway is utilising modern technology to supercharge our network. Recent technologies have multiplied the accuracy of data that is available, creating different challenges for engineers.

Increased plot points lead to more accurate models, less conservative gauging and the ability to unlock more routes, but they come at the price of being able to successfully interpret, interrogate and use the information.

With over 200 vehicle class types already in circulation (and this number is still rising), the vehicle complexity is sure to increase. Pair this with the ever-growing LiDAR and scanning technology apparatus – capable of recording tens of thousands of plot points on a structure – and we all know the existing software just cannot handle that level of detail.

Scaling up is key, especially as the industry predicts that freight gauging will become more wagon and load-specific, leading to a much bigger matrix of information available to use. Creating a package that is fully capable to handle, analyse and present this data was the driving force for D/Gauge team.

Starting from the ground up, D/Gauge has built an entirely new software platform that can manage the increasing demands of our network.

Reacting to industry requirements

The inspiration for D/Gauge Rift comes from the market’s gripes and requirement for a tool that is capable of handling today’s situations with today’s user experience. “We’ve been batting off requests to make faster gauging software for the past decade”, says Colin Johnson. “Speed, however, is just one element of the process and should have much less gravitas attached to it. We are used to quick software to empower efficiency in everything else, so here is the gauging tool we all need. As the volume and complexity of datasets continues to grow, I know we must approach gauging assessment in a unique way, especially to future proof it.”

Time is already limited. Any hiccups in the set up or glitch in the run can delay projects, add unnecessary costs and fray timelines. Managing Director of Bonner Rail, Mark Bonner, was a key development partner in the creation of D/Gauge Rift. His team of excellent engineers worked collaboratively with D/Gauge to create a product that is raising the bar. Mark said: “It’s not like you are saving 10% of the time; you’re completing it in 10% of the time.” By fully utilising the power of cloud-based computing, speed becomes secondary to the real problem at hand: ensuring the vehicle fits!

Colin Johnson continues: “We’ve created something that is robust and reliable. It is something that superpowers our current need for gauging and can scale up for the future of clearance assessment requirements.

“Gauging software should let track designers run enough permutations to optimise design work. It should be fast enough that processing time shouldn’t even be part of your thinking.”

For engineers, by engineers

The D/Gauge Rift platform has been extensively tested, refined and tweaked to meet the user’s needs. Working closely with development partners – including Bonner Rail and others –    D/Gauge Head of Software has made usability and experience at the top of his list.

“We love a challenge”, says Dave Steward, Head of Software, “and we take the actual problem that the individual is presenting, fully understand it, go away and come up with a brand new, inspired way of displaying or inputting that information. We went back to basics in our design process to analyse the core information that drives decisions and offer better support.”

Existing software is notorious for its manual, repetitive processes. Downloading, importing, setup, post processing of data: all manual processes that add time, effort, risk of error and additional training to be able to use them. D/Gauge Rift is built to be a centralised system with principles of sharing weaved-in throughout. The result: the engineer has more time to focus on the assessment results and track design, where they add real value.

About D/Gauge

Founded in 2008, D/Gauge was involved in cutting-edge research – creating smarter, deeper datasets – and has invested in a new software approach which is fit for the future. Leaders in gauging, they have over 40 years’ experience.

D/Gauge may be new to open-market clearance assessment software, but it has been recognised in the industry for its consultancy services. Led by Ian Johnston, Head of Engineering, the team of engineers has a reputation for solving complex gauging calculations, supporting electrification schemes, vehicle introduction and much more.


www.dgauge.co.uk

An innovative innovation conference

After more than a year away from real events, speaking to rows of faces on our computer screens has become all too familiar. Yet this is only possible with the relatively recent proliferation of high-bandwidth internet connectivity, smart phones, cloud computing and videoconferencing apps. Not surprisingly, their use has been accelerated by the pandemic, with Zoom reporting a 535% increase in its daily traffic in 2020.

Although this is a good way of learning and keeping in touch, it is a poor substitute for face-to-face gatherings. Pre-Covid, the networking opportunities that conferences provided made them popular events. Providing an equivalent experience online has proved difficult.

This was the challenge faced by the Railway Industry Association (RIA) when making their popular innovation conference a virtual event. Rail Engineer has reported on the previous seven conferences and was interested to gauge how this one compared. It took place from 28-30 April.

RIA’s conference was hosted by LJ Rich.

Key speakers

Introducing the conference were RIA’s Chief Executive, Darren Caplan, and Technical Director, David Clarke. Caplan set out RIA’s vision of an innovative, digitised and green rail industry, and had no doubt that passenger numbers would bounce back post-Coronavirus as videoconferencing actually generated travel. He was pleased to see how rail had supported the economy during the worst of the crisis when it accounted for 25% of UK construction.

Clarke explained that the conference’s theme, ‘The Railway of the Future’, was about making sure that the railway is ready for whatever the future holds. He also launched RIA’s new collaboration with ITN Productions, ‘MADE With Rail’, which highlights the latest developments in Materials, Automation, Data and Energy (MADE) and RIA’s new Unlocking Innovation website (www.riagb.org.uk/UnlockingInnovation).

Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, responded to Caplan’s enquiries about the delays to both the Williams Review and the response to Network Rail’s Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy (TDNS). He advised that there will be a white paper with measures prompted by Williams “very very shortly” and that there would soon be a response to TDNS which would “make people on this call very happy”.

David Clarke interviewing Andrew Haines.

He considered the modern railway to be a catalyst for growth and prosperity on which the government had committed significant investment, but noted that railways had to be more affordable. Hence it is essential that Project SPEED (Issue 189 Mar-Apr 2021) reduces project costs and timescales.

Heaton-Harris is keen for UK rail to become a leader in rail technology and was pleased to see world-class testing sites being developed. He wanted rail to work with government to exploit the opportunities to innovate.

In an interview with RIA’s David Clarke, Network Rail’s CEO, Andrew Haines, was asked what he would like to see the future look like. His response was the three Ss of Safety (constant improvement), Simplicity (for passengers and freight customers) and Sustainability. He emphasised the latter was not just about the environment, but required a cost-effective railway which must be adaptable and not slow to innovate. He also emphasised the importance of Project SPEED and noted that the most difficult part of his job is convincing the Treasury to invest as their perception is that the railway has a poor delivery record.

Haines felt that the Williams Review would address the fragmentation and contractualisation which produces perverse incentives and makes it difficult to innovate. He was confident of the railway’s post-Covid recovery, but cautioned that it will no longer be bankrolled by commuters. Hence a welcoming, reliable railway with affordable solutions is needed. In addition, access strategies need to balance work savings against revenue streams for the best whole-industry decision.

He thought the argument that rail needs an injection of funding to decarbonise was being won. Haines noted how Scottish electrification is providing a continuous workstream which creates supply chain stability, continuous improvement and lower costs, as shown elsewhere in this issue. Furthermore, new electrification technologies such as surge arresters were now reducing the cost of electrification. He was pleased that the electrification contract for the trans-Pennine route upgrade had been let below the budget price.

Rail technology keynotes

The conference technical keynote presentations provided perspectives from a train operator, rolling stock company and an infrastructure manager.

West Coast Partnership is the ‘shadow operator’ developing the initial HS2 services. Its Managing Director, Caroline Donaldson, explained how innovation was being encouraged to provide an exceptional passenger experience. She felt that innovation had to be embedded in HS2 operations to get ahead of ever-changing customer demands. For example, innovation was needed to improve seat reservations and make it easier to get to stations, as well as for fleet maintenance and cleaning. She asked businesses to contact her if they have something to contribute.

Visuals for the proposed HS2 Euston Station.

Martin Ertl, Vice President, Innovation and Portfolio Management at Knorr-Bremse, also felt that rail must use its technical know-how to develop passenger-focused solutions to drive recovery and growth. This includes technologies to increase infrastructure capacity such as Knorr Bremse’s Reproductive Braking Distance technology which always ensures minimum braking distance is maintained. He also considered that ‘intelligence-driven maintenance’ is needed if there is to be zero disruption to services.

Ertl was concerned about restrictions on the use of data and made a plea for open data. For him, the issue is not data ownership as data only has value when it is used to generate useful information. Experience shows that this is most likely when data is shared.

Network Rail’s Chief Technology Officer, Robert Ampomah, felt that archaic things were still being done such as manual train coupling, inspections and maintenance. Such things needed to be mechanised and automated, he asserted. In CP6, the company has £245 million to invest in its R&D portfolio, of which £85 million has already been invested. Network Rail is also working with UKRRIN and other partners to leverage additional funding opportunities.

Rolling wheel test rig at the University

He advised that Network Rail’s R&D investment to date had delivered benefits of around £300 million, with a rate of return of about five years. Such projects included plain line pattern recognition and digitised lineside inspection of vegetation. Ongoing work includes operational data sandbox, fibre sensing, automated repair, cost-efficient electrification and earthworks stabilisation. Ampomah concluded his presentation with his own mnemonic of three Cs: Collaboration, Creativity and Cost-reduction.

Although innovation brings technological changes, Irina Parsina from Microsoft Teams reminded the conference that innovation was all about people. Organisations have to create the climate for successful innovation and not forget that any innovation is designed for the human.

She felt it was important to understand that change does not always come easily due to human traits of laziness, risk aversion and resistance to change. In the rail industry, Parsina was clear that barriers had to be broken down to enable innovation and ensure that everyone has a voice.

Virtual round tables

The first panel discussion considered three themes of the new Rail Technical Strategy (RTS): Easy to Use for All, Optimised Train Operations and Reliable/Easy to Maintain. Sharon Odetunde of RSSB explained how innovations from the ‘Easy to Use’ theme will make rail more attractive to passengers. Clive Roberts of the University of Birmingham spoke about ‘Optimised Train Operations’, the benefits of more flexible train timetables and the challenges of ETCS on a mixed-traffic railway.

David Rowe of Network Rail considered how the ‘Reliable/Easy to Maintain’ theme was focusing on asset reliability whilst David White of HS2 explained how the company was taking a whole systems approach to treat data as an asset which included the use of digital twins.

This topic was continued in the ‘Data-Driven Growth’ session in which Ian McLaren of Govia Thameslink Railways (GTR) explained why GTR was making its data and apps freely available. Such apps include train cleaning, desk booking and Covid testing. James Bain of Worldline underscored this point by mentioning the Rail Data Council which aims to better coordinate open access to UK rail data.

IRSE President, Ian Bridges, spoke of the benefits of using data for predictive maintenance and of digital twins. Will Wilson of Siemens noted that real-time data was becoming increasingly essential, yet the vast amount collected is more than can be processed. He felt the challenge was to clearly present relevant information, for example providing passengers with train loading during the pandemic.

The ‘Innovation for Economic Growth’ session considered opportunities and obstacles for innovation. IAND’s founder and CEO, and chair of the Royal Academy for Engineering’s Enterprise Hub’s Innovators Network, Elspeth Finch, explained the UK Government initiatives to encourage innovation and considered the difficult problem of scaling-up new technologies. She suggested that SMEs could work with large companies to innovate at scale.

Paul Sheerin, Scottish Engineering’s CEO, described how a rail ‘cluster builder’ is being established for businesses wishing to increase their involvement with the Scottish rail sector and felt that Scotland’s rail electrification was a catalyst attracting new companies. James Davies of Industry Wales emphasised the importance of supply chains working across different sectors. Lucy Prior MBE of 3Squared emphasised the diversity of SMEs. She urged companies to “network and let people know” about their products and to “keep listening” in order to “keep innovating”.

The discussion following this session highlighted the rail industry’s lack of diversity and how procurement was a barrier to innovation, but could be an enabler with a change of thinking.

The decarbonisation session was introduced by presentations on hydrogen trains, battery technologies and electrification. Garry Keenor of Atkins noted that whilst batteries and hydrogen clearly have a role in rail decarbonisation, for most of the network electrification is the only option. This was the conclusion of the ‘Why Rail Electrification?’ report that he co-authored. Keenor stressed the need for a rolling electrification programme and noted that, without this, the railway will not decarbonise and will be more expensive to run. Panel members concurred with this view.

RSSB’s CEO, Mark Phillips, absolutely supported the requirement for a major electrification programme, but noted the difficulties of convincing government that this can be done efficiently. Rail Delivery Group’s CEO, Jaqueline Starr, considered that rail must also drive modal shift for which a customer-focused railway was essential.

Porterbrook’s CEO, Mary Grant, described how her company was hybridising existing trains to reduce their emissions and hoped her company’s hydrogen train would be in passenger service by 2022. Network Rail’s Safety and Engineering Director, Martin Frobisher, noted that November’s COP26 UN climate change conference in Glasgow was a global opportunity to showcase the rail sector’s decarbonisation initiatives. He also considered that indirect emissions were a big challenge and wanted to see the supply chain commit to following Network Rail’s example by adopting science-based environmental targets.

A proposed VLR vehicle for Coventry.

Innovation capabilities

Current and future facilities for rail innovation were considered in sessions about current facilities offered by the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN) and future centres under construction.

Speakers at the first session were Amanda Mackie, Professor Simon Iwnicki, Professor Clive Roberts and Professor William Powrie who respectively lead UKRRIN’s centres of excellence for testing, rolling stock, digital systems and infrastructure. Mackie described how Network Rail’s test facilities are used to develop rail innovations at higher technology readiness levels.

Professor Iwnicki described the University of Huddersfield’s rolling wheel test rig and new pantograph test rig. He explained how digital modelling would enable the latter to simulate the operation of multiple pantographs on a train. Professor Roberts advised that a new purpose-built centre for digital railway engineering at the University of Birmingham had opened in November. An example of this centre’s work will be the development of an HS2 digital twin to provide system testing in laboratory settings.

In the next session, Unipart Rail’s Engineering Director, Professor Steve Ingleton, described how UKRRIN’s Innovation and Technology hub at Doncaster – due to open in the summer – will provide a permanent rail innovation exhibition to showcase UKRRIN’s achievements. This is intended to both encourage innovation and attract people to the industry.

Arthur Emyr from the Welsh Government described the £150 million rail testing facility to be built on the site of a closed opencast mine near Ystradgynlais in Powys with 6.9km of 170kph electrified track and 4.5km of low-speed high-tonnage track. The Welsh Government is working with industry and the Welsh supply chain to establish this centre which is expected to be completed by 2025.

Richard Jones of the Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organisation explained how the £29 million Very Light Rail (VLR) national innovation centre at Dudley is intended to promote lower-cost VLR solutions across the UK. At £10 million/km, VLR’s cost is expected to be a quarter of a conventional tram system. Jones felt that this could enable the UK to create a whole new VLR industry as cities around the world are desperate for such affordable mobility solutions. The centre will have a 2.2km conventional rail test track and is to test a novel lightweight VLR track. It is expected to open early next year and will have a dynamometer system, simulation suites and electronic and software laboratories.

Other virtual aspects

As well as presentations and round tables, the conference had other virtual experiences.  These were an exhibition hall, parallel workshops, table sessions and evening events. Whilst these were quite different from previous conferences, they still offered plenty of opportunities for learning and meeting new people.

The virtual stands in the exhibition included those of conference strategic partners Network Rail and UKRRIN, and sponsors Hitachi, Knorr-Bremse, Capgemini Engineering, Railtex, Withers and Rogers, Altran, Porterbrook, Harmonic and Ricardo Rail.

Surge arresters can eliminate the need for bridge reconstructions.

Workshops were run by UKRRIN, Network Rail, Transport for London and non-technical RTS themes to accelerate successful innovation. Those I attended included RTS ‘Rapid Benefit Realisation’ and ‘Digitally Talented Workforce’ themes, and a Network Rail workshop on cost-effective electrification.

At the table sessions, delegates were able to discuss a specific innovation topic, meet a particular company or generally network. These were cabaret-style virtual tables of six, hosted by various companies and organisations which also provided a rare opportunity for a catch-up.

A particularly interesting table was hosted by James Featherstone and Patsy Brady of Network Rail’s Digital Innovation and Collaboration in Engineering (DICE) initiative. This has teams of graduates competing to develop digital solutions to Network Rail’s challenge statements. DICE started in 2018 and this year has 19 teams of five developing solutions for sustainability issues. Four of these will go forward to the final which is judged by Andrew Haines and other Network Rail executives. Winners then receive funding to develop their products.

On the conference’s first evening, there was a virtual dinner with tables of six which included an organised tasting of beer sent to them beforehand! The next evening featured an interview with Charles Duke who was the tenth astronaut to walk on the moon. At the age of 85, he is still the youngest person to have done so. Duke noted that his smartphone has 800,000 times the memory of the computer that controlled his moon landing.

This year, RIA’s virtual innovation conference was certainly not the same as previous events, yet the information and insights it provided were not diminished. It was also a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The RIA team, and host LJ Rich, deserve much credit for their innovative approach.

Longer-life crossings

Broken rails in plain line track – once a very serious problem – are now much less common. Improved rail manufacturing, the widespread use of heavier 60kg rail and improved defect detection have reduced the number of broken rails from 444 in 2002/3 to 71 in 2019/20. Although one can never be complacent, in broad terms the problem is now managed very effectively. In contrast, cracked and broken crossings in S&C have proved a stubborn problem to solve.

Crossings are subjected to very high impact forces and must be capable of withstanding high traffic loads. Certain worn wheel profiles cause extensive damage. Crossings are not designed to flex and must be adequately supported. For this, the layout must be installed on well-consolidated ballast and subject to effective regular maintenance to, among other things, prevent voiding underneath bearers. Such voiding greatly increases the stresses on individual elements of an S&C layout, including crossings.

Network Rail and its contractors have worked hard to improve the quality of S&C installation work in recent years. However, with many routes being very heavily used and possession time scarce, there is a risk that S&C layouts are being under-maintained, although reduced train frequencies during the pandemic have given maintenance teams an opportunity to carry out work on junctions which are normally difficult to access.

Driving change

For crossings used in CEN 60 layouts, the new NR 60 Mk II design is a big improvement. Compared to CEN 56 layouts, the heavier rail gives added stiffness and the closer bearer spacing – 650mm between centres as opposed to the previous 710mm – gives greater support. Improved rail pads offer more resilience and under-bearer pads aid ballast engagement. So new NR 60 layouts will be better able to withstand the forces to which they are subjected.

However, the number of new CEN 60 layouts is small and will only increase slowly. The harder and more urgent problem is how to reduce the number of cracked and broken crossings in existing CEN 56 layouts. The obvious beneficial measures of increasing the depth of the crossing or reducing bearer spacing are not possible when replacing a defective crossing in an existing layout. Tricky problems call for clever engineering.

Two factors have previously hindered design development. The vast library of crossing patterns held by the largest crossing supplier represents a financial incentive to perpetuate existing designs. Secondly, tenders issued by Railtrack and Network Rail have generally concentrated on procuring existing designs more cheaply, rather than developing higher quality, more durable products. So, with the exception of Explosive Depth Hardening as a post-manufacturing treatment, the design of CEN 56 crossings has remained static for a long period.

Network Rail’s track engineers became increasingly concerned at the numbers of crossings cracking or breaking under traffic, despite being correctly manufactured and compliant with the existing standard. Although traffic levels were increasing and, in some cases, layouts were perhaps being under-maintained, this clearly wasn’t the whole story. So NR resolved to rewrite standard NR/L2/TRK/012 with the objective of achieving more resilient and durable crossings. This complex project was undertaken by Bleddyn-James Davies, Network Rail’s Senior S&C Engineer.

Track record

voestalpine – the global market leader in S&C and advanced rail manufacturing – is one of three firms supplying crossings to the UK, the others being Progress Rail Services UK and Vossloh. voestalpine began supplying crossings to Railtrack after its entry into the UK S&C market in 1995 when it bought the former BR S&C works at Baileyfield in Edinburgh.

voestalpine Turnout Technology UK now operates both Baileyfield and a large finishing and assembly site at Harworth, nine miles south of Doncaster. In addition to its S&C business, the company also has a rail sales office in London as well as a signalling and remote monitoring technology company at Fareham in Hampshire.

voestalpine has a long-standing policy of investing heavily in both R&D and product technical support. In addition to being the leading global manufacturer of premium rails, it pioneered tri-metallic crossing welding, hydraulic back drives, advanced POE systems, the use of harder rails in S&C and tilting wagons for modular S&C.

The JEZ team made wide ranging recommendations for manufacturing and design changes to existing CEN 56 crossings.
The JEZ team made wide ranging recommendations for manufacturing and design changes to existing CEN 56 crossings.

Within its Railway Systems group of companies, voestalpine has crossing manufacturing centres in Bilbao in northern Spain and at Zeltweg in Austria. The Zeltweg complex is the second largest S&C manufacturing plant in the world, the largest being in China. Although smaller than Zeltweg, the JEZ plant at Bilbao is still large, with an annual capacity of more than 5,000 crossings. The main foundry, laboratory, designers and management are located at Llodio near Bilbao, while additional casting capacity, flash butt welding and finishing is at a second site in Arberats-Sillegue, just across the French border.

JEZ have been making S&C since 1926 and the team includes a significant proportion of highly-qualified technical staff in design, production and quality management roles. After welding and finishing in Arberates-Sillegue, new crossings are despatched to customers in 35 countries throughout Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Over recent years, voestalpine Turnout Technology UK has strengthened its team and instilled a real quality culture. The team has established an enviable track record for high-quality products, responsiveness to customer requirements and all-round user-friendliness.

A more demanding standard

In early 2018, the UK team accompanied Bleddyn-James Davies on the first of several visits to Bilbao to highlight the potential for design improvements to CEN 56 crossings. The senior designers at JEZ gave an extended technical presentation, based on their analysis of existing CEN 56 crossings. They made wide-ranging recommendations for detailed manufacturing and design changes.

The fixed parameters meant that there could be no single ‘magic bullet’, but meticulous analysis of every aspect of the design and every stage of manufacturing led to a series of potential changes which, collectively, would lead to a much more durable product. Crossing walls could be thickened and the underside flattened; potential stress-inducing features such as sharp edges and radii could be removed, while the process for pouring and cooling the liquid manganese steel could be improved. Advanced modelling of the impact of these changes demonstrated that the fatigue life of the crossing would be at least 20% greater. Given the fixed parameters, this was an excellent result.

Encouraged by this work, Bleddyn-James Davies then proceeded to finalise the new standard, which was issued in March 2019, with a compliance date of September 2019. Bleddyn’s ambitious approach was to aim high with a very onerous standard. Manufacturers are required to demonstrate how they comply and to risk-assess any aspects with which they cannot comply.

And now…

Since its initial work, the JEZ design team has been through an iterative development process which has led to a mature fifth version of the improved crossing. Increasing numbers of these cost-effective and more durable crossings are being ordered by Network Rail, both to fulfil current orders and increase emergency stocks.

The sales and design teams at voestalpine Turnout Technology UK have been busy liaising with order originators, clarifying the precise characteristics of the crossing required. Some frontline maintenance staff need assistance with the dizzying array of S&C installed in the network. The team at Harworth liaises very closely with JEZ over supply schedules.

It is a credit to both teams that they have managed to increase supply during the end of the Brexit transition period and a global pandemic! In fact, due to hard work in both countries, supplies from JEZ experienced only minor problems with the new post-Brexit customs arrangements and every week more crossings are arriving at Harworth. Here they have their leg ends cut to the required length, and baseplates and spacer blocks fitted as required, prior to despatch to the customer.

New crossings are despatched to customers in 35 countries throughout Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.

In Bilbao, JEZ is busy expanding its stock of expensive, precisely manufactured patterns. It already held patterns for the most commonly-used NR crossings; these have now been modified to reflect the new improved V5 design. A large number of additional patterns are being produced to widen the range of crossings JEZ can cast for the UK market.

Pattern-making is a highly-skilled process. Patterns were previously made from solid wood but, even with careful storage, these could distort over time. High-quality wood laminate is now preferred. To keep the patterns in the best possible condition, they are stored in a warehouse with both temperature and humidity control. The process of designing new patterns is time-consuming and requires meticulous care, but two new patterns are now being completed every week.

These significant design and service improvements – especially when combined with Network Rail’s plan to hold larger stocks of crossings – will reduce the incidence of crossings failing in traffic and will reduce supply lead times to hard-pressed frontline maintenance staff who have the onerous task of keeping our busy and varied rail network in good condition.

A model for containment

Schneider Electric is a major multi-national company, operating in a wide range of sectors including energy management, industrial automation and control. The company’s extensive product includes an impressive range of Glass Reinforced Polymer (GRP) elevated cable troughing and accessories which are designed and manufactured in the UK.

Operating in more than 100 countries and employing over 135,000 people, Schneider Electric prides itself with its extensive research and development capability, and it invests 5% of its annual revenue in R&D. It also holds 20,000 patents worldwide, demonstrating its engineering creativity. In the UK, the company operates from a number of sites, providing products for automation and control, electrical distribution, building management, critical power and energy automation.

GRP elevated cable troughing is an especially useful containment system for rail. Ground Level Troughing (GLT) is often used in signalling and telecoms schemes for the cable connections to lineside equipment such as points, train detection, signals and radio sites. However, in many places, GLT cannot be used due to the ground profile and steep embankments and cuttings. GRP is an ideal alternative for such locations and it is also essential for large current-carrying power cables.

High quality manufacture

The MitaTM GRP is produced by pultrusion technology. This uses a combination of unidirectional and cross-strand glass mat which is resin-impregnated and pulled through a hot die to produce a very solid, structurally sound profile with excellent mechanical rigidity. Unlike some other troughing systems, MitaTM GRP does not contract or expand with heat causing the troughing route to distort. It is produced with a high quality of manufacture and modified by the use of additives to the resin, and with protection from ultra-violet light. The product is produced in either 3m or 6m lengths for easy transportation and installation.

MitaTM GRP is 70% lighter than steel and 90 times lighter than concrete; it is also corrosion resistant. It does not conduct heat and has excellent durability against adverse weather conditions. The product offers excellent UV stability resulting in a cost-effective long-term solution.

The MitaTM GRP is provided in a wide range of trays, troughing and ladders which can support any type of cable – especially power and fibre cables which require a gentle bending radius. Unlike some competitors’ systems, MitaTM elevated troughing is provided with GRP support posts to increase its durability. The troughing lids clip securely in place, providing cable theft protection. Further security can easily be added by installing stainless steel bands around the elevated route.

MitaTM GRP troughing in use on the East Coast Main Line.

Network Rail approval

The MitaTM GRP elevated cable route has been fully approved by Network Rail under Certificate of Acceptance PA05/00442 issued in 2015 for use in locations unsuited to GLT. The Zero Halogen Low Smoke (ZHLS) version has also been approved for use in sub-surface stations and connecting tunnels. Furthermore, the approval applies to a very impressive 42-page list of accessories, including bends, brackets, risers and transition/reducer pieces. Allowing connections to existing GLT cable routes, reducers are important and not always available in other cable containment systems.

London Underground has successfully used MitaTM GRP troughing. They were concerned that their sensitive signalling equipment was susceptible to contact by flakes of galvanisation from steel support systems and that their DC traction cabling system might create eddy currents within troughing ladders and supports if they were metallic. MitaTM GRP troughing was chosen as it is non-magnetic and has non-conductive properties. The ZHLS version is also a requirement for London Underground’s sub-surface locations.

The cable containment system is not just used in rail, but has also been successfully employed in a wide range of industries including data centres, power industries, manufacturing, water treatment, food production, industrial buildings and oil and gas.

Working with GRP

Another particularly useful feature of the MitaTM GRP system is its ability to be integrated with the Bentley Raceway and Cable Management Building Information Modelling (BIM) tool. This provides a complete layout, routing and material estimating function in a single, integrated system. It can be applied from the initial concept design through to detailed design and construction. A user can create an accurate 3D model of the cable troughing route, making it easy to ensure that adequate space and clearances are available in confined locations, and for the detailed design and material requirements to be quickly and easily produced.

MitaTM GRP is a non-hazardous, inert product. It is lightweight and can be manually handled without difficulty, unlike concrete. In contrast to steel, GRP does not have to be deburred or given edge treatment before fitting, saving time and further reducing labour costs. During installation, any cutting, drilling, bonding and jointing can be easily undertaken and will not give rise to a hazardous situation, with any dust kept to a minimum.

Sample components of the MitaTM GRP troughing system.

Andrew Sillars, Contractor Specification Engineer, says: “Having supported the specification of Glass Reinforced Polymer cable containment since 2005, I have experienced its unique features such as light weight, long-life durability, no deburring, no earth bonding and many more. All these advantages of GRP Cable Containment support a cheaper, quicker and easier-to-install system that gives a true fit-and-forget solution.”

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A new future