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Changing our approach to station design

Guest writer: John Harding, technical director architecture, major and international projects at WSP

For around fifty years, the rail industry has implemented design processes that are not always aligned with how to address the needs of the user in the early design stages. And these needs are changing, arguably faster than our infrastructure design can keep up. But by learning from other industries and injecting service design thinking early on into our station and depot designs we can make modern, accessible and inclusive spaces that satisfy the requirements of customers, operators and maintainers.

Service design thinking puts user and customer needs first to create or improve a service which speaks to their needs, and is both technologically and economically viable. According to Tim Brown of IDEO, an organisation that has been practicing human-centred design for 40 years, design thinking engenders innovation by drawing “from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success”. 

IDEO’s five-stage process (observe, synthesise, generate ideas, refine, implement) has become a best practice standard worldwide. We are already seeing this being developed in front line services in the UK, such as NHS Digital, and local authorities are drawing on the expertise of researchers, technical architects and business analysts to meet customer and community needs at each step. 

How can we apply service design thinking to rail stations?

Fellow station designers or architects will be familiar with the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) and GRIP (Governance for Railway Investment Projects) processes that govern the way we approach design. They are the backbone upon which we deliver vast and complicated buildings and infrastructure and are supported by a range of legislation and design standards, such as the processes stemming from the Equalities Act 2010, that underpin how we make design choices. 

Introducing a service design process into the early RIBA stages provides a strong bedrock on which the project can meet its potential.

However, these guides and requirements are not a means to an end.

Observational analysis is rarely employed at the formative stages of design for rail stations. We tend to rely on broad surveys to understand the needs of passengers, station staff and operators. While useful, these surveys are not nearly granular or nuanced enough to determine what a human-centred design should look like. 

It was this lack of behavioural data that led me to conduct my own observational studies to understand people’s relationship with stations in 2010 – before I had come across service design thinking as a concept. Through customer questionnaires, workshops and visual assessments of Canary Wharf station, a relatively modern station serving the Jubilee and DLR lines, I learnt how people can experience the same environment in very different ways. 

The overriding lesson for me was that the stations we create need to be much more intuitive, and give much more consideration to how people encumbered with unwieldy items like prams, heavy luggage and shopping, and how people of different abilities, such as wheelchair users, navigate through the station. We do not need to wait until the building is completed to understand how the people that will use it will be affected. Instead, we can observe similar stations and identify, at the earliest stages, how the experience of customers, staff and maintenance workers, and how the problem of crowding, will be affected by the way in which the circulation spaces, lifts and escalators are arranged. 

Synthesise to inspire new ideas

Our stadia, retail hubs and airports, even our urban highways, provide great examples of effective human-centred design – from moving around the building to accessing amenities. Airport designers, for example, have adopted a people-centred approach, as anyone who has used the large lifts at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 will know. For those with mobility issues, sensory impairment and for many others, not having to jostle one’s way onto a busy escalator with luggage is a big deal. 

Traditionally, station designers have underestimated the potential for lifts to move people vertically through a station, relying more heavily on escalators, which tend to represent accident blackspots and pedestrian pinch points, especially when stations are busy. But large, airport style, walkthrough lifts really can provide serious capacity and congestion solutions, and contribute to more efficient management during emergency situations. 

It was with this in mind that we successfully redesigned ten underground stations in the early concept stage, to increase inclusivity five-fold without increasing the cost or size of the stations.

Another example of where station designers can apply more pragmatic solutions are station toilets – they often receive the score lowest in railway customer satisfaction surveys. There are plenty of reasons for this, including condition and cleanliness, their suitability for people of all abilities, the availability of cubicles, and baby-changing or family facilities. 

In a recent major new station design, the ‘synthesise’ stage enabled us to incorporate ideas from modern office buildings to present an alternative design that answers all the main dissatisfaction points above, in this case replacing traditional gendered toilets with self-contained cubicles, complete with hand washing facilities, leading off from the main corridor. These will provide a more comfortable customer experience, reduce problem queuing, and mean that only single cubicles are taken out of operation for cleaning and maintenance. 

Our redesign also ended up reducing the space of toilet facilities by 25 per cent, an unexpected benefit for the client!

Left: The typical toilet arrangement has changed little over the past decades to reflect changes in society. Right: Direct access toilets replace traditional gendered toilets with self-contained cubicles, improving levels of comfort and convenience.

Refining the design

The ‘designer’s toolkit’ that IDEO’s Brown refers to as an aid to innovation, opens the door to much more integrated and inclusive station and depot design. With Building Information Modelling (BIM), designers can present a ‘single source of truth’ to clients and other disciplines involved in the project, promoting a more thorough understanding of every nook and cranny of a project, however complicated. And with augmented and virtual reality (VR), we are enabling non-technical people to experience our designs before they are even built. 

My architect colleagues Julia Gomez de Terreros Rider and Nicole Bego have been combining BIM with VR to present an accessible and clear understanding of the impact of our designs. “We have been using VR to bring BIM to life”, says Nicole. “Stations, depots and railways present a complicated environment, full of technical requirements and involving many factors, from the functionality of the train and comfort of the passenger to wayfinding, and how users, staff and maintainers will navigate. It’s hard to convey all of this on a 2D schematic the size of a small town; experiencing it via a VR headset is night and day!”

VR headsets enable all disciplines to integrate with the final design, for example clarifying the layout to communications or MEP teams.

This technique has been applied to various major station and depot projects by our team. Referring to the toilet redesign above, Nicole continues: “We wanted to demonstrate to the client the real user experience, comparing the old design with the new – would they feel comfortable and relaxed or hemmed in and stressed? The VR headset goes on and you can see they really get it!” 

On a depot design, this combination of BIM and VR is helping to bring operational efficiencies. Julia says: “Video ‘walkthroughs’ give station staff a realistic depiction of what their experience will be like. As well as helping us iron out any creases prior to construction, by recreating the station for the people who will populate it – the fire officers, maintenance and office staff, cleaners and drivers – we can make sure it is operationally ready from the get go, and that things like evacuation routes are clearly understood.”

And it’s not just interior layouts that are being finessed. The team is planning to use augmented and virtual-reality tools to enable the local community to experience the impact of the construction of large infrastructure on their environment. Again, Nicole believes that the offer of a virtual tour in three dimensions provides greater assurances and understanding than a drawing ever could.

“We can use VR to assess the visual impact of a large depot on users and stakeholders and address concerns with such factors as the height, massing and materials used in the final design,” she explained. “It will also enable us to come up with some mitigations to lessen the impact even further.”

Inclusivity baked in

Navigating a busy underground station can be stressful, especially when it’s unfamiliar. For example, the elderly, those with learning difficulties or physical disabilities, or families with young children can find the peak time rush scary – even traumatic. This is as true now as it was when I did my research on Canary Wharf nearly ten years ago. The challenge remains for station designers to make these busy and often crowded spaces inclusive for everybody. That means creating a space that is welcoming, not intimidating, and one that works for everyone. 

Fortunately, how we embed inclusivity into our designs is getting more sophisticated. Agent-Based Modelling (ABM), for example, is a 3D-tool traditionally we use to gauge a station’s crowdedness by simulating the movement of people in a virtual, rendered landscape. As part of the ‘refine’ process, our novel application of ABM has helped us identify existing design limitations that could inhibit movement – detailed heat mapping clearly demonstrates potential conflicts between lift and escalator users and those alighting or boarding the trains. We can then demonstrate significant reductions in the number of people per square metre in and around these traditional blackspots. 

Ultimately, we delivered a station design that was empirically more inclusive – in this instance, we more than doubled lift space capacity, increasing the number of passengers using the lifts from 10 to 25 per cent, and grouped escalators together to improve pedestrian flow and reduce the likelihood of accidents. 

To create spaces that are truly inclusive, designers need to put themselves in the position of all users. It’s not just about practical convenience, it’s about equality of experience. My challenge as an inclusive designer is taking what I know about a station – its capacity, predicted traffic flow, train dwell time, gate throughput – and intuiting how someone other than an able-bodied, six-foot-plus man like me might interact with that environment. 

This is a serious issue that goes far beyond the discomfort of not being able to find a loo! For example, what constitutes a dangerous space to me might differ dramatically from that of a woman travelling alone late at night. Building on safe-by-design, diversity-impact assessments, and other baseline guidance, this thinking needs to be at the forefront of every design development. 

To be inclusive means much more than simply factoring checklist items into our designs; we need to consider more nebulous aspects, like vulnerability, and our perceptions of it. Service design thinking is one way we can incorporate the needs of actual end users into our designs early on.

We need to get serious about designing spaces that are fit for everybody. Service design thinking can help us focus on usability, which asks us to consider how to improve inclusivity, develop new ideas and implement those ideas using trusted techniques. 

If we can develop buildings that are intuitive to the human experience and will meet the needs of society now and in the future, then we will be doing our job. 

John Harding is technical director architecture, major and international projects at WSP.

Affordable by Design: Market Harborough station revisited

In spring 2019 (issue 179, June 2019), Rail Engineer reported on the considerable work that was being undertaken at Market Harborough on the Midland main line; not just on the route itself but also on the station and surrounding area. 

Since that visit, the site has changed significantly, with new tracks and platforms in place and in use, together with new extended car parking facilities. At the time of the May visit, the facilities were in interim use, quite a bit of the old station still giving service with purely construction contractor access to much of the new works.

Late in December of 2019, Rail Engineer was invited back to view the works in an advanced state and also to understand the collaborative processes that had enabled this strategically vital portion of work on the Midland main line to approach successful completion. Contractor Amey and lead designer Arup, working together with Network Rail, have made huge progress from that first pre-blockade visit.

The history of this location was covered in depth in the previous article, but it is worth having a brief review. The station had previously been a junction, with cross country lines to the east and the west. Following closure of those routes in the 1960s, the main line geometry remained more or less unchanged, with a configuration appropriate to the previous junction geometry arrangements.

The Midland main line is a route which has had mixed fortunes in terms of investment and speed improvements. The design and construction of the works at Market Harborough, which are led by Arup and Amey together with Network Rail, form part of an improvement programme to remove historic speed restrictions throughout the route. Market Harborough is one of the most significant of these with a linespeed of just 60mph – the aim is to increase this to 85mph (137km/h). 

However, the project scope is not just about linespeed, although an increase will reduce the section running time by about 30 seconds. It also includes a number of station improvements to provide passengers with better facilities.

Stakeholder interfaces

The reconstruction and new works were encouraged and supported through the backing of many stakeholders, which would benefit from the improvements in both passenger facilities and train performance. 

As indicated, the significant driver was the Midland main line performance improvements programme, but the station itself was also in need of significant enhancement to suit its growing patronage and status as an important commuter station. To illustrate the strategic nature and influence of the work, Sheffield City Region, D2N2 (Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire) and Leicestershire local enterprise partnerships offered support to the scheme. 

The local ‘Harborough Rail Users’ user group was closely involved and its statement at the end of the blockade and the opening of the new tracks was very positive, saying: “Market Harborough station reopened today, 3 June 2019, after a six-day closure, during which the new track alignment was completed. Though there were no official ceremonies, there was much local interest, plus pride on the part of Network Rail, their contractors and East Midlands Trains that the project had been completed on time and to a very high standard.” 

Cooperation with the user group also encouraged general conversations with the local residents, with Amey, Arup and Network Rail involved in keeping the local community updated as to the progress of the scheme. Even local schools were brought into the loop, with surplus cable drums passed to a local school for use as playground furniture!

Further support came from external funding including the government-sponsored ‘Access for All’ programme. Launched in 2006, this scheme addresses the issues faced by persons of reduced mobility, those with heavy luggage or with pushchairs, when using railway stations in Great Britain. The funding is used to create an obstacle free, accessible route from the station entrance to the platform. This generally includes providing lifts or ramps, as well as associated works and refurbishment along the route.

Additionally, the station improvement project received support from the passenger journey improvement project, another government scheme whereby £3.6 million funding aimed at transforming rail passenger travel.

Projects had to bid for this funding, which required them to develop and demonstrate technologies that would improve the passenger experience on UK railways, including:

  • A design for railway carriages that will increase peak hours seat numbers;
  • A carriage design that can quickly switch from carrying passengers to carrying goods;
  • Beacons that guide visually-impaired passengers through the station and to their seat;
  • Technology enabling disabled passengers to seek real-time assistance with their journey;
  • An augmented reality application that highlights a journey’s landmarks.

Market Harborough’s successful bid for funding was based on the innovative use of contrasting colours to help guide passengers with reduced vision through the station.

Putting passengers first

Due to the nature of the site, the Arup and Amey design for the new higher-speed track alignment was developed to be clear of the current operational railway, allowing a high percentage of the work to be undertaken off-track, during daylight hours and without the need for a lengthy blockade, keeping disruption of service and line closure to an absolute minimum. 

As the new alignment would occupy the majority of the previous existing car park area, this was relocated to the other side of the tracks. At the request of both Network Rail and the train operator, a larger parking area was planned that would have better access and could be built in two stages, one before the old car park was removed and a second enlargement once the construction ‘village’ was removed.

The new facility was also to include a ticketing and booking ‘hub’ close to the Up platform to avoid the need for motorists to cross to the booking office and come back for London-bound trains.

The realigned track was integrated into the route over a relatively short blockade at the end of May leading into June. Robust pre-planning, carefully staged designs and collaboration with Network Rail and the train operator allowed diversions and alternative arrangements to be facilitated that minimised disruption to passengers and freight. 

A number of temporary designs were produced to enable the railway to operate during construction before the final alignment was fully complete. Following that blockade, construction could continue with the new lines in use. 

Collaborative working

With the considerable volume of design and construction work involved, collaborative working was seen as being essential for a successful outcome. Amey acted as lead contractor and Arup as lead designer, with Atkins as part of the design supply chain. 

‘Early Contractor Involvement’ allowed Amey to work with Network Rail and take an upfront view of the shape of collaboration arrangements that would be required. East Midlands Trains (now East Midlands Railway) was an important partner in planning the works and the project team acknowledged the significant success of that integration. As well as station operations, the issue of signal sighting and general movement operations was reinforced by the close involvement of the train operator’s driver manager team.

Adoption of a collaborative working philosophy resulted in the design spreading beyond its initial geographic scope. To avoid the need for separate design works and scheme plans, the level crossing abandonment works at Little Bowden were interfaced with the main design package.

Affordable by Design

One guiding principal adopted by the project partners throughout the design process was ‘Affordable by Design’. Arup’s engineering manager Russell Gee and project manager Bob Gillespie explained that, whilst value management and value engineering had been applied to the scope of the project, the total design was developed to optimise ease of construction while staying within the envelope of available funding. 

Project sponsor Network Rail contributed to the project’s success through regular stakeholder meetings. Robust scheme development made a positive contribution, reinforced by an early GRIP Stage 3 (option selection) process.

As an example, the project goal was to reduce the section running time by 30 seconds. It had been assumed that, to do this, the linespeed would have to be increased to 110mph (180km/h). The pre-existing layout in Pony Paddock, where the former route from Northampton had joined the main line north of the station, certainly offered the opportunity to improve line speed in that section, but for significant cost in terms of earthworks and structural modification. Calculations showed that the result would not only exceed the scope of the project, giving almost 60 seconds of time saving, but would also exceed the budget.

The design was therefore scaled back to maximise the outputs within the available funding. Adopting a metric of £ per second saved, the track plan was revised, moving the modifications further south and away from the historical junction. Linespeed was set at 85mph (137km/h) and the required 30 second time was achieved for a cost 20 per cent below the original proposal.

Thus, through careful consideration of affordability during the design phase, the benefits were maximised within the funding envelope, prioritising the maximum savings in run time per pound of investment. 

Taking the ‘Affordable by Design’ concept a stage further, analysis showed the potential for further economy by careful consideration of track levels, minimising excavation. Moving the crossover provision to a site just north of the new platforms reduced complexity. Intelligent engineering application of design standards also provided considerable savings on station facilities, including the footbridge design.

Constructing the new platforms and other related infrastructure off-track, while trains continued to use the old alignment, resulted in an improved programme with good access and safer working, away from rail traffic. It also required the closure of only part of the original car park, further maintaining passenger facilities during construction.

Spent ballast was used to form a base for the new carpark, while material from the redundant goods shed and superseded platforms was crushed to form an onsite building material. This removed the need to transport waste to landfill while careful grading improved the general environment, with around 20,000 tonnes of material being reused on-site.

Project outcome

The Railways (Interoperability) Regulations 2011 set out the accessibility requirements for persons with reduced mobility travelling by rail. Train and station operators are required by their operating licences to establish and comply with a disabled people’s protection policy (DPPP) which must be approved by Office of Rail and Road (ORR). A DPPP sets out the arrangements and assistance that an operator will provide to protect the interests of older and disabled people using its services.

Measures taken at Market Harborough included lifts with doors on both sides that allow through passage, avoiding the need to turn mobility aids to exit at the landings. Those whose eyesight was challenged were assisted by the application of braille to handrails.

Mention of physical limitations also brings to mind the improved use of contrasting colours for platform equipment to aid people with visual impairment. This involved careful evaluation of both colours and the reflective capabilities of galvanizing, stainless steel and painted finishes on the platform infrastructure.

The combination of ‘affordable by design’ and collaboration led to an economical and effective construction programme, with changes taking place in the design phase rather than on site. 

Using state of the art techniques, Arup generated a virtual-reality, three-dimensional ‘fly through’ using headsets, helping stakeholders and local residents engage with and experience the design. In fact, the lift shaft and access arrangements were designed and developed as a result of this virtual-reality interaction. 

The result is a valuable addition to the resurgent Midland main line, set off by the retention of the listed station building and the sympathetic renovation of the listed covered way up to the platforms. The collaborative efforts of Amey and Arup, with the support of their supply chain partners, has delivered to Network Rail and East Midlands Railway an enhanced facility that can provide a quality service experience to passengers and freight. 

The decision to extend electrification north to Market Harborough will be welcome, with the station and layout designs allowing passive provision for the arrival of the wires and compliance to future electrification requirements built into the design. 

Thanks to Jon Wells and Bruce Abraham of Amey, Russell Gee and Bob Gillespie from Arup and the project team from Network Rail for their assistance in preparing this report.

Robroyston: New Station, Dunbar: New Platform

The December timetable change saw Scotland getting its 358th railway station and the reinstatement of a station platform that was removed in the late 1980s. The new station at Robroyston, north east of Glasgow, and the new platform at Dunbar in East Lothian are, as Alex Hynes, managing director of Scotland’s Railway, put it, “further milestones as we build the best railway Scotland’s ever had”. 

Another December milestone was the introduction of the full eight-coach service on the Edinburgh to Glasgow main line. 

Funding Robroyston

Robroyston lies just within the Glasgow city boundary, four miles from the city centre. Here, in 1305, Scottish hero William Wallace was captured when he was betrayed to the English. The location of his capture is marked by a monument next to one of the new housing estates in the area. 

Proposals for a further housing development of 1,600 homes with a new hotel, primary school and outdoor sports facility were developed and approved in principle by the council in 2012, subject to the provision of a railway station. The city was keen that this development had rail access and offered a park and ride facility for traffic from the adjacent junction 2 of the M80 motorway. 

Funding arrangements for the station were agreed in 2017. The council agreed to contribute £10 million towards the cost of a station and associated link road, which it will recoup when houses are complete through a legal agreement with the developers. Further funding for the station was provided from Transport Scotland’s new station fund and SPT (Strathclyde Partnership for Transport). 

Ariel view of Robroyston station shows the approach roads through planned development between the M80 motorway junction and the station.

2017 also saw publication of Network Rail’s Hansford review, which considered how third parties could fund and deliver railway projects. Transport Scotland was also keen to promote innovative project delivery. Robroyston was to be such a project with train operator ScotRail responsible for the delivery of this third-party-funded station. 

WSP had been involved with the Robroyston development since 2012, when business development director Douglas Rushforth supported the private developer, through Network Rail’s planning process, to develop a business case for the new station. Building on this experience, three WSP personnel were seconded to ScotRail’s Robroyston project team. ScotRail provided the remaining services and expertise, from operational safety and property management to sustainability and safety assurance, project management and property services. WSP’s secondees were Sarah Piscitelli, who joined ScotRail in January 2018 as the project manager, Chris Reid, who became the third-party representative from January 2019, and Kyra Wardle who, from July 2019, became the dedicated entry-into-service lead.

ScotRail also appointed Doig+Smith to act as the contract administrator under the design and build contract and to provide quantity surveying services. The Glasgow-based construction consultancy administered the construction contract, together with the management of contractor costs and the verification of works. ScotRail appointed the design and build contract to AmcoGiffen, with Atkins as designer.

Building the station

Work on the station started in September 2018. Sarah explained that one problem was the peaty ground on which the car parks were built. Overcoming this required 942 precast concrete piles with resilient and flexible Huesker (for car parks) and Tensar (for roads) soil reinforcement geogrids. 

The station has two car parks. One is on the south side of the line, serving the settlement of Millerston, while the other, much larger, car park provides the park and ride facility from the M80 and will serve the future development of 1,600 homes. Hence this car park is reached by roundabouts from which there are currently no access roads. 

Before ScotRail’s involvement, it was decided that, to ensure an acceptable OLE contact wire height, the station had to be located some distance from a nearby bridge and that the station’s construction required the four existing OLE structures to be replaced by five repositioned structures. 

The platforms are a glass reinforced polymer (GRP)/steel system supplied by Dura Composites. This enabled the platforms to be built using rules of route possessions due to its modular lightweight components, which Sarah likened to assembling IKEA furniture. The system also has built-in height adjustment in the event of any settlement.

Platform work was completed when this photograph was taken on 24 October 2019 but had only just started on 11 September 2019.

Sarah considered that the project was an excellent example of collaborative working. For example, the project had many stakeholders – all were involved in design meetings to ensure that designs were right first time. This process was led by Chris Reid, who ensured designs were submitted to Network Rail in a timely fashion, which led to approval in a matter of days.

Kyra Wardle’s role was also key. Not only did she have to submit the many documents to the Office of Rail and Road to ensure the station’s entry into service, but she also had to curate the many documents required for the health and safety file. This was particularly significant as ScotRail were building an asset that was to be handed over to Network Rail, which would then lease it back to ScotRail.

Glasgow’s 60th station

The first train called at Robroyston station at 08:37 on Sunday 15 December, which marked the introduction of the new timetable. The station is on the Glasgow Queen Street to Cumbernauld line. Twelve months previously, this route had been extended to provide a new Glasgow to Edinburgh service via Cumbernauld and Falkirk Grahamston, which is operated by ScotRail’s new class 385 units. Thus, the new station offers a half hourly service to both Glasgow and Edinburgh.

View of Dunbar station from original platform and Azuma calling at the new platform. Between the two can be seen the remains of the original Down platform.

The unstaffed station cost £14 million and was built to time and budget. It has two 150-metre platforms, a pedestrian overbridge, stairs and access lifts and 263 car parking spaces, 12 of which offer electric vehicle charging and 20 accessible parking bays. There is scope for a third car park which would increase parking capacity to 400 spaces.

On 16th December, the station was inaugurated by Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure & Connectivity, who unveiled a plaque to mark the occasion. When doing so he noted that “This ScotRail led project has used an innovative construction method and taken little over a year to complete, on time and within budget. Not only has it secured significant savings to the public purse, it has also given us key learning for future rail projects. This really is an excellent example of partnership working at its best.”


Unlike Robroyston, Dunbar is a well-established community having become a royal burgh in 1370. Its station was the halfway point on the Edinburgh to Berwick railway, which was the first railway across the Scottish Border when it opened in 1846. Not surprisingly, its Tudor-style two-story station building is listed as Category B. The station is 29 miles east of Edinburgh and has an irregular, roughly hourly service provided by LNER, CrossCountry trains and ScotRail. In 2018/19, it had 478,000 entries and exits, which is a 28 per cent increase on five years ago. 

Up to December, Dunbar was a rare example of a station with a single platform, located on the Up-line loop, on one side of a busy main line. As a result, northbound trains on the East Coast main line stopping at Dunbar had to cross the Up line to call at the station. The Down line platform was removed in the 1980s during the East Coast electrification to allow the curve at the station to be realigned for higher speed. However, since then, the station’s single platform has become an increasingly difficult operational constraint due to the increased traffic on the main line. It also limited additional services from the station.

In 2016 a scheme was developed to provide a platform on the Down line. The final design was for a platform to accommodate LNER’s Azumas, with lifts and a 32-metre span footbridge. This long span is needed as the old and new platforms are some distance apart, due to the easing of the curve in the 1980s.

After discussions with East Lothian Council about design and amenity, planning permission was received in April 2018 for the construction of the footbridge and lifts. Listed building consent for the demolition of a former goods shed adjoining the station building was also obtained. This was required as the north side lift-shafts and steps were to be constructed on the site of this goods shed.

B-listed station building and lift shaft which stands on site of former goods shed.

In November 2018, AmcoGriffen was appointed to undertake the design and construction of the new platform. This included the footbridge, lifts and steps, with associated demolition work, civil, mechanical and electrical works and the new 271-metre platform. This is long enough to accommodate a ten-coach Azuma train (two five-car units coupled together). 

Work on site started in May 2019. The provision of the new platform entailed the demolition of the goods shed, the replacement of six OLE headspans with twin-track cantilever structures and the renewal of 50 metres and realignment of 300 metres of track.

Just as at Robroyston, the first train to use the platform did so at the start of the new timetable. This was an LNER Azuma on a Newcastle to Edinburgh service, timed to leave Dunbar at 10:04 on 15 December. The official opening of the new platform, which was provided at a cost of £13 million, took place on Tuesday the 17 December when guests were welcomed by Kris Kinnear, Network Rail commercial director, and speeches made by Bill Reeve, Transport Scotland director of Rail, and Jacqueline Bell of Dunbar Community Council.

After the speeches, there was a reception at which prizes were presented to winners of a safety poster competition from Dunbar Primary school. This was a good example of engagement with the local community. Another such example was the appointment of a community liaison manager, Allan Brooking, who was on site for two days a week. With the platform completed, he hosted a meeting between ScotRail and residents to minimise the nuisance from station announcements. At the reception, local rail campaigners praised his role in keeping the community informed and managing issues such as night-time piling adjacent to the nearby housing estate. 

Alan Ross, Network Rail Scotland’s director of engineering and asset management, with the pupils from Dunbar Primary School and their prize-winning safety posters.

An interesting comparison

Dunbar’s new platform, provided at a cost of £13 million, will allow the provision of more trains to support increasing commuter traffic from an established community, whereas the £14 million Robroyston station has been built for a large housing development that has yet to be built. Each required a footbridge with lifts and steps. Both provide almost the same total platform length (Dunbar 271 metres, Robroyston 2 x 150 metres). However, the Robroyston project also required the provision of two car parks, a total of 263 spaces, on difficult ground. 

Thus, these two projects are in many ways quite similar. Yet, with one delivered by ScotRail and the other managed by Network Rail, no doubt more detailed comparisons are being made. Whatever the results of any such analysis, there is no doubt both stations will deliver significant benefits for their local communities. 

Rolling stock maintenance and remote condition monitoring

This is the fourth time that Rail Engineer has reported on London Business Conferences’ symposium on rolling stock maintenance, featuring Remote Condition Monitoring (issues 136, 148 and 171). This year was the eighth such conference and more than 120 speakers and delegates assembled in west London over two days in early December. 

Whilst the main topic was Remote Condition Monitoring (RCM) enabled by on-train sensors, wireless communications, cloud storage and analysis, there were a number of other interesting topics.

Back in 2015, enthusiasts for RCM were clearly seeing themselves as evangelists – follow us and it will all be good, they said! Roll on four years and it is evident they were right. Many presentations showed the benefit of the RCM approach and industry leaders, including Thierry Fort, executive director of rolling stock engineering with SNCF Mobilities, and Johannes Emmelheinz, CEO of Siemens Mobility Customer Services, demonstrated the clear benefits to their organisations and to their customers. 

New trains come with this facility as a matter of course, but, increasingly, there is a demonstrable business case for retrofitting existing vehicles, as speakers from Latvia, India, Belgium and Saudi Arabia testified. 

There was also an increasing trend to recognise that “throwing a bunch of sensors” at a train is not necessarily the right answer. A clever data scientist, working with a rolling stock expert, ought to be able to extract similar information from a single sensor that a less-expert team might gain from several dozen. To an extent this is true of the wheel bearing sensors described below. They were installed to monitor bearing performance, then clever people found they also provided information about the wheels and the track. 

Many speakers emphasised the importance of leadership, management and taking the people along on the journey, making the point that these are business change projects not IT projects. In 2015, this emphasis ranged from restrained to non-existent, so progress has been made. 

This report will examine some of the case studies, including managing wheels and axle bearings. It will also discuss some of the people issues and, as this conference always has some “and now for something completely different” moments, a selection of these will be described. 

Wheels and axle bearings

The condition of wheels and axle bearings can be assessed by the use of wayside equipment or by the use of axlebox sensors. Siemens, Voestalpine, TrackIQ and Talgo are suppliers of the former whilst Perpetuum and SKF supply the latter. There has been much debate about the merits of the two techniques, and what follows are some conclusions from drawing on the points made by the above-mentioned suppliers, together with input from Chiltern Railways’ Simon Jarrett (pictured below) and Huddersfield University’s Professor Adam Bevan.

Many factors determine when maintenance interventions are required on wheelsets, such as hollow profile, thin flange, flats, rolling contact fatigue and, sometimes, cavities or out-of-roundness. In addition, most bearing manufacturers specify a mileage limit between overhauls. 

The traditional method of checking wheels is by measuring profiles during inspection in depots; something that is labour intensive and not especially accurate. Automated systems have been available for over 20 years. Bearings, generally, were overhauled at the specified interval and occasional failures were detected using hot axlebox detectors (HABD). A hot wheel bearing is, at best, hours from failure, so a train with a detected bearing is almost always taken out of service immediately. A much better method is to use vibration monitoring, which can give several months warning of failure. 

Simon Jarrett reported on one of the earliest uses of GOTCHA trackside wheel condition and acoustic axle bearing monitoring, which Chiltern introduced at Wembley in 2013. Simon described the maintenance intervals for bearings and the nature of wheel wear defects before monitoring and the intervals achieved after monitoring was introduced. He said that wheel maintenance can now be planned and that there is no planned axle bearing maintenance, as shown below: 

Before monitoringafter monitoring
Fleet classFleet Size (V vehicles)Bearing LifeWheelset factorsBearing LifeTypical Wheel Life
16589900k kmCavities & flatsUnlimited1.6 million km
16885UnlimitedCavities, flats and Rolling Contact fatigueUnlimited1.7 million km
1728UnlimitedCavities, engine brakingUnlimited1.0 million km
Mk338700k kmCavities & flatsUnlimited2.0 million km
DVT6700k kmCavities & flats, thin flangesUnlimited1.6 million km

Over the last four years, the monitoring system identified 46 bearings that needed to be changed. Simon said that, in the early days of monitoring, fitters would strip any removed bearing to confirm the defect, a practice that has now ceased due to his confidence in the system. He cautioned, however, that the trackside monitoring system is unlikely to catch a bearing that has no lubrication or severely contaminated grease and they have had three overheated bearings in the last four years. For these, the traditional HABD is the last line of defence.

Rail Engineer’s previous reviews of this conference have reported on similar results on Southeastern, which has equipped its Electrostar fleet with Perpetuum self-powered axlebox accelerometers. This year, Perpetuum has a competitor in SKF’s Insight Rail product, which is a small, battery-powered sensor that transmits data directly by 2G/3G mobile signals. 

The key debate seems to be whether it is better to have track-side or on-vehicle monitoring. Both provide information about the state of wheel bearings and wheels, but vehicle-mounted sensors can also provide information about the track and should detect a hot axlebox, although a much shorter response time will be required. Then there is the question of how many trackside systems might be needed to cover an operator’s whole network – for a large train operator with an extensive network, a single trackside installation would probably be insufficient. 

A hot wheel bearing can be only hours from failure.

These are challenges to be worked out between potential suppliers and operators, with account being taken of the value to the infrastructure manager of the information that vehicle-mounted sensors might generate. 

In his talk, Adam Bevan provided insight into the question of the optimum frequency of wheel turning – either “little and often” or “leave it until absolutely necessary”. There is one truism, that a wheel with flanges at the thin-flange limit needs an awful lot of metal to be turned off to restore the profile. This is a condition to be avoided. That aside, other factors – loss of diameter, tread hollowing and growth of rolling contact fatigue cracks – are the key reasons for wheel turning. 

Adam described the work his team had done analysing data from monitoring systems and wheel-turning records to identify the optimum wheel reprofiling interval, which proved to be just before RCF crack growth accelerates. This is based on knowledge about crack growth. Following initiation, the RCF cracks grow slowly to start with, but then they reach a point after which they start to grow rapidly. 

The analysis indicated that leading axles tend to suffer more crack damage than trailing axles. For the particular fleet in the study, this work led to the following strategy; that wheels would be turned every 200 days instead of every 241 days, that the cut depth would be 4 to 6mm instead of 13mm, and the wheelset monitoring system would look out for any unusual occurrences such as wheel flats. This approach was expected to increase wheel life by between 50 and 70 per cent and deliver approximately a seven per cent reduction in costs.

Thierry Fort.

A view from Paris

Thierry Fort (pictured above) presented a case study illustrating the results of using data in condition-based maintenance. He talked about the modern train fleets in and around Paris that have been using this approach over the last six years. The process was not unusual – connected train, big data, cloud storage, analysis by data scientists and rolling-stock experts, up-to-date maintenance centre, processes which involve data/information at the heart of all activities and having the information available before the train arrives back at depot. The results were extremely positive: failures in service were reduced by 40 to 50 per cent (reliability rate doubled), labour cost was reduced by 20 per cent, train availability was improved by 20 to 30 per cent and there was a reduction of 30 per cent in the number of work orders generated.

Thierry concluded with a look forward to a future in which artificial intelligence could be used for much more than train maintenance. Focussing on video surveillance, or “Video Protection” that would involve on-train analysis of the on-board CCTV, he noted that such a process could alert control to the signs of trouble on board a train, for example a brawl, and allow the human operators to check and, if necessary, intervene.

Now for something completely different!

One of the challenges faced by maintainers and owners of older fleets is sourcing the parts required for maintenance. This is particularly true of parts that are not routinely needed. Richard Flint of Chiltern Railways highlighted some of the challenges with a fleet which, bar a few vehicles, is over 20 years old. 

He said that Chiltern has 12,000 different parts in its stores, yet this is just a small subset of parts contained in the OEM’s Illustrated Parts Lists (IPL); for example, the Class 168 IPL extends to eight thick volumes. All too often, the supplier of the original part – the OEM – is no longer in existence and it is hugely time consuming to identify an alternative supplier. Even if the OEM is still around, it is often impossible to obtain small quantities of parts quickly. What supplier of plastic parts wants to make a rush order of, say, ten armrests? 

This situation led Chiltern and Angel Trains, the owner of the Class 165 and 168 fleets, to investigate additive manufacture, better known as 3D printing. The process starts by 3D scanning the original part, adjusting the scan to correct any deficiencies in the scanning or, indeed, in the original part. Then the item is printed on an industrial 3D printer. Three items were chosen for trial, seat back handles, seat armrests and a complex piece of trim around the driver’s power-brake controller. 

These trials have proved to be successful and, for similar items, the process presents many advantages. These include the ability to produce economically small quantities of parts otherwise unobtainable, with shorter lead times. This delivers a reduction in the time taken to renew parts on the fleets, a reduction in management time for the management of vehicle defects, an increase in vehicle availability and, above all, an increase in customer satisfaction.

People issues

At each of these conferences, the importance of managing the people issues as an integral part of the RCM projects has been emphasised. This time, Neil Robertson, chief executive of the National Skills Academy for Rail, gave a forthright challenge to the UK rolling stock leaders, along the lines of “it’s not enough to take the people with you, you’ve got to find them first!”

Neil’s talk, “Professionalising the Workforce”, described the many challenges facing the rolling stock engineering and maintenance organisations. He illustrated the skills shortage, that 30 per cent of the employees are over 50, that it is likely to get worse before it gets better, and that a great deal more has to be done to encourage girls into engineering in general and railways in particular. 

Moving on to discuss the challenge that fleet maintainers have when a new fleet is introduced, Neil compared it with the automotive sector, where cars have got gradually more complex and auto mechanics have been converted to auto technicians over roughly a 10-year period.

Contrast that with a new fleet introduction and the fleet manager often has little more than 10 months to do a similar conversion for his or her team. Some of them might not adapt to the task of using laptops and data to diagnose faults, which uses quite different parts of the brain than is typical in engineering. Neil particularly highlighted the skills shortage of good data scientists, stating that there is likely to be a “shortfall of circa 60 heads across the sector per year for the next 20 years”, although there is some light at the end of the tunnel as “England has seen a 129-fold increase in apprentices starting digital or data-related apprenticeships since 2014”. 

He also highlighted that level 4 data technician and level 6 data scientist shared apprenticeships which are available and he recommended a visit to the NSAR website to find out more. He said that companies experienced in using data tend to gravitate to the level 4 qualification with the aim of improving data cleansing whereas those with least experience tend to look to the level 6 qualification. 

Finally, for those looking at how to encourage youngsters to join the rail industry, Neil recommended looking out for the “Routes into Rail” web site which will be coming soon. 

Closing down

This conference also included a first for your writer – a paper on closing down a maintenance operation! Stephen Head and Aoife Considine from Heathrow Express (HEx) described their work on “Managing an End of Life Fleet and Depot”. In brief, Heathrow Express currently owns and operates Class 332 CAF/Siemens trains. The trains are maintained by Siemens in a dedicated depot in Old Oak Common (pictured below) that has to be demolished to make way for HS2. 

This depot also maintains the Class 360 sets that used to operate the Heathrow Connect service and which should have been replaced by Crossrail/TfLRail/Elizabeth line Class 345 trains in mid-2018. 

It is intended that, in future, HEx will be operated by Great Western Railway using reconfigured Class 387 EMUs which are being fitted with ETCS for operation in the Heathrow Express-owned tunnels. This changeover was due to happen in December 2019, but is also running late. 

The challenge for Stephen, Aoife and Siemens management was to continue to deliver safe, reliable rolling stock, and to motivate the staff to do so in the certain knowledge that their jobs would end at a date that keeps shifting. 

Another relevant factor is that the Bombardier depot which maintains Elizabeth line Class 345 trains and the Hitachi depot that maintains GWR’s Inter-City Express trains are right next door to the HEx/Siemens depot. Both of these depots need experienced train-maintenance staff.

All this meant that the management had to deal with three issues. Firstly, motivation and retention of staff; secondly, planning and re-planning the maintenance activities on fleets where the date for end of operations keeps slipping, and, thirdly, disposal of the Hex-owned Class 332 trains and safely closing down the site. All this was being done whilst working in a depot environment that increasingly resembles a building site. 

In terms of managing the operation as a going concern, Aoife stressed the importance of open and honest communication with the team to engender pride in the quality of service that HEx delivers. However, they had also recognised that, with the adjacent depots, the competitive pressures were severe, so had introduced retention payments and, where staff had left, contract staff had been recruited to fill gaps. 

Maintenance planning was carried out using what was described as a simple scenario planning technique: “What have we got to do if the trains have to keep going for 6, 12 or 18 months beyond the original forecast end date?” Aoife also said that all the planning is tempered by a healthy dose of flexibility and pragmatism.


In attending four of these conferences over five years, Rail Engineer has noticed a certain maturity evolving over the whole business of RCM. In 2015, those attending came over as pioneers, or even mavericks. Today, they are seen as respectable members of the team who can genuinely deliver improved performance and reduced costs. 

The influx of new trains (in the UK at least) is helping, as they include data collection facilities as standard, but the case for retrofit is increasingly being made and this trend will continue. 

Bringing 3D printing to the UK rail industry

3D printing is an almost magical process, yet, in a way, it is also so simple. A normal ink-jet computer printer lays down a film of ink onto a sheet of paper to produce letters, words or an image. Now use thicker ink, and go over the image several times, and a three-dimensional shape starts to form.

Replace the ink with plastic or metal powder, and the paper with a sheet that can be peeled off once the printing is finished, and that’s the essence of 3D printing. The size of the object is only limited by the size of the printer, and the thickness depends on how may layers are put down – how many times the print head goes over the same area.

Rail Engineer first became aware of the process in 2013, when Hobs 3D created a model of the upgraded King’s Cross station from the original computer-aided design (CAD) files, making the model extremely accurate.

Since then, 3D printing, now also called Additive Manufacturing (AM) as material is added through the process, has become a bona-fide manufacturing technique, used to make components for all types of equipment, including railway trains.

Derby-based DB ESG is part of a cross-industry partnership that is leading the way by being the first to apply 3D printing to the UK rail industry, providing engineering design, assessment and approvals for the introduction of 3D printed components on UK train fleets. Working together, Angel Trains, Stratasys and DB ESG have, to date, produced eight fully approved components using AM. 

Some of these parts are currently being trialled on in-service passenger trains by Chiltern Railways. This is the first time production-ready 3D printed parts have been fitted on passenger trains within the UK. 

Unique manufacturing challenge 

Manufacturing for rolling stock is expensive, with train fleet production runs being of low volume compared to other manufacturing industries. This low volume drives up the manufacturing cost, removes the incentive to invest in research and development, and reduces the number of suppliers able to compete.

The challenge is exacerbated by the issue of obsolescence – trains can be in operation for 30 or more years. To keep these fleets operational and in peak condition, asset managers such as Angel Trains need to ensure the continued supply of parts for which the original manufacturing drawings may no longer exist, and that may only be needed in very small quantities for the remainder of the vehicle’s life. 

Such legacy parts are generally expensive, have very long lead times, and are often not tailored to the specific fleet or application. They can be a real struggle for the existing supply chain and manufacturing methods, leading to many operators having to expend unnecessary amounts of effort and cost when managing these parts. 

3D printing could be the solution to these manufacturing challenges, allowing replacement parts to be produced at low cost, in low volume and with short lead times. Depots could have their own printers to enable parts to be manufactured as required, and train operators could even personalise parts with their own badge or logo, knowing that the parts can easily be replaced if the train were to change hands.

Overall, the key benefits of using AM include: 

  • On-demand production of replacement parts, eliminating the need for large spares holdings, reducing whole life rolling stock costs and replacement of obsolete parts;
  • Use of high-performance, cutting-edge materials, with advanced mechanical properties such as high strength, flame, smoke and toxicity requirements, and the ability to certify to industry standards;
  • Freedom to design customised parts, unique to the customer requirements;
  • Reductions in spare part costs;
  • Reductions in lost vehicle availability due to fast on-demand production of replacements;
  • Ability to keep passenger trains in service for longer with efficient replacement of parts.

Project overview

The cross-industry group decided to focus on FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) technology, as it is one of the most established 3D printing processes for robust, industrial applications, with parts already deployed in service in comparable transport industries such as aviation.

The first stage of the project was to put procedures in place and to carry out 3D scanning visits to some of Angel Trains’ operator’s depots. Through this, a digital library of over 120 parts has been created, including several parts for which original drawings do not exist, and which, due to their complex shape, would have been challenging to reverse-engineer manually. 

DB ESG then investigated the design, production and finish of FDM parts, checking whether they comply with rail standards and operating environments. The end-to-end process of supplying new 3D printed rail vehicle components was studied, from initial reverse-engineering design, through to approvals and manufacture of the final items. At each stage, the benefits and limitations of the FDM manufacturing technique were considered. 

In particular, DB ESG focused on the:

  • Fire compliance of the FDM materials;
  • Physical properties of the FDM materials and their compliance to structural standards, such as GM/RT2100;
  • Manufacturing limitations and tolerances;
  • Aesthetics – colouring and surface finish of parts, the match with existing parts and compliance with PRM requirements.

DB ESG and Stratasys also evaluated the range of materials available for print. Three were shortlisted and Sabic’s Ultem™ 9085 black resin, which is a high-performance, high-strength, flame, smoke and toxicity compliant resin, was selected for the trial. Both Ultem 9085 and Stratasys’ own Antero 800NA have been tested and certified to rail standard EN45545-2. Importantly, these results were released back to Stratasys for wider use in the rail industry. 

Other 3D printing thermoplastics have been tested. However, these could not meet the mechanical properties or fire performance necessary for rolling stock applications. The industry requires very high fire performance, meaning that satisfying aerospace standards does not guarantee compliance in rail. This collaboration has enabled new, high-performance materials to be tested to demonstrate their compliance to the railway standard EN45545-2.

Five rolling stock components were initially chosen to test the capability of the technology, and reverse-engineered:

  • Interior seat armrest;
  • Two interior seat grab handle designs;
  • Interior seat fold-down table;
  • Cover for an inter-vehicle jumper receptacle.

For each of the above, DB ESG then optimised the component design for FDM manufacture, reducing the internal part density in low-stressed areas and adding custom cut-outs and features to enable the addition of simple metal inserts to interface the parts to the vehicle. 

The structural competence of the final design was then assessed, and the components certified. One example of each component was finally manufactured. For each of the parts, the cost of manufacturing in-house is comparable to that of the existing part, but the real advantage is in a substantial reduction in lead time and order quantity, as low as a single unit.

Passenger service trials 

FDM components are now being trialled on rolling stock in passenger service. 

Angel Trains has been discussing the technology with its rolling stock operators and Chiltern Railways agreed to trial parts. In total, 11 parts are now being trialled on Chiltern Railway’s Class 165 units over a six-month period, commencing in the summer of 2019. After six months, a sample of the parts will be removed from the units and DB ESG will inspect them for signs of wear and/or damage.

Chiltern is trialling:

  • Four left-handed seat back grab handles;
  • Three right-handed seat back grab handles;
  • Four arm rests.

All components have been manufactured and finished to the required standards and are colour-matched to the existing parts. 

Project summary

  • To date, the AM/3D-printing project has achieved:
  • 120 legacy railway components 3D-scanned and digitised;
  • Two 3D-printing FDM materials successfully fire tested, with the results freely released back to the manufacturer for use by the rest of the industry;
  • Eight railway components re-designed and manufactured using AM that have been fully certified for in-service use – these parts are comparable in cost to existing supplies while offering substantial lead time reductions;

The first in-service trial of production-ready AM parts in the UK rail industry;

A range of further R&D work already agreed between all partners, to push the boundaries of the technology further and to speed up its adoption by the wider industry. 

Finally, all members of this collaborative project have also joined the trade body ‘Mobility goes Additive’, an organisation originally set up by DB in Germany that brings together additive manufacturing and transport companies from across Europe to advance the development and uptake of AM technologies within the transport industries. 

Azuma’s HIGHEST challenge

The Highland main line (HML) between Inverness and Perth is the most severely graded line on the UK railway network. It requires southbound trains leaving Inverness at sea level to climb 1,315 feet in 22 miles to reach the Slochd summit – a maximum gradient of 1 in 60. After this, the line drops to 800 feet to go through the Upper Spey valley, overlooked by the Cairngorm mountain range. The line then climbs to the Druimuachdar summit (1,484 feet), the highest point on the UK network. Northbound trains climbing this summit face an 18-mile climb at a near constant 1 in 70 gradient.

Such gradients present a real challenge. In the early 1980s, the 10-coach Clansman train between Inverness and London Euston, hauled by a class 47 locomotive, topped Slochd summit at around 40 mph. The introduction of the Highland Chieftain service in 1984 from Kings Cross to Inverness brought HSTs to the Highlands. With their two Class 43 power cars having a total power output of 3,356kW (4,500bhp), the HML’s summits were no longer such a problem. For example, a nine-coach HST has been recorded as climbing the 1 in 60 gradient to Slochd at 74mph and reaching the summit 21 minutes and 48 seconds after leaving Inverness. 

With ‘Azumas’ replacing HSTs on LNER’s Inverness to London service, Rail Engineer was keen to learn how the Hitachi-built class 800/1 bi-mode trains would tackle these gradients. 

First Azuma from Inverness

At 07:30 on the damp and dark morning of 10 December; there was a buzz at Inverness station as LNER staff, press, invited guests and ordinary passengers gathered around the podium erected to commemorate the inaugural Azuma Highland Chieftain service. LNER managing director David Horne noted that this train’s 580-mile journey to London was one of the longest in the UK. He explained the benefits of the Azuma, which included extra seats that are needed as this train carried 118,000 passengers a year to and from Inverness, a number that had doubled in the last 20 years. 

Inverness provost Helen Carmichael welcomed the enhanced connectivity the new train would bring between London and the north of Scotland and considered this to be an important day, both for the City and the Highlands. 

After the speeches, the pipes and drums of the Pictish band Clanadonia, accompanied by whirling fire dancers escorted passengers to their train which was formed of unit 800 104 which carries LNER’s Scottish tartan. Now was the time to find out how the Azuma’s five 560kW generator sets would tackle the HML gradients. 

The train left 2½ minutes after its planned 07:55 departure due to a late incoming train on the single line to Inverness. Sitting above the under-floor diesel engine, I was aware of a slight hum as the train tackled its first 1 in 60 gradient. The Azuma is a particularly quiet and vibration-free train – indeed, someone at the other end of the coach wasn’t aware that he was in a power car. 

The log of the run is shown in table 1. My GPS indicated that the balance speed on the 1 in 60 gradients up to Slochd was 56mph. The summit was passed 23 minutes 46 seconds after leaving Inverness, two minutes longer than the time taken for an HST. The HML line speed is generally 75/80 mph but has a 2.8-mile length of 90/100 mph level track between Aviemore and Kingussie, on which the Azuma accelerated from 71 to 96mph in 2 minutes 10 seconds before braking for Kingussie station. Soon afterwards, the train started its climb to Druimuachdar summit with a speed of 64mph up the 1 in 80 gradient. 

Arrival in Perth was 5½ minutes late. Allowing for the late departure from Inverness and some slightly extended dwell times, the Azuma, which was running to HST timings, lost two minutes between Inverness and Perth. To allow for Azuma timings, the 15 December timetable changed the Highland Chieftain arrival time in Perth to be 1½ minutes later and reduced the station dwell time to give the same departure time. 

South of Perth, there is a 1 in 100 climb to Gleneagles, which the Azuma managed at 84mph. 12 miles later, as it passed through Dunblane at 75mph, the train raised its pantograph to take power from the OLE and the gentle hum under my seat was no more. 

MilesLocationWorking TimetableActual GPSSpeed
arrivepass / departarrivepass / departpasspoint to point
0Inverness 07:5507:75:20
22.4Slochd08:18:3008:21:0650.8 (1)67.6
65.1Druimachdar Summit09:06:2864.463.5
82.6Blair Atholl09:1509:20:4855.573.3
102.4Dunkeld and Birnam09:36:3009:43:5153.267.0
Running time less stops01:53:3001:55:32
Note:1. 56mph balance speed on 1 in 50, 50mph PSR at Summit

LNER’s engineering director

On the train, it was good to chat to LNER’s engineering director, John Doughty, about the Azuma and its performance on the route. John conceded that it required two or three minutes longer than an HST on the Perth to Inverness route, though didn’t see that this presented any operational difficulties. He emphasised that the Azuma’s distributed traction gives it a more consistent operational performance than an HST, which can take much longer to climb the line’s long steep gradients when adhesion is poor. 

The train configuration is DPTS+MS+MS+TS+MS+TS+MC+MF+DPTF where DPT is a driving trailer with pantograph, M is a motor coach with generator set and traction motors and T is a trailer coach. The class of each coach is denoted by the letters S, F or C for standard, first or composite. Thus, of the Azuma’s nine coaches, five are power cars, each with four traction motors. Powered axles have sanders and are not at the train ends. 

In contrast, the HST’s power cars at each end of the train each have four traction motors and no sanders. 

John was asked whether, in view of the gradients on the line, the generator sets on LNER’s class 800 units should be upgraded from 560 to 720kW, as had been done on the GWR’s Class 800 units. He advised that the GWR units needed upgraded engines as, due to curtailed electrification, they run long distances at high-speed, which requires extra power to boost the top end of the tractive effort curve. In contrast, all of LNER’s high-speed routes are electrified. For this reason, LNER does not consider that the cost of running upgraded engines, which would consume extra fuel and need more maintenance, can be justified.

In diesel mode, the Azuma may not quite have the power of an HST, but it offers other benefits. As all traction and auxiliary equipment is either under the floor or roof mounted, passengers can be carried almost throughout the length of the train. Furthermore, the Azuma has fewer, longer coaches (26 metres compared with the HST’s 23) and so has fewer vestibules. Both these features give the Azuma both 72 more seats than an HST and an extra seven centimetres leg room in standard class.

Azuma Standard Class.

The Azuma’s seats have been criticised for being hard. Although they are certainly firmer, I did not find them uncomfortable. Clearly, seat comfort is a highly subjective matter and is perhaps influenced by an interior which is not as plush as the HSTs and IC225 trains that they replace, whose interiors were refurbished a few years ago. John advised that, following passenger feedback, additional luggage space is to be provided. This will be done by replacing some of the non-reservable windowless seats with floor-mounted racks.

John was also keen to stress the significant environmental benefits of the bi-mode Azumas, which eliminate diesel running under the wires. Previously, an HST on a London to Inverness train was diesel powered throughout its 580-mile journey, now the Azuma takes its power from the OLE for 435 miles, leaving just 145 miles diesel-powered. LNER is monitoring power consumption of the Azumas on the route to determine the precise carbon savings. For now, John estimates that, on the Inverness route, the Azuma’s carbon emissions are a third of an HST. 

LNER has plans for future emission reductions from its bi-mode Azumas as it is thought possible that they could be powered by batteries for short journeys beyond the OLE. For example, Lincoln and Harrogate would require roundtrips of 33 and 36.5 miles off the wire. To assess the feasibility of this concept, LNER is in discussions with Hitachi to replace, on one Azuma, one generator set with a battery pack charged by the OLE to evaluate its performance. 

In another development, John mentions that agreement has now been reached with the regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), about a solution to the hazard of someone using the four sets of jumper cables between coaches as a ladder. This is to lengthen alternate sets of cables so that there are only two “rungs” spaced far apart.

Azuma First Class.

The new fleet

At the start of 2019, LNER had 15 HSTs and 30 IC225 sets formed by class 91 locomotives and Mark 4 coaches. By the end of 2019, the HSTs had all gone and, by mid-2020, all the IC225 sets will have been replaced by Azumas. LNER will then have replaced its BR legacy fleet of 45 train sets with 65 Azumas comprising 23 bi-mode units (13 nine-car class 800/1 and 10 five-car class 800/2) and 42 electric trains (30 nine-car class 801/2 and 12 five-car class 801/1). 

At the time of the inaugural Inverness run on 10 December, the number of Azumas in service were as shown in the table 2.

LNER’s fleet of 15 HSTs, which were primarily used for services beyond its electrified network, were progressively withdrawn over the autumn as the Azumas were introduced on services London to Lincoln, Aberdeen, Inverness and Harrogate on 21 October, 25 November, 9 December and 15 December respectively. Prior to that, LNER introduced Azumas onto its Leeds services on 15 May and to Hull the following day. Azumas started to run from Edinburgh on 1 August, as reported in issue 177 (Aug/Sept 2019). 

LNER’s last HST to carry fare-paying passengers ran on 21 December. This was the last day of a special four-day tour by an HST that had been restored to its original BR livery to mark 41 years of service on the East Coast main line. 

 In service on 10 DecemberFinal fleetFinal timetable service requirement
Class 800/1 nine-car bi-mode 9 13 10
Class 800/2 five-car bi-mode 4 10 8
Class 801/1 five-car electric 8 12 8
Class 801/2 nine-car electric 4 30 26

However, nine of LNER’s HST trainsets remain in service. They have been transferred to East Midlands Railway and are expected to remain in service until the end of 2020 when they will be replaced by cascaded Class 180 and 222 units, pending delivery of EMR’s own Hitachi bi-mode trains which are due to be delivered from 2022. 

The current plan for the introduction of LNER’s full Azuma fleet will see the last of LNER IC225 train sets replaced in June. Whilst it seems that there is no UK requirement for the displaced class 91 locomotives, some on the mark 4 coaches will be used on North Wales services and, probably, by open access operators. 

The iconic HST, introduced in 1976, and the class 91 electric locomotive, introduced in 1988, were both revolutionary designs which minimised unsprung mass and, in the case of the class 91, used research from the Advanced Passenger Train. The HST still holds the world speed record of 143 mph for a diesel train carrying passengers. From the late 1970s, it revolutionised British Rail Inter-City travel.

However, both trains have now had their day as long-distance 125mph trains. Today’s railway requires 125mph trains, such as the Azumas, that carry more passengers with less carbon, even if they may be two-minutes slower going up Slochd summit! 

Azuma on the Highland Chieftain approaching Haymarket.

Powering the Azumas

The rapid withdrawal of LNER’s HST fleet was made possible by the commissioning of Potteric Carr OLE feeder station, which feeds both Hitachi’s new Azuma depot at Doncaster and provides additional clean power for the East Coast main line. Prior to then, HSTs had to run through Doncaster as there was insufficient power for a full electric service.

This 25kV traction feeder station is fed from the local 33kV distribution network operator (DNO) network. It is the first in the UK for Network Rail to use a power electronics based ‘PCS 6000 Rail’ 50MW Static Frequency Converter (SFC), supplied by ABB Power Grids under a £14 million contract. 

The Potteric Carr SFC feeder station was successfully commissioned into commercial operation by ABB on the ECML end of October 2019, following the completion of Network Rail product and system acceptance tests and the issuance of trial certification. 

One key advantage of this technology is that it enables connection to the utility grid at lower voltages (compared to normal 132kV and above for the range of power required). It also potentially eliminates neutral sections on the railways and enables the power utility to see a ‘balanced’ supply into the railway power infrastructure. Based on an earlier engineering and option selection scheme by Network Rail, it is estimated that the chosen SFC solution, which eliminates the need for a costly high-voltage grid connection, reduces the cost of a new feeder station by 60 per cent. High-voltage grid connections were previously needed, as a single-phase 25kV OLE supply would otherwise result in an unacceptable phase imbalance in the grid supply.

This is not a problem with an SFC, which takes a three-phase supply, converts it to DC and then into a clean single phase 25kV supply for traction OLE and depot use. As a result, it is possible to take a three-phase balanced load from a local distribution network 33kV supply to power the single-phase 25kV OLE system. 

ABB Power Grids has already installed SFC feeder stations in Brisbane and Queensland, Australia, as well as several other European countries. 

SFCs were developed to interconnect power networks operating at incompatible frequencies. A typical example of this is a cruise ship, with a 60Hz on-board network that may have to be connected to a 50Hz shore supply. Other examples in the UK for 50Hz to 50Hz connection include interconnectors within the Western Power Distribution network area and the Maygen Renewable Generation project in Scotland.

Further power supply enhancements are required to maximise electric running on the ECML, and these are being delivered by phase two of Network Rail’s ECML power supply upgrade. This includes the commissioning of a new feeder station and 132kV connection at Hambleton Junction, near Selby, to provide resilience of supply, as well as two static frequency converter compounds at 132 kV supply points and the upgrade of the feeder station at Marshall Meadows, immediately south of the Scottish border.

It is the Marshall Meadows feeder station won’t be upgraded until at least 2021. Until then, some LNER services and all the new TransPennine Express services (30 trains a day) will have to operate on diesel power for the 64 miles between Longniddry and Chathill. 

Vegetation Management

One of Network Rail’s most high-profile challenges is managing its lineside vegetation and achieving a fine balance between keeping the railway running safely and protecting the rail corridor ecosystem. Getting this wrong inevitably draws public attention, either from tabloid reports of ‘leaves on the line’ that lead to train delays and cancellations, or from environmental concerns raised over the perceived loss of biodiversity and the visual appeal that vegetation often provides.

It’s a massive challenge. Britain’s railways have more than 10 million trees growing next to them – Network Rail carefully catalogued all of them during an aerial survey that covered 20,000 miles of track – so managing this in an ever-changing and constantly growing natural environment requires enormous effort.

Typical vegetation management interventions include clearing all vegetation up to seven metres from the track, though with the precise scope depending on the site topography and the type of infrastructure, such as whether there are overhead power lines. Doing this ensures that overgrown trees and shrubs do not affect OLE or obscure signals.

By and large, Network Rail does not do this work itself. Instead, it turns to a group of specialist contractors that have the knowledge, manpower and equipment to do this work economically and safely while complying with the various rules and regulations that govern such activities.

Arboricultural experts

Stobart Rail & Civils is one of these specialists, providing vegetation management throughout the UK from their network of depots around the country. Its dedicated team of arboricultural specialists bring the expert knowledge needed to ensure that they plan and deliver each project in accordance with operational best practise while ensuring that they deliver solutions that are sustainable and sensitive to wildlife and the local environment.

To achieve this, Stobart focuses on developing biodiversity opportunities as well as simply removing vegetation. For example, on sites where there is enough room and it is safe to do so, some of the smaller branches may be left in a structured pile that forms a suitable habitat for wildlife such as hedgehogs, reptiles and amphibians. 

To develop fully integrated solutions throughout each site, Stobart uses a bespoke GPS-guided mobile vegetation management application. As its survey teams complete advance site walkthroughs, they geolocate every important feature and link this to photos and detailed notes, then upload these to the cloud to build up a comprehensive visual record of the project’s devegetation requirements, delivery constraints and biodiversity opportunities. 

Using this enables Stobart to understand each site on a holistic level to best manage environmental enhancements, and it supports delivering the optimum resources to the right location to complete all works cost-effectively and on programme, and to report back accurately to the client.

Stobart completes all its work using a dedicated plant fleet. As well as specialist vegetation management equipment, such as remote-controlled tracked chippers that keep operatives well out of harm’s way, the company’s in-house road-rail fleet ensures it can always provide the safest methodology by delivering plant directly into remote lineside locations. This enhances workforce safety by mechanising high-risk tasks and enables the ready extraction of timber back to accesses without the need for any manual handling.

Added value

Uniquely, Stobart adds further value through synergy with its Stobart Energy business, which is the UK’s leading supplier of biomass fuel, delivering more than two million tonnes annually to provide a sustainable fuel source for energy recovery facilities around the country. Stobart Rail & Civils is therefore able to sell arising biomass material from vegetation management programmes to its sister company, providing a valuable revenue source for clients that helps offset the cost of the vegetation management works. It also contributes to generating renewable energy equivalent to the annual domestic electricity needs of two per cent of the UK population.

Stobart’s teams also deliver complementary fencing programmes that further benefit lineside environments. As well as supporting their ongoing vegetation management programmes, they have recently been busy installing more than 25,000 metres of temporary fencing along the HS2 route, with many thousands more programmed for delivery in 2020. 

Stobart’s comprehensive capability includes installing all types of fencing, from permanent palisade fencing through to reptile fencing around development sites, around any civil engineering sites, such as drainage and ditch works, slope stabilisation and earthworks regrades, to deliver an immaculate, well managed and secure railway environment.

With an ever-increasing focus on environmental issues, the work that Stobart’s vegetation management and fencing teams are delivering throughout the country will continue to enhance the railway’s sustainability and protect clients’ most valuable assets. 

Lindall tunnel before and after the clearance.

Safer surveying through automation

Reducing the safety risks our workforces are exposed to is vital, and there have been many initiatives to keep railway workers safe from harm.

Of course, the best way of doing this is by taking people away from the live railway altogether. This is great in theory, but how do we do this in practice? 

It requires us to use new ways to complete all those tasks currently undertaken by people out on the railway. In terms of surveying, this means we have to find new methods to:

  • Gather information about existing assets; 
  • Review and assess that information;
  • Visualise new and modified assets;
  • Monitor the progress of construction.

What are our options? 

Existing aerial imagery plays a part, particularly in the early planning stages. However, it can lack the accuracy required for detailed design and doesn’t capture the necessary drivers’ perspective for signal sighting and route learning, especially when video footage is required to support these activities. 

A further risk with using existing data is that footage may not be sufficiently recent, depending on when the area was last surveyed. The latest changes may not be captured – missing essential detail for renewals or enhancement projects and undermining the quality of the survey and the accuracy of the finished design. If this is discovered at a late stage of a project, the cost of rectification is far greater than the cost of getting it right before design has commenced. 

The Signalling Innovations Group (SIG), now part of the Network Services directorate within Network Rail, works hard to offer answers to the rail industry. Our range of tools and services are designed to keep individuals away from the operational railway without compromising on detail.

Train-borne data capture uses laser, infra-red and 4K video equipment attached to Network Rail’s inspection fleet. 

Commissioned early in the project lifecycle, it can provide an up-to-date record of the asset with an accuracy of just a few millimetres. This is precise enough to meet the demands of multiple disciplines, without exposing workers to the risks of undertaking traditional manual surveys on the live railway. Lowering the risk to the workforce is complemented by time and cost reductions.

Using data from the onboard systems with SIG’s suite of advanced tools, asset and network features can be captured with geo-location, and exported as a three-dimensional model using SIG’s System Data Exchange Format (SDEF), for use in other tools alongside the laser point cloud and video data. Overlaying video with laser data enables highly accurate measurements in three dimensions and, with data captured across the whole project area, there is no need to revisit sites to check or recapture information if the design needs change. 

New design, such as new signal structures and overhead gantries for signalling and power, can then be added as virtual-reality models, enabling planned changes to be visualised easily. For signalling renewals, this has revolutionised the signal sighting process; the traditional method of an expert committee attending each signal location is replaced with an office-based exercise where the design proposal can be viewed in context. 

The SDEF model can then be analysed further in other SIG tools to confirm structure clearances and overall signalling headways. Finally, the data is exported and automatically populates the sighting form, taking minutes to create what would previously have taken hours to produce manually. 

Using this process reduces, or even eliminates, hundreds of site visits, keeping the workforce away from the live railway.

For other project purposes, which may not need quite such detailed measurements, we utilise our Tail Lamp Camera, which captures high-quality images from the front of regular passenger and freight trains. 

Fitted and removed during timetabled stops, multiple data-collection runs can be made in one day, often at very short notice. Once processed, these images can be used to identify and tag assets whilst taking measurements with an accuracy of a few centimetres. This rapidly deployable solution enables frequent updates to be captured throughout the project construction phase, again reducing the need for site visits.

Processing the data

Intensive automated collection gives us far greater amounts of raw data than we have ever had access to before, but, to be truly useful, it needs to be turned into meaningful information that can actually form the basis for design. So how do we process all this data, and what more can we do to make it even more useful?

Once video and laser data are captured from our train-mounted systems, it is processed to merge the different streams and make sure that they align in terms of position and time. This already gives us a huge advantage over traditional manual surveys that involve teams of engineers out on the track, finding the assets as they walk through the site and establishing position using manual methods such as measuring distances from the nearest calibration point. 

Now, any asset that is observed in the recorded images will be located with highly-accurate, real-world positioning using laser data and 3D positioning systems. But this still involves a human technician working through the video to identify each asset in the first place. 

One industry-changing approach is to automate the task of scanning through video images and reliably identifying our assets and their positions. Advanced machine learning is the obvious way to tackle this, but, while used with great success in some areas, it’s still a developing solution to the complexity of automatically finding a wide range of object types. 

This is because we aren’t looking for the cases where something abnormal appears (such as when looking for defects in a top-down view of the rail head before categorising those defects, or spotting a person in a place they shouldn’t be). The drivers’ eye view of the railway contains a lot of ever-changing visual information and we’re trying to find the objects of interest (for example signals, signs, and other equipment) in amongst the countless many artefacts that dominate the image – every frame is, in effect, full of abnormals!

As reported in a previous issue of Rail Engineer (issue 174, May 2019), the SIG team recently undertook several different surveys of a single site, the Midland Railway Centre at Butterley, in order to collect multiple datasets that would help understand how to integrate and merge data from different sources. Some of this data, as illustrated here, has been used to demonstrate significant steps forward in the automated detection of assets. In the example shown, this includes the rails and a complex signal structure, but it can extend to a variety of other objects on and about the railway, including breaking down the more complex items into key components – for example a colour light signal could be a combination of a signal head, a route indicator and a post.

Other possibilities have emerged from working with these datasets, and a hugely exciting development is the generation of point cloud data directly from video footage. Point cloud data is used to build 3D models, either through laser scanning of existing details or as the output of 3D design processes. Being able to build a suitably accurate level of detail directly from video sources offers great economies. While it may not give a full model from the rail-mounted viewpoint, it will be more than enough for infrastructure design purposes in most situations and, in complex cases, it can still form the starting point for a more extensive model to be built.

Of course, we in the railway world are not alone in facing such challenges. Aspects vary, but often the problems being solved in many other industries are rooted in the same underlying principles. 

In the case of processing data for signalling design, we have an advantage that real-time outputs aren’t critical – a process that takes weeks or months isn’t going to be significantly improved by instantaneous data analysis: the saving in this processing time is minimal compared to the time we’ve saved by not sending people out to manually survey the track. 

Automating the process

Compare this to a self-driving car – one of the state-of-the-art approaches that uses similar machine-learning techniques. The car needs to continuously interpret the data it ‘sees’ in order to react to ever-changing situations. This is a different scale of urgency, and making the wrong decision could have immediate repercussions. 

On the other hand, avoiding an obstruction in the road doesn’t necessarily involve working out exactly what that obstruction is so the detail is perhaps not as significant as in our application. The primary need for the car is to avoid the obstacle, although there’s undoubtedly a bit of oversimplification here! 

For our own signalling, and other asset design, we need the benefit that can only come from reliably assessing the type and nature of the asset seen. Get that wrong, and the whole design process is undermined. Ultimately, errors and omissions will almost certainly be picked up through testing activities before the signalling system is ever brought into use, but, by this stage, the cost of correction is extremely expensive and causes delay. 

However, despite the different end goals, the techniques and technologies needed are much the same.

The aim of automating this aspect of the signalling design process, just like removing the driver from the car, is to eliminate the fallible human element. However, to do so, we need to be sure we’re not replacing it with an even more fallible machine! 

This means we need machine learning capabilities that find absolutely every asset of interest: if we’re not sure of that, then someone still needs to manually check through and find the others, and we get no benefit from the automation. Finding false positives – where we identify something wrongly as an asset – also means we have to carry out manual checks but, in this case, we’re only checking the list of detected assets to eliminate those false positives, so the automation is still adding a lot of value in terms of time and cost.

Using computer power to detect assets in this way is still a huge challenge for us, but one which promises to take signalling design into an exciting world of advanced machine learning. At the time of writing, contracts are being prepared that will take us on the next step in this journey. Having fully automated survey and analysis feeding into a far more automated design process is now within reach. By the end of this control period in four years’ time, this is anticipated to become the norm for signalling design.

The SIG surveying and design tools form a growing suite of applications that offer massive safety benefits while significantly reducing costs and timescales; providing not only signalling, but all disciplines with a powerful opportunity to make a powerful step-change in their delivery processes. 

David Shipman is innovations engineering manager, Network Rail Signalling Innovations Group To learn more about SIG and its tools, contact sig@networkrail.co.uk

Engineers shine at the RailStaff Awards 2019

RailStaff Awards - 29th November 2019 - The NEC, Birmingham

The annual RailStaff Awards is very different from all the other rail industry awards that take place throughout the year. They recognise people, not companies, and celebrate their achievements in helping colleagues, passengers and the general public.

Of course, they all work for companies, and some even help with preparation of the entry forms, but it is still the performance of an individual or team that wins the award, not that of their employer.

LNER’s Richard Salkeld hosted his second RailStaff Awards.

So that’s about the second big difference between the RailStaff Awards and others. Because individuals and teams win on a personal level, they also celebrate on a personal level. They won the award by their own hard work – it is THEIR win – and that makes success taste so much sweeter.

That’s why there is such a party atmosphere at a RailStaff Awards event. All the finalists have achieved something, and those who win or are highly commended feel pride in their achievements.

The party atmosphere runs throughout the evening. From the arrival of the guests, through the look of the evening (the theme this year was Morocco), the stunning aerial performances by highly skilled acrobats and the award presentations themselves, to the dance band and fairground rides afterwards. It was once again a truly great evening.

Martin Hottass, managing director of technical training at the City & Guilds Group, summed it up: “As always, the RailStaff Awards was a brilliant occasion, to come together with different organisations from across the industry to witness how the sector celebrates its people and the vital work its unsung heroes do on a daily basis.”

Being industry awards, the categories are wide ranging and include human resources, diversity and inclusion, marketing and communications, station staff and customer service. However, there are a number that are aimed at rail engineers, and others such as charity or lifetime achievement that could apply to anyone.

Rail Engineer of the Year 

The most obvious engineering category is Rail Engineer of the Year. In 2019, 25 individuals were nominated by a total of 60 nominators. Those were displayed on the event website and the public was invited to vote on their favourite entry. A total of 6,078 votes were cast, and the resulting ‘top fifteen’ went off to the panel of judges.

The 15 finalists were from Amey Consulting (2), Network Rail (7), AECOM (2), Bombardier Transportation, Atkins (2) and Telent. Category sponsor Colas Rail UK was involved in the judging (they had no entries that would throw up a conflict of interest) as well as a couple of independent judges.

And the winner was… Paul Belle of AECOM. 

Paul Belle of AECOM (left) was presented with Rail Engineer of the year by Will Bryant of Colas Rail UK.

Described by colleagues as a great ambassador for rail engineering, Paul is passionate about making a difference, maintains high standards in his work and, as a result, is well-respected by his team, peers and clients.

He has a great in-depth knowledge of railways, particularly multi-disciplinary integration and coordination, and combines this with good direct communication skills to overcome concerns before they become issues.

Paul led the development of the GRIP 1-3 feasibility studies for the Rail Systems Alliance South (formally S&C Alliance) in the East, achieving class-leading standards of delivery through his understanding of stakeholder requirements and applying his technical and pragmatic expertise.

In a RailStaff Awards submission, one colleague said: “I truly admire his passion and drive doing the right things, providing solid and pragmatic engineering solutions, considering all stakeholders’ interests as well as whole lifecycle of the railway engineering works.”

After being presented with his award, Paul talked about his passion for rail engineering: “I always wanted to do something for the greater good, I wasn’t interested in getting a job and making money for the sake of making money, it was all about doing something for the greater good, for society.

“When I was a third-year student at Exeter University, I remember being stood on the platform at Exeter St David and everybody there was slagging off the railway. The Voyagers were coming in and they were taking away the standard HST sets. Half the train at twice the frequency, they said, but it was half the train, twice as delayed, and people were slagging engineering. 

“As an engineering undergraduate, at that point I decided I am not going to have that. I had the skills so I got in the game.

“What drives me now is about leaving a legacy for the next generation. Doing the right thing for the right reasons.”

But he was keen to stress that he wouldn’t be where he is today without the help of others, adding: “I am only as good as the individuals that have invested their time into me.”

Paul winning Rail Engineer of the year at the RailStaff Awards – 29th November 2019 – The NEC, Birmingham

Two Atkins engineers were highly commended. Dan Reilly has worked with Atkins for five years as a system testing engineer. He has been heavily involved with the Feltham stage 0 (Shepperton) project, which involved the introduction of future signalling systems.

An entirely new approach was needed on this project, and Dan was pivotal in pulling the telecoms, systems, and signalling teams together to form an integrated and converged technology delivery team, broadening Atkins collective knowledge on electronic systems and stepping up well above his day-to-day role. 

Paul Hooper, Atkins’ technical director, is well known as a railway electrification engineer, working across all regions in rail. He sits on several national industry committees and, following his promotion to technical director, the feedback noted he was able to lead the group away from challenging views to more pragmatic solutions, which mitigated risks without significant industry costs.

Civils and Infrastructure

A lot of the engineering that takes place on the railway infrastructure is civils-based, so the Civils and Infrastructure Team award is a popular one, sponsored this year by protective-clothing manufacturer Pulsar.

Once again there was a wide range of finalists – Network Rail (of course), Govia Thameslink Railway, Stagecoach Supertram, Amaro Signalling, TES 2000, Alstom, Genesee & Wyoming (née Freightliner), Colas Rail, Hitachi Rail STS and Murphy.

In the event, it was the Euston team of the S&C South Alliance that won the day. This collaboration of Network Rail, Colas Rail and AECOM delivered a crucial programme of enabling works for the new HS2 terminus at Euston, ahead of the May 2019 timetable change.

The Euston Team, from S&C South Alliance – winners of Infrastructure Team of the Year RailStaff Awards 2019.

Focussing on collaboration, commitment and teamwork, the team developed positive working relationships with the many stakeholders from the LNW route, train operators, third parties and the local maintainer. The core works for the programme were delivered in an area of central London where there is opposition from some residents, so mitigating against this required careful stakeholder engagement.

Throughout the project, the team made efforts to put the passenger first. This was evidenced by the team assisting in getting passengers off a stranded train in the Euston Throat when competent railway staff were required at short notice. The team also undertook litter picking, de-vegetation works and graffiti clearance, which kept the local community on board. 

Alliance spokeswoman Cate Lough, of Colas Rail, said: “It wasn’t just the work we delivered, it was everything that went into it. We were working in a really sensitive area, we went above and beyond with the local community, we changed our programme of works to affect them as little as possible while building a good relationship with the train operating company and infrastructure operator.”

Stuart Jukes, managing director of category sponsor Pulsar, added: “Everybody had worked incredibly hard, as a lot of the other entries had as well, but the S&C Alliance Team really stood out and I can’t commend them enough.

“For such a small team to go out there and do it is just phenomenal.”

The five members of Network Rail’s LNE IP Signalling project construction team were highly commended for being innovative and persuasive problem solvers. They regularly challenge task methodology, particularly for weekend works, and carry out site visits in all weathers from midnight to dawn, which contributes hugely to right-time handback of weekend possessions.

Also highly commended was the team that managed the Brighton Main Line Improvement Project, an engineering programme to improve the reliability of the railway through four Victorian-era railway tunnels, Haywards Heath, Patcham, Balcombe and Clayton. 

Against a background of historic performance reliability issues on the southern part of the Brighton main line, Network Rail successfully undertook and completed an innovative nine-day engineering blockade that used a school spring half-term week to deliver the works, which would otherwise have taken 79 weekends and over two years to deliver.

Digitising or digitalising? 

Although Digital Railway is no longer its own organisation within Network Rail, it is still a major activity, encompassing more than just signalling and telecommunications. This was demonstrated when the award, sponsored by digital telecommunications specialist Westermo, went to the Intelligent Infrastructure track team (pictured below).

Intelligent Infrastructure Team winners of Digitial Rail Person or Team at the RailStaff Awards 2019, with award sponsor Phil Mounter from Westermo.

Commencing at the start of CP6 on April 1, 2019, the Intelligent Infrastructure programme has developed a tool which looks at the infrastructure and predicts future faults so they can be fixed before they cause any delays on the railway. It has been developed in six months and is now out with customers for comment, trials and testing.

For the first time, track teams in the routes will be able to access all the information they need, from one digital source, to carry out the right work, at the right time, in the right place.

Referred to as the Track Decision Support Tool, it will shift Network Rail from century-old ‘fix on failure’ regimes to ‘predict and prevent’ regimes – allowing work to be planned ahead while also reducing speed restrictions and delays for passengers.

The team is a collaboration of Network Rail colleagues from engineering, business change and analytics disciplines working with Atkins – Network Rail’s partner and systems integrator.

Programme manager Martin Mason, of Network Rail, said: “It’s the first time in the traditional railway sense that we’ve started to use intelligent data to predict and prevent faults. 

“As an industry we’ve always been very data-rich but not data-intelligent. Now we’re moving from a situation where we’re not a reactive organisation but a proactive organisation.”

Phil Mounter, transportation sales manager at Westermo, said: “Teamwork was what stood out more than anything, and collaboration, which is producing excellent results after such a short time.”

Described by colleagues as knowledgeable, supportive, honest, collaborative and well respected, Trevor Wheeler of Telent Technology Services is one of the few telecoms PICOTs (Person in Charge Of Testing) in rail. During his 20-year career, Trevor has introduced several initiatives which have led to new working practices, creating both cost and time efficiencies and mitigating train delays, as well as earning him a ‘highly commended’ at the RailStaff Awards.

Also highly commended was Abdul Rehman Savant of Amey Consulting. Colleagues say that he is constantly looking at bringing the railway into the 21st century, liaising with suppliers and manufactures to develop new technologies, smart solutions and innovative ideas to help improve the railway. He organises lunchtime CPD events, not only to keep himself up to date with new digital technologies, but also to inform his colleagues from all disciplines and sectors within Amey, with whom he is always willing to share his technical knowledge of digital technologies.

Depot Staff

Not forgetting the mechanical trades, the Depot Staff award went to a Southern employee who was praised for leading the push to introduce time-saving software at some of Govia Thameslink Railway’s depots.

David Mitchell took on the initiative to roll out the chat-based digital workspace Microsoft Teams at East Croydon. As a result, the level of communication and engagement between management and the team increased tenfold. The move has given staff access to information they previously had to request and has also brought the depot closer to becoming paperless.

Depot Staff Award winner: David Mitchell from Govia Thameslink Railway.

Following the productivity uplift from the initial rollout, David spent time visiting other on-board supervisor depots to help them set up the scheme.

His enthusiasm for new technology was an important factor in teams adapting to the technology, which has transformed the way on-board supervisors work and communicate.

Workmates said they were inspired by David who not only works tirelessly for his team and takes the time to share his knowledge of the on-board supervisor role but has also found time to raise more than £1,000 for Great Ormond Street Hospital.

A former Disneyland Paris performer, David is driven by a desire to push customer service standards even higher, which was another contributory factor in his awards success. 

“I started off as a conductor down at Brighton for Southern and have always thought I could make a difference with my background,” he added. “Times are changing. It’s not always all about safety. It still is a massive part but people are paying £6,000 a year [on season tickets], they want to see where their money’s going. And it’s not just me, there’s a massive culture change in Southern.”

Traffi, an industry-leading designer and manufacturer of PPE safety gloves, sponsored the Depot Staff Award. 

Dean Cracknell, head of marketing at Traffi, said: “Traffi has strong links to the rail sector and has enjoyed keeping hands safe among wearers for 10 years. We were delighted to sponsor ‘Depot of the Year’ and hope to continue supporting the RailStaff Awards in 2020.”

Highly commended was Network Rail’s Nigel Moody, who works for Peterborough DU E&P maintenance. He and his colleagues have supported the King’s Cross re-modelling project over the last nine months, undertaking complex E&P works as short notice to ensure the project hits major milestones. 

To date, Nigel and his team have saved the project in the region of £0.5 million on £0.8 million of work – 60 per cent – with all works completed safely and to an extremely high standard. Nigel’s improvements to the E&P works saved another £0.2 million. 

Ian Parr was another to be highly commended by the judges. He has been depot manager of Southport TCD for just a year and a half and, in that time, he has turned the depot from the worst performing one to the best. The depot’s sickness figures for the last twelve months are the lowest in the business and its engagement scores are now the highest. 

In a short time, Ian has built up a great reputation with supervisors, trade union representatives, stations team and drivers and guards to ensure the depot runs smoothly.

Managing projects

Another ‘train man’ won the Project Manager category. Richard Vernon joined Hull Trains as a graduate in February 2016. Over the last three years, he has worked to bring Hull Trains’ £60 million investment in new rolling stock to life. 

His committed, resilient and focused attitude, while working collaboratively with Hitachi Rail’s team, has resulted in the introduction of Hull Trains’ new ‘Paragon’ fleet being one of the few rolling stock projects in the UK to be delivered to schedule and on time.

Richard was the primary interface between Hull Trains, fleet owners Angel Trains, manufacturer Hitachi and other key partners such as Network Rail. His work involved regular visits to Hitachi factories in Kasado, Japan, and Pistoia, Italy, as part of quality checks.

Richard Vernon from Hull Trains winner of Project Manager of the Year Award at the RailStaff Awards 2019, presented by Ajmal Akram from PTM Design, the award sponsor.

It is through those continual checks that Hull Trains has been able to sign off the trains at each stage to the schedules determined in the contract. Considering the issues with its existing fleet – including mechanical failures and an onboard fire – delivering these new trains on time has been even more important for customers.

In addition to his instrumental work on the Paragon fleet, Richard has also led smaller projects, such as the introduction of an on-train passenger information screen to improve accessibility, installation of a driver advisory system and the introduction of on-train Wi-Fi.

On the night of the RailStaff Awards, Richard said: “It means a lot to receive this award and I’m really grateful to have been given the opportunity to work on such a key project for Hull Trains.

“Managing this project gave me the opportunity to travel to Japan and Italy, as well as improving my understanding of design reviews, contract specifications and the train production and manufacturing process. I enjoyed learning about the train’s design, refining the train interiors and working with Hitachi Rail and Angel Trains to bring the vision to life for our staff and customers.

“It was a compliment to be given such a big project but it’s one I’m really pleased to have led.”

PTM Design, specialists in rail and fleet livery, vehicle wrapping, wayfinding information systems and interior installations, sponsored the category. Ajmal Akram, head of business development, said: “There were a lot of good entries in the category but, knowing that, of the rail operators, Hull is quite a small operation, this entry stood out for having someone take on the challenge of the implementation of the train.”

Cate Lough of Colas Rail is currently in charge of the overhead line and HS2 enabling works within the South Rail Systems Alliance. This included the delivery of £27 million worth of multi-disciplinary work at Euston station in the last month alone. As a result, she was highly commended for her work.

Also highly commended was signalling programme manager Neil Workman of Network Rail. He manages a team of over 50, delivering a portfolio of work valued at £300 million. His hands-on attitude, and his willingness to step in and do the work himself if needed, appealed to the judges and earned him his commendation.


A graduate geologist based in Leeds won the Graduate of the Year award, sponsored by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR).

Evie Barrett works for Jacobs, supporting the construction of a multi-billion-pound high-speed railway in California.

She is a member of Jacobs’ tunnelling and ground engineering (TGE) unit and, from the other side of the globe, has been a key player in developing the geotechnical database needed to allow construction to go ahead. As “a single source of truth”, this database has vastly improved efficiencies and quality on the project.

Evie was part of the team that took ownership of a project to deliver geotechnical engineering data reports in 2018. She then took the significant step up to lead the delivery of geotechnical baseline reports – a move that saw her work above her grade. As a result, she is now responsible for liaising with the Jacobs teams in the USA and managing four teams of engineers in England, Scotland and Poland to ensure the consistent delivery of these reports.

One nomination for Evie read: “She has demonstrated great maturity, composure and technical ability to ensure that the reports are being delivered on time and to a high standard.”

Evie has also worked on other rail schemes, such as the Transpennine Route Upgrade, Calder Valley Journey Time Improvement and the West Ruislip Northolt Corridor projects, since joining Jacobs in 2015.

Her enthusiasm for geology has also seen Evie return to the University of Leeds, where she completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the subject, to mentor post-graduates. At present she is also leading the production of a Jacobs TGE work experience booklet, to ensure students benefit from their time with the company.

Ian McLaren, chief financial officer at category sponsor GTR, said: “It’s really important to recognise young people coming up through the organisation. We’re a massive industry and we’ve got to show progression for people new to the sector and show they can actually achieve amazing things at such a young age.”

Miraan Jothinath of Network Rail was highly commended for his work on two high-profile projects: DICE and Fast Trackers 2019. He and a partner co-founded the DICE competition to encourage and support graduates and apprentices to develop digital solutions to problems that they’d encountered while on their respective training schemes.

He also chaired the steering group of the Fast Trackers 2019 programme, which encourages 16 to 19-year-old students to think about a career in engineering.

Aisha Mughal joined Colas Rail in 2018 as a commercial assistant working in one of the most dynamic areas of the S&C South Alliance – Euston enabling works. She worked closely with the commercial manager to develop her commercial, contractual and procurement understanding. Through this, Aisha was able to bring her own logic, organisational skills and initiative to simplify timesheet approvals, invoice processes, application for payment, final accounting and supplier management. It impressed the judges who gave Aisha a ‘highly commended’ certificate for her efforts.

And there’s more…

There were, of course, many other awards presented on the night. While they may not be directly engineering-related, they reflect the wide range of skills that make the railway work and the enthusiasm that holds it all together.

Apprentice of the year went to Zoe Auld of Virgin Trains. Southeastern station manager Margaret Capps won Customer Service, Aaron Koduah of Virgin Trains lifted the Station Staff award..

The Award for Charity was won by Network Rail’s Chris Conway, for his work with the homeless in Blackpool, and Samaritans’ Lifesaver Award went to John Dawson and Rob Shannon of Land Sheriffs, who had done just that at St Pancras. McGinley’s safety team won Safety.

David Rees of WSP was judged to be the HR person of the year, Network Rail’s ‘Big Plan’ team won Recruitment and Jaye Dry of Freightliner – now G&W UK – won Marketing and Communications.

Rail Manager of the Year was Kevin Tarrier of Heathrow Rail, the Rail Team was ‘Scotrail in the Community’ and GWR’s Pete While was Rail Person of the Year.

Finally, Jed Mason of recruitment and labour supply company Morson was recognised for the 33 years he has spent building up a group with a turnover of over £1 billion a year. He received an OBE in 2016 and the RailStaff Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019, both well deserved.

It was a great night. Well done the Rail Events team for putting it on, congratulations to the other sponsors not mentioned here:

and finally, thank you for coming to the 1,000 people who were there on the night!

See you in 2020! 

See www.railstaffawards.com for more information.

EAD and CE marking of geohazard products

Experts from Swiss protection-system market leader Geobrugg explain the importance of CE marks, European Assurance Documents (EADs) and warns users of potential pitfalls.

In a globalized world, the standardisation of products is essential to make sure that they perform as expected, either by solving a described problem or by performing in a specific way. Standardisation helps maintain quality standard and helps users to compare different products.

CE marking

Existing in its present form since 1985, the CE mark is an abbreviation of the French phrase “Conformité Européene”, which literally means “European Conformity”. CE marking is a certification mark that indicates conformity with health, safety and environmental protection standards for products sold within the European Economic Area (EEA). A CE mark is the manufacturer’s declaration that the product meets the requirements of the applicable EC directives.

The added value of CE marking is that all EEA countries must allow the selling of construction products bearing the CE mark. This means that public authorities cannot ask for any additional marks or certificates or any additional testing. It is, however, important to know the basics of CE marking.

Obtaining a CE mark

Installing a Geobrugg safety fence.

The responsibility for CE marking lies with whoever puts the product on the market in the EU, i.e. an EU-based manufacturer, the importer or distributor of a product made outside the EU, or an EU-based office of a non-EU manufacturer.

Under the wing of the European Commission, the European Committee for Standardisation takes care of all European Standards and supports the EU Legislation.

Harmonised conditions for the marketing of construction products are laid out in Regulation No. 305/2011 (CPR) of the European Parliament and of the European Council, dated 9 March 2011. This Construction Product Regulation (CPR) is designed to simplify and clarify the existing framework for placing construction products on the European market. The CPR helps authorities and consumers to receive high quality and safe products and to be able to compare different products.

Testing products to either a Harmonized European Standard or a European Assessment Document (EAD) ensures that the basis for comparing product performance is the same and that test results display all the relevant parameters in detail. Customers can therefore ask producers to provide these details so as to compare products and their performance.

If no harmonized standard exists for a specific product, then a European Assessment Document (EAD) can be written. This lays out the methods and criteria accepted by the European Organisation for Technical Assessment (EOTA) for assessing the performance of a construction product in relation to its essential characteristics.

Based on an EAD, the Technical Assessment Body (TAB) performs tests on the product and issues a European Technical Assessment (ETA). As soon as the European Commission approves and lists the ETA, the Notified Body issues the CE-Mark. Finally, a Declaration of Performance (DoP) must be drawn up by the manufacturer, which then assumes responsibility for its product conforming with its declared performance. This is a key part of the Construction Products Regulation as it provides information on the performance of a product.

Natural hazard prevention: The new standardisation for rockfall, debris flow, shallow landslides and slope stabilisation

Three main EADs cover different special applications in the field of geohazard products:

  • EAD 230025-00-0106 “Flexible facing systems for slope stabilization and rock protection”
  • EAD-340020-00-0106 “Flexible kits for retaining debris flows and shallow landslides/open hill debris flows”
  • EAD-340059-00-0106 “Falling rock protection kits”

All of these can be found on the EOTA website: http://eota.eu/en-GB/content/eads/56/

EAD explained

Taking the EAD “Flexible facing systems for slope stabilization and rock protection” as an example, it describes several tests for flexible facings which have been used worldwide for decades.

These facings are available in two different qualities, mild steel wire and high tensile steel wire. For both types, when used with soil nailing/rock bolting, there are three key characteristics :

  1. Puncturing at the nail head plate (shearing-off resistance at the upslope edge of the spike plate);
  2. Slope parallel load transfer into the nail with interaction of the soil (tensile strength);
  3. Deformation/elongation of the mesh under load in percent.

The tables below show the groups and classes that categorize the performance of flexible facings:

Using these tables, users can clearly define, in tender documents, the bearing resistance for the particular flexible facing which is being offered for a specific project. Different products can be compared easily and the basis for selecting this facing explained.

Warning to users

One caveat is that it is possible to obtain a CE mark for a product without having performed all the tests. For example, often only the tensile strength of a mesh has been tested but all the other parameters are missing.

So, users need to be careful as the product may only be acceptable for an application is all of its properties are known. Just noting that a product has a CE mark is not enough, it is important to make sure that the parameters in the DoP (Declaration of performance) or ETA comply with the project design, and this can only be assured by checking test results in detail.

A Geobrugg debris fence that complies with all European Assurance Documents.

£500 million for Beeching-reversal

The growing movement to reverse some of the infamous 'Beeching cuts' of 1963 has received a £500 million boost from government.

Leeds: Growing pains