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Mechan plays integral role in £70 million depot upgrade

Rail depot equipment produced by Sheffield-based Mechan will be key to improving the efficiency and safety of maintenance teams working on the Tyne and Wear Metro.

The specialist manufacturer is designing lifting and handling products for the South Gosforth Traction Maintenance Depot in Newcastle, as part of a £70 million upgrade.

Stadler is manufacturing 46 new state-of-the-art trains for the Tyne and Wear Metro, as well as building this facility, which will accommodate them. 

Mechan, in partnership with Stadler, is building a set of 21 multi-purpose lifting jacks not only to cater for the new fleet, but also for a further five different vehicle types maintained at Gosforth. The 15-tonne jacks will work in various configurations, from sets of four, to a completely synchronised set of 20 and can be moved around the facility by pallet truck.

Mechan is also creating a bespoke rail removal system, which will be installed in a pit under one of the new roads added at Gosforth as part of the development work. The self-contained unit enables undercar modules to be exchanged easily, without lifting a train, saving valuable servicing time. A remotely operated scissor table is positioned in the pit to help staff remove and refit the heavy modules, whilst rails lock into place at ground level so the road can be used for general maintenance when the rail removal system is not active.

Lindsey Mills, Mechan’s sales director, said: “The team at Gosforth is familiar with the quality of our equipment, as we have existing jacks there, and Stadler has been involved in other bespoke projects with us, so they were aware of our design capabilities. Catering for several different vehicle types is a challenge for our engineers, but one they have relished. We have worked hard to meet the client’s expectations and now look forward to installing the various components later this year.”

Michael Steiner, programme director Newcastle, Stadler, added: “We have pledged to support the regional economy and involve as many UK-based companies in the project as we can, so it’s fantastic to be appointing Mechan to supply lifting and handling products for us.

“Our aim is to use local suppliers for a wide range of goods and services associated with the Tyne and Wear Metro project, including materials and services for the depot re-build, the manufacturing of the new trains and the ongoing service and maintenance of the current trains. More than 90% of the suppliers contracted for the depot build project are based in the UK, and we’re very keen to work with other UK suppliers throughout our 35-year contract to maintain the new trains at Gosforth.”

Head of fleet and depot replacement programme at Nexus, Michael Richardson, said: “It’s fantastic to see another UK firm supplying essential components for our new £362 million train fleet, which is going to transform Metro services for customers.

“This shows that there is work for firms in the Stadler supply chain. Stadler is committed to using local suppliers where possible and this helps to secure jobs and drive inward investment into our region as well as other parts of the UK.”

Image credit: Mechan

Major work protects Hampshire’s Eastleigh to Fareham line from landslips

Network Rail engineers successfully carried out a £2.28 million project to prevent landslips in the Fareham area with the line closed for nine days to allow the work to happen.

Work began on Friday 24 June, and South Western Railway (SWR) services on the line from Eastleigh to Fareham were replaced by buses right until the railway reopened on Monday 3 July.

A major part of the project was tackling the steepness of a railway cutting near Fareham Tunnel, where the line is cut deeply into the hillside. Making the sides of the slope shallower will minimise the risk of landslips that could be caused by earth movements in extreme weather.

The complex project used 20 construction vehicles and 10 trains, as engineers excavated 5,000 tonnes of earth from the steepest side of the cutting before building an 80-metre-long retaining wall.

Hundreds of engineers worked a total of 7,500 hours during the closure, and also completed maintenance work to improve reliability, including work on track, switches and crossings, electrical, signalling and drainage.

Network Rail’s Wessex route director, Mark Killick, said: “We appreciate that closing the railway for a week was disruptive, especially on the back of the recent rail strikes, but this job was absolutely vital to keeping the line open and safe in future.

“The most recent landslip on the line, at Botley in 2014, closed the route for six weeks. By doing this work in nine days, we’re not only reducing the risk of landslips but we’re getting the job done in a far less disruptive way than closing the line repeatedly at weekends.

“To make the most of the access to the railway, we also completed more than 30 extra jobs, from routine inspections to important track maintenance, ensuring we handed back a more reliable line. I’d like to thank our customers and our railway neighbours for their patience while we completed this major work.”

SWR’s Customer Experience Director Christian Neill said: “We are very grateful to our customers for their patience during these important engineering works, which we know came immediately after the impact of RMT strike action across our network.

“However, this was the most effective and efficient way of delivering these essential improvements, which have been planned and timetabled to take place for many months. By spending time engineering a permanent solution, as well as taking the opportunity to carry out other maintenance and improvements, customers will now experience greater reliability on this section of railway.”

Image credit: Network Rail

Massive investment energises Scotland’s Railway electrification ambitions

Network Rail will invest more than £120 million of Scottish Government funding in the next three years to boost the electricity power supply into Scotland’s railway network.

The investment will see six new feeder stations at strategic locations across the network and a further nine sites upgraded to increase the resilience and reliability of the infrastructure for the operation of electrically powered passenger and freight traffic.

As well as increasing the resilience of the existing network, the new connections to the national grid via the feeder stations will increase the overall capability of the 25kV electrified network. This will accommodate future passenger and freight growth and reduce the railway’s carbon footprint by supporting the removal of diesel passenger trains from the network.

It’s all part of efforts to make Scotland’s Railway greener in line with the Scottish Government’s commitment to decarbonise the passenger rail network by 2035.

Scottish Government Transport Minister, Jenny Gilruth said: “Increasing power supply into the Scottish railway network is critical to enabling our ambitions to run more cleaner and greener electric trains.
“Upgrading the power supply network will enable the introduction of electric trains on services to East Kilbride and Barrhead, on the Borders line and across Fife but will also support increased traffic on existing routes such as the East Coast Mainline.

“This investment further demonstrates this Government’s commitment to creating a railway for Scotland that is fit for the future, for the benefit of employees and passengers. We want a rail infrastructure for Scotland that helps to cut emissions, to provide sustainable travel options for people and for freight, and which provides fair work and highly skilled employment opportunities.”

Alex Hynes, managing director of Scotland’s Railway said: “In tandem with the Scottish Government’s ambitions to increase the number of electric trains running on Scotland’s Railway, there comes an increase in the demand for power to operate these services.

“Investing in the power supply infrastructure will not only make the current electric network more resilient, it also delivers the significant growth in capacity needed as we continue to electrify our railway.
“Introducing quieter, quicker and greener electric trains on more routes across the country will enable both passengers and lineside communities to experience all the benefits that electrification of the rail network brings.”

A contract to deliver the initial phase of work has been awarded to SPL Powerlines. Lee Pounder, Regional Director, SPL, said: “We’re delighted to be awarded this phase one contract and to be working on the fully integrated delivery of Scotland’s Railway’s traction power requirements alongside Network Rail.”

Image credit: Network Rail

Hitachi Rail completes acquisition of Bombardier Transportation’s contribution to the ETR 1000 high-speed train platform from Alstom

Hitachi Rail today confirmed that it has successfully closed the acquisition from Alstom of intellectual property rights and business activities related to Bombardier Transportation’s contribution to the ETR 1000 high-speed trains operating in Italy, France and Spain.

The transaction is part of Alstom’s commitments to the European Commission in relation to Alstom’s acquisition of Bombardier Transportation.

The ETR 1000 trains are the fastest, most sustainable and quietest in Europe, and are known as the Frecciarossa 1000, operated in Italy and France by Trenitalia and, within 2022, in Spain by ILSA (partnered with Trenitalia). The acquisition will mean that Hitachi Rail is now responsible for a portion of the IP and the whole maintenance contracts for the high-speed trains.

The successful close of the acquisition will allow Hitachi Rail to fully support its customers as the iconic very high-speed train increases its reach across European high-speed rail networks. The acquisition will also reinforce the strength of the Hitachi Rail’s Service and Maintenance activities.

Luca D’Aquila, Chief Operating Officer, Hitachi Rail said: “This is an important milestone for Hitachi Rail as we build on our global leadership in very high-speed train technology. With the successful introduction of the ETR 1000 in France and, within 2022, in Spain we are entering an exciting new phase for this market which can have a significant impact on the economic, decarbonisation and mobility strategies across the continent.

“Today’s acquisition will enable us to support our customers to continue to grow high-speed rail travel across Europe. Our mission is to enable more seamless and sustainable journeys that encourage more passengers onto the railways.”

Decarbonisation Impact

Italy is a densely populated country and has made a long-term commitment to forge high-speed rail infrastructure across the country, investing €32 billion over 10 years.

The ETR 1000 has helped Italy to significantly decarbonise its transportation sector by driving a modal shift away from planes and cars and towards lower emission rail.

Between 2009 and 2019, 350 million people have travelled on Trenitalia’s high-speed services.

The ETR 1000 design and manufacturing leads the way in environmental sustainability for high speed rail, by using 95% renewable materials.

Advanced technology for more seamless passenger experience

Since their introduction in Italy in 2015, these high-speed trains Frecciarossa 1000 have set enviable standards of performance, operating efficiency and passenger comfort.

The ETR 1000 sets are used by Trenitalia on its core high-speed service connecting cities including Salerno, Naples, Rome, Florence, Bologna, Venice, Milan and Turin.

The trains are operable on high-speed rail networks equipped with multi-voltage technology fulfilling all TSI requirements.

Each ETR 1000 train is around 200 metres long with capacity for around 460 passengers and capable of commercial speeds of up to 360 kph. State-of-the-art aerodynamics and energy saving technologies give the train unmatched operating efficiency. Once onboard, passengers can enjoy WiFi, a bistro area and high levels of comfort in all classes.

Photo credit: Hitachi Rail

Overpriced electrification

At the recent PWI electrification seminar, one speaker made the tongue in cheek observation that Britain requires more paperwork per electrified kilometre than any other country. Whilst this claim can’t be substantiated, those present seemed to agree. The serious side to this flippant comment is that such paperwork costs serious money.

Both this PWI seminar and a recent Railway Industry Association event, as reported by Peter Stanton, highlight various technical opportunities to reduce the cost of electrification. These are also being progressed by National Electrification Efficiency Panel (NEEP) which is led by respected engineers Prof Andrew McNaughton and Peter Dearman who consider that UK electrification costs are probably twice that of other countries.

NEEP is now also starting to investigate the management of electrification including overhead costs. Its research has found that, in Europe, overheads are typically 50% of the cost of physical works compared with 150% in the UK. If true, this means that whatever the cost savings from worthwhile electrification innovations, they will only offer low percentage cost reductions unless overhead costs are significantly reduced.

Reasons for these high overheads mentioned at the PWI event were that the authorisation regime needs to accept that electrification schemes have no new fundamental risks, and that electrification should be a continuous process rather than individual projects. Although such a rolling programme offers significant savings, Government will not commit to this unless it has confidence in the industry’s ability to deliver at an affordable price. This vicious circle will only be broken by demonstrating cost effective delivery.

It is also important that the industry delivers a clear message to Government that large-scale electrification is the only way of delivering its decarbonisation targets, as well as offering a higher capacity railway with electric trains that are cheaper to operate and buy.

In this respect, RSSB’s Sustainable Rail Strategy (SRS) is particularly disappointing. This refers to the need for “a balanced combination of electrification, hydrogen and battery trains to decarbonise traction” and fails to mention that Network Rail’s TDNS study concluded electrification is 84% of the solution as it recommended an additional 13,000 single track kilometres of electrification and so undersells the need for large-scale electrification.

It needs to be understood that nothing comes close to the amount of energy stored by petroleum and so, if diesels are to be replaced, electrification is the only practical option for freight and intensive passenger services. Obscuring this basic science, as the RSSB SRS does, is not credible and is also a grave disservice to the industry and sustainability.

As we report this month, those on the IMechE railway technical tour saw how the devolved administrations of Wales, Liverpool, and Scotland are delivering integrated rolling stock and infrastructure programmes to transform and decarbonise their rail services. For example, Scotland’s rolling electrification programme should decarbonise its railway by 2035. It was good to see the delivery of such whole system solutions in advance of, and in tune, with the new Great British Railways (GBR) organisation. It would seem that the devolved administrations are showing how this can be done.

Getting ready for GBR was the theme of this year’s Railway Industry Association (RIA)’s Innovation Conference. As well as highlighting specific innovations, this event highlighted the importance of collaboration as well as the need to embrace diversity. As Peter Hendy pointed out, we all have a responsibility to make the industry more like its customers and cannot afford not to attract the best from diverse cultures. In another feature, we highlight inspirational YouTube videos on the importance of equality, diversity, and inclusivity in rail.

An innovation that may offer many large towns affordable Very Light Rail (VLR) systems is a trackform that avoids the need for utility diversions. As we report this is soon to be tested at the VLR innovation centre in Dudley. HS2 is using a pioneering off-site manufacturing technique for its ‘green tunnels’ which have their segments installed on site before being covered by earth, trees, and shrubs. The company also has a 700-tonne launching girder which is the only one of its type in the UK. We also describe how this will be used to construct HS2’s Colne Valley Viaduct.

As Matt Atkins reports, there was much to see at Railtex / Infrarail where many innovative products on display were complemented by two conference streams, The Future Focus Conference and Unlocking Innovation Zone, both of which were organised by RIA. Innovation in level crossings is the subject of Clive Kessell’s report which also considers risk management, competence, education, and enforcement.
Although many innovations benefit from digital technology, this also increases the risk of cybercrime. Paul Darlington has been speaking to the British Transport Police’s Cybercrime unit to consider the risks and the good practice advice available from the National Cyber Security Centre.

The cracking on the Class 80X Inter City Express trains is a particularly high-profile railway engineering problem which is likely to cost over £100 million. For anyone with an interest in this issue, Malcolm Dobell’s feature is essential reading. This also shows that the source of track data from which input loads were derived remains unclear. Another rolling stock feature examines Alstom’s acquisition of Bombardier last year and how the challenges of different cultures, and systems, terms, and conditions, for both suppliers and people were overcome.

We are delighted to report on two quite different rail openings this month. The Elizabeth line carried a million passengers in its first week and will transform journeys across the capital. In contrast, the new countryside station at Reston had advance bookings for 1,000 passengers when it opened and also provides transformational journey opportunities for those living nearby.

As we go to press, members of RMT are on strike having been offered a pay rise which is much less than inflation. Yet the industry faces huge financial pressures as pre-lockdown passenger numbers have yet to return and the RMT seem to be unwilling to consider more productive working methods to reduce costs. Unions, employers and Government have to find a compromise, otherwise further strikes will present a threat to the industry and those that work in it.

Image credit: istockphoto.com

The Elizabeth line opening

At 06:30 on 24 May 2022 the Elizabeth line (nee Crossrail) finally opened. Authorised in 2008, construction started in 2009 and was originally due to be completed in 2018, it carried its first paying customers just five days after it was officially opened by HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Prince Edward, Duke of Wessex. It has cost just under £16 billion.

Joining the Paddington to Abbey Wood section to the existing Paddington-Heathrow, the Paddington to Reading and Liverpool St to Shenfield services were rebranded from TfL Rail to Elizabeth Line. The through services will be introduced over the coming year.

On a recent pre-opening visit to the line, your writer was amazed at the sheer scale of the stations; they make the stations on the Jubilee line extension, London Underground’s largest, seem small. At Liverpool St, it is also extremely deep requiring three escalators (one short, two long) to move from street to platform level. And, although all but one of the underground platforms is straight (Tottenham Court Road Eastbound is the exception), the line between stations is anything but, threading its way between many existing underground structures.

On opening day, apart from the first east- and westbound trains which were packed with enthusiasts and press, many ordinary travellers have been out and about on the line. Your writer caught an eastbound train from Tottenham Court Road to Abbey Wood and visited each station on a journey back to Paddington, with an extended stay at Woolwich where the great and good from the Crossrail project, TfL, and the mayor’s office were besieged by representatives of the general and specialist media.

The overwhelming impression is a cool, smooth, and quiet ride. A travelling companion said he could hear himself think. Compared with the screeching on the Bakerloo line and the heat and corrugation on the Victoria line, the Elizabeth line was serenity itself. In a 3.5 hour visit your writer observed a few first day teething troubles: one of the many escalators was out of action at Canary Wharf (not the Otis escalators used elsewhere), there was an empty train running around, and there was an evacuation at Paddington caused by dust in sensors, kicked up by the large crowds that arrived for the first services. That said, on the second day after opening, all trains ran and all were within five minutes of right time – representing an amazing public performance measure (PPM) of 100%.

The biggest impression of the morning was the number of people getting out their phones to photograph the enormous underground spaces, with the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, reporting that some 260,000 journeys had been made on the first day. The photographs accompanying this piece give an impression but do not do justice to the sheer sense of scale. This is an important addition to London transport and, in a few years’ time, the delay and extra cost will have been forgotten.

With TfL’s Commissioner battling with the Government for a long-term funding settlement, one hopes that he can compare and contrast the Elizabeth line with the Bakerloo line. If he can take representatives to Paddington Elizabeth line, it is but a short walk under the main line concourse to the Bakerloo line, or, if something is not done soon, the Bakerloo heritage line.

Much has been written about Crossrail engineering in the general and specialist media, but one of the aspects that has had little publicity is the material the project team has made available as a learning legacy: https://learninglegacy.crossrail.co.uk offers a huge resource of documents explaining many of the challenges that the project teams have had to overcome.

Image credit: istockphoto.com

Reston gets its station back

The new Reston station saw its first train when the 05:29 TransPennine Express service from Edinburgh to Newcastle arrived at 06:16 on 23 May. This was almost 60 years since the original station closed in 1964.

Contractors BAM Nuttall started building the station in March 2021. It has two 270-metre-long, 4-metre-wide platforms on an embankment over an underpass and culvert. It required 251 precast slabs and 108 piles of which 60 were for the footbridge. This is a novel ribbon footbridge which was conceived by Arup, the station designer, and Knight Architects. It incorporates lift shafts on either side with the 17-metre-high north shaft serving three levels, the interchange (ground level), the north platform, and the bridge crossing.

Project engineer Jonathan Long advised that the work had to be done within the constraints of short rules of route possessions which required the footbridge to be erected in 12 lifts. There was one 54-hour disruptive for overhead line work which involved replacing five sets of single-track cantilever structures with portals and using this opportunity for overhead wires renewals. There was also a requirement to move one signal.

Reston is a small village of about 200 houses in the Scottish Borders, 47 miles from Edinburgh and 10 miles north of Berwick-upon-Tweed, close to several settlements including the coastal town of Eyemouth. The 70-space car park has been built in the expectation that the station will be a well-used railhead and so there is passive provision for a further 40 spaces. TransPennine Trains advised that they had advance bookings for 1,000 tickets from Reston.

The station is served by eight trains a day operated by TransPennine Express, except for a LNER service that provides a 07:27 service to London and an evening arrival from London at 21:41.

Scottish Transport Minister, Jenny Gilruth advised Rail Engineer that the £20 million investment provided by the Scottish Government for the new station would open up the area and that there are plans to improve bus links to maximise the benefit that the station will provide to the local community.

Various ceremonies marked the day, including Jenny Gilruth’s visit when she was met by a piper and 49 pupils from Reston Primary School who had been given train tickets by TransPennine Express for a day out in Edinburgh to mark the occasion.

Image credit: David Shirres

Making electrification affordable

Electric trains take power as it is generated and feed it directly into their traction motors without the need to convert energy or store it. Therefore, they will always be more efficient, more powerful, and cheaper to run and buy than self-powered traction. No amount of innovation can change this.

For this reason, except for the USA, railways throughout the world have electrified their core routes. Britain is another exception. On busy routes it has probably the world’s most intensive diesel passenger service and diesel provides 96% of the energy for its freight trains. For this reason, compared with other railways, the UK has a poor carbon record. Pre-Covid, UK rail’s CO2 emissions were amongst world’s worst with, respectively, 2.5 and 2 times the world average rail passenger and freight emissions.

For these reasons Network Rail’s Traction Network Decarbonisation Study (TDNS) recognised that electrification of at least 13,000 single track kilometres (stk) is needed to deliver a zero-carbon railway.

Yet despite the benefits of electrification, the Westminster Government is unwilling to invest in the electrification rolling programme recommended by TDNS. This is because it is not confident that electrification can be delivered at an affordable price. This is understandable given the cost overruns of the Great Western electrification programme which, despite a reduced scope, was delivered at three times the cost of the original estimate.

Thus, if there is to be a net-zero carbon railway the cost of electrification has to be reduced.

NEEP
Speaking at a PWI conference in October, Network Rail’s Andrew Haines stressed that “we must not underestimate the harm done by the horrendous costs and schedule over-runs on the GW electrification. The ball is firmly back in our court to show that we can deliver cost-effectively, and that we can be trusted.” He also noted that “we must remember that we are publicly financed and must account for our expenditure. International benchmarks are there and used to measure our success, so we must push further.”

Surge arrester as used to reduce clearance at Cardiff Intersection bridge.

At the same conference, Prof Andrew McNaughton, previously Network Rail’s Chief Engineer and HS2’s Technical Director, advised that UK electrification was probably double what it costs elsewhere. He felt the job of engineers was to avoid unnecessary work and do unavoidable work efficiently using standardised elements and a factory approach. As an example of the former he mentioned the unnecessary proposal to demolish Steventon bridge as described in our feature on the PWI electrification seminar.

Against this background, the National Electrification Efficiency Panel (NEEP) was jointly convened last year between DfT and Network Rail. The ORR is also represented to identify issues that need regulator backing. NEEP is jointly chaired between Professor McNaughton and senior electrification engineer, Peter Dearman. Initially it informed the pricing of Midland Main Line electrification for its business case submission.

The first phase of the NEEP study considered technical opportunities and innovations to reduce the cost of electrification. It identified nine such action items:

  • Bridge parapets – secure widespread adoption of deriving parapet heights from risk assessment rather than a blanket application of 1.8 metres.
  • Voltage controlled clearances – roll out standards for the use of surge arrestors and insulated coatings as applied at Cardiff Intersection bridge to allow lower clearances to be derived from a suitable risk assessment.
  • Track vertical allowances – derive economically affordable track lift allowance to protect locations with tight vertical electrical clearance.
  • Trial holing alternatives – avoiding hand digging trial holes at every OLE foundation with, for example, the use of ground penetrating radar.
  • Insulated pantograph horns – adopt this type of pantograph which are used throughout Europe and elsewhere.
  • Wire gradients – update design principles to avoid infrastructure interventions in close proximity to level crossings and bridges.
  • OLE structure spacing – changes design rules to reduce the number of structures per mile by optimising spacing. 
  • Rationalised traction distribution principles – reduce the number and scale of electrical substations with designs that use the best modern practice in electrical power switchgear and control design.
  • OLE structure design range – limiting the available range of structure types in the UKMS design range to reduce supply chain complexity and improving the visual appearance of OLE.

These initiatives are all being progressed and some have resulted in E&P Technical Advice Notes which are early notifications of a standards change. NEEP continues to monitor progress with all these initiatives and to push for their mandatory adoption. Dearman feels that there is a need to educate the devolved Network Rail organisations on the approaches to risk management and whole life cost which need to be embraced if these initiatives are to be successful.

Next steps

The next stage of the NEEP study is consideration of non-engineering issues including procurement models, risk ownership, methods of project delivery, use of plant, and overhead costs. A particular issue is that, in the UK, instead of a continuous production model, electrification is delivered as a series of distinct projects which have set-up and close-down costs. In addition, end date targets increase costs as extra resources are procured to meet an arbitrary target date.

Dearman advises that, of all the cost issues, the early NEEP phase 2 work has identified that overheads are a particular issue in the UK. This reinforces his experience working outside the UK where, as McNaughton observed, electrification costs are probably half of those in the UK. Many of the delegates at the PWI electrification seminar also expressed similar concerns. Indeed, one speaker at this seminar considered that UK electrification required more paperwork per stk than any other country in the world. It seemed clear that no-one disagreed with him.

Inside test train measuring wire contact force at Steventon.

Dearman felt that this was due to excessive man marking with unnecessarily large safety, assurance, commercial, and planning teams. His research had found that overhead costs in Europe were typically 50% of the cost of physical works (materials, labour, and plant). In contrast, in the UK overhead costs of 150% are more normal.

If these figures are correct, it means that, even if the technical opportunities that NEEP has identified can reduce the cost of physical works by 50%, this will only reduce total electrification costs by 20%. This shows the importance of this aspect of NEEP’s work although it is likely to produce some tough messages for the industry. However, the tougher message is that unless electrification costs are significantly reduced further electrification is unlikely to be authorised.

At the October PWI conference, Andrew Haines referred to the great work being done in Scotland where electrification costs are as low as £2 million per single track kilometre and further reductions are credibly expected. Much of this is due to there being a continuous programme in Scotland where the supply chain is trusted to deliver. Yet south of the border the industry has still to gain such trust, which is needed if the Westminster Government is to commit to a rolling programme of electrification that itself would reduce costs.

This explains why NEEP is an essential initiative. Rail Engineer looks forward to reporting further on its findings which could be the key to achieving a net zero carbon railway.

PWI Technical Seminar – Electrification: Delivering the business case

Delivering the business case’ was the particularly apt title of the PWI’s electrification seminar in Glasgow in April. The 140 delegates who were present know that electrification is required but convincing the Westminster Government requires electrification to be demonstrably affordable. Although various speakers described actual and potential cost reduction measures, the cost of electrification remains high at a reported £2 million per single track kilometre (stk) in Scotland and £3 million per stk in England.

This compares with £500,000 stk for German and Swiss electrification as shown in the Railway Industry Association’s Electrification Cost Challenge report. Some of these high costs are outside the control of delivery teams such as high overheads, project process issues, and the lack of a rolling electrification programme. The frustration of those who had built up experienced electrification delivery teams only to disband them at the end of each project was particularly notable.

Bill Reeve, Transport Scotland’s director of rail and Alan Ross, director of engineer and asset management for Network Rail Scotland, explained why Scotland has a rolling programme and how it is being delivered.

Scotland’s rail decarbonisation plan

The Scottish Government considers rail electrification to be an essential part of its national transport strategy. Since 2010, it has funded 325 stk of electrification. Currently electric trains carry 76% of rail passenger traffic and haul 45% of rail freight in Scotland. Its Scottish Rail Services Decarbonisation Action Plan, launched in July 2020, will decarbonise rail passenger services by 2035.

Bill Reeve explained this plan is an instruction to the industry to electrify all Scottish main routes. He noted that battery and hydrogen trains will have a role but not for the core railway or for freight, as electric traction is essential to provide the longer, faster trains needed to meet rail freight growth targets for which gauge clearance is to the electrification programme.

Regardless of the decarbonisation imperative, Reeve explained that electrification is needed to make rail competitive as electric trains are cheaper to operate, more reliable, offer faster trains and additional services. They are also cheaper to buy than diesel trains which will need to be replaced in the not-too-distant future. For all these reasons Scotland can’t afford not to electrify.

Reeve also explained that a competitive railway is needed to attract the modal shift from cars if Scotland is to meet its decarbonisation targets which include a 20% reduction in car kilometres by 2030. Reeve noted that simply changing cars from petrol to battery powered “won’t cut it”.

Hence, Scotland is committed to a rolling electrification programme derived from a whole-system approach that considers the optimum infrastructure and rolling stock solutions to deliver the required timetable. This also gives the supply chain confidence to develop its workforce and capabilities. Reeve concluded by stressing that all this depends on cost effective electrification delivery.

Delivery

Alan Ross then explained how the decarbonisation programme is being delivered. He also stressed the need for a rolling programme to drive costs down but accepted that this requires trust and commitment. In this way, rather than individual projects, electrification is delivered as a programme which offers opportunities for optimising logistics, packaging feeder station delivery and procurement savings with early purchase of raw materials. He emphasised the need for a “sweet spot” to optimise delivery volumes which, for Scotland, is the annual delivery of around 90 stk of electrification and 30 structures clearance interventions.

Although Scottish electrification had generally been delivered within its cost envelope at around £2 million per stk, costs still need to be further reduced. This requires transparency to ensure all cost drivers are understood, the need for a culture that embraces continuous improvements and a production focus. Ross recognised that Network Rail had to respond to the supply chain’s concerns, particularly in respect of access strategies.

He also described how Scotland’s whole system approach helped to determine the best overall solution. For example, the need to withdraw diesel units in the next few years requires an interim strategy of discontinuous electrification with EMUs fitted with batteries that can be removed in future. Such an approach provides incremental benefits prior to full electrification.

Scotland’s electrification has challenges, of which its most iconic structure is one. Ross considered that Forth Bridge electrification is “challenging but doable.” There are also significant gauge clearance issues elsewhere, particularly on the Highland Main Line. He also noted that power supply in remote areas is also a challenge for both Network Rail and the National Grid.

Delivering more electrification than ever before over a 13-year period with ongoing cost savings is a significant challenge. With everyone playing their part, Ross feels this is achievable.

Stirling Alloa Dunblane (SDA)

Warren Bain, PBH Rail’s technical director, explained how the recent SDA Scottish electrification programme started in January 2016 with its first OLE Form A. It had to be completed by December 2018 so that new Hitachi class 385 EMUs could replace the class 170 DMUs that had to be released south of the border. SDA provided 110 stk of new electrification which included 2,200 new structures with an expanded feeder station and two new Track Section Cabins.

For SDA, PBH rail developed a single section pile up to eight metres in length to avoid splicing the high percentage of piles that were longer than the standard 5.5-metre length. These piles were developed in consultation with the fabricators after confirmation that piling rigs and trailers could lift and transport these piles. A particular challenge of this project was the 600-metre Kippenness tunnel, that had a low uneven roof in which OLE structures could not be installed at the low points.

Production based electrification

Rob Sherrin of Leeps Consulting has no doubt that electrification needs a production rather than a project philosophy. He quoted cost savings from repetitive programmes such as windfarms that are expected to generate electricity more cheaply than gas-fired power stations in 2023, and Network Rail’s Southern power supply upgrade which was around £800 against its £1 billion budget.

The need for such a production approach was highlighted by a questioner who asked why the GRIP language of projects is used for electrification which should be a continuous process. There was no satisfactory answer to this powerful question.

He advised that English electrification was currently costing about £3 million per stk and that this must be reduced with a relentless focus on costs and the efficiency of repetitive tasks. He considered that the overheads and prelims must be reduced as these were often many times the cost of the actual work. Also, innovation needs to focus on cost and eliminate complexity, the access regime needs to allow efficient production and multiple packages of work will provide competition.

Sherrin also felt that the authorisation regime needed to be challenged as the Common Safety Method needed to be applied on the basis that there are no new fundamental risks from railway electrification schemes.

Amey’s engineering manager, Anne Watters, reinforced many of Sherrin’s points. She explained how a 50% increase in possession time (from four to six hours) could double working time (from two to four hours) and therefore cancellation of the first and last trains of the day needed to be considered.

She also considered the practicalities of using different types of machinery. High Output trains had their advantages but needed to be able to store sufficient material for an eight-hour shift. Road Rail Vehicles (RRVs) are useful in complex areas but may not be efficient if their access points are miles apart.

Watters also stressed the importance of developing the workforce and that this related to the access regime as excessive reliance on Saturday night working increased the need for “weekend warriors.” A continuous programme also facilitates apprentice schemes, avoids efficient teams being disbanded and is needed if there are to be sufficient OLE construction trainers.

She considered that other benefits of a rolling programme were a long-term look ahead of route clearance work, enabling it to be done first, and consistency of standards. She noted that she had spent hours discussing standards for station foundation designs.

The respective M&EE professional heads of Swietelsky and Babcock, Calumn Oates and Nick Wilkinson, explained how Swietelsky Babcock Rail had developed specialist electrification plant. Its self-propelled Kirow 250 Rail Crane can be fitted with a side mounted tube driving system that can drive up to five piles per hour at a maximum 16-metre reach. They explained how their cranes can also be used to install masts and gantries. A continuous programme is needed to make the best use of this impressive, though expensive plant.

Preparing for electrification

Alan Kennedy, lead OLE engineer for SPL Powerlines, considered pre-work measures to maximise efficient delivery. He considered digital twin to be a real step change as they reduced the requirement for on-site surveys as well as improving design and constructability reviews.

Another promising development is ground penetrating radar (GPR) to reduce the need for trial holes. This enables around 25 locations to be surveyed in a shift which would otherwise dig one or two trial holes, though GPR does not completely remove the need for trial holes. Instead, it allows them to be targeted as required. Kennedy explained how GPR is being trialled on the Haymarket to Dalmeny (H2D) scheme that should have its first piles driven at the end of June.

He also described trials undertaken at a local quarry to determine the best method of rock piling and its effect on possessions. Methods tested included down-the-hole (DTH) hammers, micro-piling, and coring or auguring.

Reducing ‘boots on ballast’ and maximising time on track are key principles of efficient electrification. This can be achieved by off-track OLE construction and pre-registered cantilevers attached at site. Kennedy advised that this reduces site visits from three to one prior to wiring. However, this approach requires mature design and space for fabrication. It also needs a gap between foundation and OLE work to make it efficient.

He also explained how maximising span length at Almond viaduct on the H2D scheme might save £250,000 as the viaduct was not suitable for attachments. Although still to be confirmed, it was expected that the required 88-metre span would be feasible. Certainly, this approach has wider benefits in similar locations.

Kennedy’s presentation reinforced many of the points made in earlier presentations including the need to optimise access strategy, keep things simple, the need for a more appropriate assurance regime, and the development of the workforce.

Heritage

Another issue that needs to be considered early in any electrification scheme is its heritage implications. Michael Ponting, overhead line solutions lead for Jacobs in York explained what this entails. There are potentially many stakeholders involved with any affected stations, overbridges, and heritage assets close to the railway. Early engagement with such stakeholders is essential.

Although electrification normally requires a standardised approach to maximise efficiency, heritage impact mitigation may require a bespoke solution to be agreed with stakeholders, at an early stage of design. Ponting also emphasised the importance of challenging standards to, for example, minimise heritage impact.

Kennedy referred to the useful guidance in Network Rail Standards NR/GN/CIV/100/02 “Station Design Guidance” and NR/GN/CIV/100/05 “Heritage: Care and Development”. These show that there are over 200 listed stations in the UK, all of which require conservation management plans to be prepared in consultation with the Railway Heritage Trust.

Design

Garry Keenor, professional head for electrification at Atkins, gave a presentation focused on design cost reduction by digital design and challenging standards. He said that with typically 3,500 structures for 100 stk of electrification, design was a volume game that needed to be automated as far as possible using the latest digital design tools. He noted the importance of defining minimum viable product and emphasised that design development is the time to reduce costs, though this needs planning further ahead.

He explained that some standards may be out of date and that the historic reasons for them may not be clear. Hence there was a requirement for intelligent rule breaking to challenge standards using an evidenced based, first principles approach. He gave two examples where there had been a successful challenge: allowable uplift and wire gradients.

Until recently, the design uplift for contact wire bridge arms was 70mm. Keenor explained how novel measurement techniques that required no track access of OLE mounted equipment had demonstrated this could be reduced to 45mm.

A study of wire gradient was the result of it not being possible to demolish Steventon bridge during the GW electrification works. As this bridge was 400 metres from a level crossing, bi-mode trains had to operate on diesel power underneath it. This was because the then standards required a 60mph speed restriction of electric trains on the resultant 1 in 202 gradient and a maximum 1 in 625 gradient to operate at 125mph. After modelling and test train running undertaken by Atkins, it was demonstrated that electric trains could run at 110mph on a 1 in 175 wire gradient.

Keenor said there needed to be a cultural change to encourage intelligent challenge and interpretation of standards. He encouraged Network Rail and its contractors to follow the E&P Technical Advice Note Ref 12-21-001-V1 “Bridge parapets electrical risk assessments” which introduced a risk assessment methodology to determine the required parapet works. He emphasised the need for simplicity, both of design and process, and made the tongue in cheek observation that Britain requires more paperwork per electrification stk than any other country in the world.

Atkin’s Technical Director, Paul Hooper, considered what UK electrification might look like in 2050. Although Scotland is implementing its rail decarbonisation plan, the Westminster Government has yet to commit to an overall plan of rail decarbonisation. It has also not responded to Network Rail’s Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy (TDNS) which recommends 11,700 stk of electrification with battery and hydrogen trains respectively operating on 400 and 900 stk of track with currently no clear technical choice for 2,300 stk.

He noted that there were various proposals for discontinuous electrification though this was not suitable for freight. This is to be a permanent solution for Transport for Wales as the South Wales Valley lines are electrified. Hooper considered that this will require an ultra-reliable system for pantograph raising and lowering. It will also need battery size to be optimised which may result in bespoke trains.

In Scotland, the plan is for interim discontinuous electrification which needs to be planned around nine new feeder stations and take account of the need to provide power for both traction and battery charging. He noted that a rolling programme needs a five-year look ahead, especially in respect of power supplies.

New technology such as intelligent infrastructure, digital twins, and static frequency converters can reduce costs. However, Hooper emphasised that the electrification programmes should not await future innovations but be planned on what we know now.

Hearts and minds

Mott MacDonald’s head of rail systems, David Wilcox also considered the traction mix recommended by TDNS and explained this in terms of how far a train can travel per kilowatt hour. It might be obvious that electrification is the optimum traction and decarbonisation solution, but it is essential to win the hearts and minds of politicians.

He considered that a whole system approach needed to be taken to maximise performance and minimise energy consumption. To illustrate this, he considered a bridge on a 1 in 200 gradient on the Borders Railway with a 60mph speed restriction on a 1 in 80 gradient. He wondered how long it would take to recoup the cost of eliminating this restriction from the resultant fuel and performance savings.

He echoed the points made by previous speakers about challenging standards, data driven design and digital twins and wondered how long it might be before drawings were not needed.

Looking to the future

Decarbonising the railway with a rolling electrification programme that provides cheaper, faster trains to attract traffic from less carbon-friendly transport is a vision for the future that is being delivered in Scotland. Hence Glasgow was a good venue for the PWI’s electrification seminar which highlighted examples of good practice in Scotland and elsewhere.

Peter Dearman sums up the conference.

With many speakers stressing the importance of developing the workforce, the presentation by Megan Schofield on attracting young engineers to the industry was particularly well-received. Meghan started her railway career with Arup just over two years ago as a graduate OLE engineer. In her first job she worked on platform extensions at London’s Liverpool Street station. This was a small job involving all disciplines which she felt provided a good learning experience. She is now working on the Transpennine upgrade.

Schofield advised that, at university, her fellow students did not consider rail as a career and instead looked to the automotive, aerospace, and oil and gas sectors. Hence, she posed the question of what the industry can do to attract more engineers. She also felt that it was important to get more young people into engineering at an early stage.

She also felt that mentoring was important and advised managers to inspire those less experienced than themselves by spending quality time with them. She recognised the importance of networking and felt it important to have strong female leaders in engineering teams.

In the following Q&A session it was noted that Megan had clearly shown the importance of learning by doing and that mentorship was not a one-way process. One senior engineer acknowledged how much he had learnt from younger engineers.

In summing up the conference, its chair, Peter Dearman, considered that it was uplifting to hear that in Scotland, Bill Reeve, representing Government, and Alan Ross of Network Rail were talking the same language. Yet he cautioned that the UK has the highest infrastructure cost base in Europe and that, even if material cost was zero, UK electrification would still be more expensive than in Europe with much of this due to high overheads.

Regardless of the Scottish example, much still needs to be done to convince the Westminster Government of benefits of electrification and that the industry can deliver at an affordable cost.

Image credit: PWI / David Shirres

Safety enhancement of power distribution switchgear

Folkestone was once an important harbour and shipping port. Nowadays, it is home to Dollands Moor freight yard which was built to serve the Channel Tunnel. The Dollands Moor DC Substation sits at the western end of this freight yard and was originally constructed as part of the Channel Tunnel Reinforcement Scheme in the mid-1990s.

Network Rail decided to remove Dollands Moor DC Substation from service at the end of 2019 due to water ingress, reliability of DC protection relays, unavailability of spare parts and lessons learnt from the Godinton Substation incident where a Network Rail colleague was seriously injured. Since then, the substation was watching trains passing by without being able to contribute to the network. However, its fate was changed when Network Rail initiated the works to bring the substation back to operational service to improve the performance of the DC network.

Network Rail deemed Dollands Moor as a high priority and required the project to be completed as soon as possible. BAM Nuttall, as the principal framework contractor of Network Rail, immediately started the planning. The company was aware of the level of complexity, the tight deadlines and the significance of the project; hence it had to ensure that the designer has high expertise and resource to cope with those challenges. Rail Power Solutions, being one of BAM Nuttall’s preferred Electrification & Plant (E&P) designers, was approached to develop this highly challenging design.

Retrofit to increase safety

Installation of copper work and shunt.

According to the Godinton report, concerns were identified with the existing DC switchgear, combined with the formation of condensation which contributed to the incident.  Dollands Moor DC switchgear was chosen as a trial site for undertaking design and implementation works to improve its reliability, electrical clearances, and maintainability. In addition, there was a requirement to extend the asset life for a minimum of 15 years.

The DC switchgear, which was installed in the 1990s, has a protection system that does not comply with the current Network Rail standards. Network Rail’s preference was to replace the complete protection system including the DCTR-1B protection relay, Hall effect transducer for current measurement, Hall effect check transducer, Hall effect sensor, Hall effect power supply unit/amplifier, and DC voltage transducer. This means redesigning the majority of the non-removable parts of the DC switchgear.

An alternative solution was the complete renewal of the DC module which would come at a significant cost. However, given the vast number of this type of DC circuit breaker on the network, a retrofit option applicable to the majority of the breakers was considered a more cost-effective approach.

Following multiple options proposed by Rail Power Solutions during the GRIP 3 stage (option selection), Network Rail agreed to a single option that provides a practical retrofitting solution without compromising on safety. The design included works in track cable termination, relay and transducer chambers.

“Dimensions were obtained on-site to develop the design. However, the partial use of existing copper work with a different configuration, installation of an additional shunt, and the requirement for additional angled copper work introduced significant uncertainties. It is like playing a 3D puzzle, but you have to create the puzzle pieces. Although we were confident of the design, timescale and cost implications were the last thing we wanted during the construction phase. Assembling the real scale 3D parts on-site helped us to identify any details we missed and to confirm the accuracy of the dimensions.” William Fonseca, Director of Rail Power Solutions.

Design challenges and innovations

The configuration of the copper work of the DC Switchgear at Dollands Moor created concerns about the space available for the installation of new equipment within the cable chamber. The design became more challenging due to the absence of record drawings showing the exact dimensions of the existing copper arrangement in the cable chamber. Rail Power Solutions had to attend the site multiple times to confirm the suitability of the proposed shunt and copper arrangement.

BAM Nuttall – Rail Power Solutions collaboration.

Following discussions with BAM Nuttall, the parties suggested introducing innovative technology into the design process using 3D copies of the shunt and proposed copper work to check effectively the suitability of the new arrangement before finalising the design. Given the very short lead times for 3D prints, it provides more flexibility and is time-saving and cost-effective compared to supplying the actual copper parts and shunt during the design stage.

Rail Power Solutions produced the 3D model of the parts using the dimensions obtained on-site and got the parts 3D printed. On the next visit to Dollands Moor, the engineers were more confident in the design since the 3D model showed that the proposed copper work and shunt would precisely fit the cable chamber.

“A collaborative team effort from all at RPS, BAM Nuttall, and Network Rail. Despite the short time frame, a challenging project was delivered.” BAM Nuttall contracts manager, Duncan Hall.

Safety first

Rail Power Solutions’ primary design objective was to make minimal modifications to the existing copper work to reduce the retrofit’s risk and cost; while increasing the repeatability of this design to similar types of DC switchgear. The safety of the operators and maintainers was the main driver of the design. Additional measures were implemented in the design, to prevent contact of maintenance personnel with 750V circuit, this included: a new type of fuse holder that is operated with the use of a hook stick to allow operators to isolate parts without entering the breaker cell; additional shrouding; and warning labels.

Relay chamber following the works.

Another aspect of the design was the anti-condensation heating for the DC switchgear. The substation was originally built at a time when the internal environment characteristics of steel buildings were not as well understood as they are today. The steel construction can be susceptible to the formation of condensation, and the condensation can contribute to the electrical flashover. Although the building had been provided with de-humidifiers, additional heating in each breaker was required.

Space constraints inside the circuit breaker were once again an obstacle. Thus, Rail Power Solutions proposed compact dynamic heating elements with a significantly small footprint. In addition, the electrical clearances were improved to eliminate the occurrence of any electrical flashovers.

Following the installation and entering the substation into service, all parties are happy with the result. Although the Godinton incident raised significantly the bar for safety, the design as a prototype was successful in terms of both safety and cost saving, and Network Rail is already considering rolling out a plan to renew the DC switchgear on the network.

“RPS, BAM Nuttall, and Network Rail worked collaboratively and innovatively together – the Dollands Moor Switchgear project was a great success.” Network Rail project manager, Daniel Lea.

Rail Power Solutions is a specialist design and consultancy service for DC electrified railways, undertaking complex multi-disciplinary designs. Established in 2013, Rail Power Solutions has grown rapidly as the leading design consultancy for railway electrification systems, with extensive knowledge and experience in Network Rail, London Underground, London Overground, Docklands Light Railway, Merseyrail and Glasgow Subway.

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