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Railtex Review

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Railtex, the UK’s largest indoor railway industry exhibition, moved from London to Birmingham’s NEC for 2015 and was bigger than ever. 468 exhibitors were present, showing off their latest products and services to 7,449 trade visitors. With a further 2,700 people attending as exhibitors, many of whom were doing inter-stand trading, that made over ten thousand people going through the doors over the three days of the show.

As well as the stands themselves, there was the usual mix of presentations and discussions taking place around the hall as well as events in the evenings.

Highlight of the show, at least from Rail Engineer’s point of view, was the series of keynote speeches and seminar presentations arranged by your favourite railway engineering magazine. Situated on the floor of the exhibition, the Rail Engineer Seminar Theatre was often bulging at the seams with as many as 250 people filling the aisles round about as well as sitting in the theatre itself.


The opening day’s keynote speech was given by Richard Parry-Jones, the chairman of Network Rail, who also participated in the opening ceremony alongside Railway Industry Association director general Jeremy Candfield and show organiser Mack Brooks’ chairman Stephen Brooks.

In his keynote address, Richard looked at some of the challenges that Network Rail faces in the current control period (CP5) and how it will deliver more work for less cost. He stressed the need for innovation on the railways, with not only new products but also new techniques being needed to bring about the efficiency improvements that the Government is demanding through the ORR (now the Office of Rail and Road, formerly the Office of Rail Regulation).

On the middle day, show attendees were addressed by Terence Watson, co-chairman of the Rail Supply Group. He explained the role of the RSG, arail media IMG_0236-watson [online] partnership between industry and government to strengthen the UK’s rail supply chain. It is doing this through various work streams and, having published its Vision in January, the RSG is now working on a Rail Industry Strategy which will be revealed by the end of the year.

Collaboration is here to stay on the railways, and the head of one of the earliest and most complete examples spoke to a full house on the last day of the show. Tim Shoveller is chief executive officer of the South Western Railway, the South West Trains / Network Rail deep alliance. He explained the organisational and financial structure of the alliance, spoke of the benefits that have become possible by this approach, and also recalled some of the pitfalls that he and the management team had encountered along the way.

All three keynote speakers were highly entertaining as well as informative. They all had a passion for their subjects and were roundly thanked by their audiences for their frankness and realism. All three attracted a queue of people wanting to question them on various aspects of their talks, and they spent some time on the nearby Rail Media stand in those private discussions.

Technical seminars

For the rest of the three days, twenty exhibitors used the seminar theatre to outline some of their latest developments. All of the presentations were technical, though to varying degrees, and covered a range of topics.

ZF’s Steve Brew got the ball rolling with an interesting look at the Repower project which has produced 17% fuel savings for Porterbook’s fleet of Class 158 DMUs in use with South West Trains.

Continuing the rolling stock theme, Niall Simmons of Bombardier Transportation looked at global trends in rail transportation and discussed how these affect both passengers and operators. He outlined current thinking on automation and how this can both optimise journey times and reduce maintenance costs while improving the passenger experience.

Justin Southcombe of Perpetuum explained a fascinating method of condition monitoring for vehicle wheels and axles and how it can also be used to inspect the condition of the track in real time. And it’s all self-powered!

Condition-based monitoring and maintenance also featured in the presentation by Dirk Seckler of Knorr-Bremse Rail Services. The iCOM system optimises vehicle availability by identifying potential failures before they happen, facilitating pre-emptive action.

Pantographs, too, can be inspected and monitored automatically. Luca Ascari of the Camlin Group introduced ‘PantoBot’ a technique used on Italy’s high-speed lines that now uses high-resolution 3D.

All of this monitoring is to bring about improved reliability. Art Couper of BMT Reliability Consultants asked the question: “Is it possible
to improve reliability and reduce maintenance costs using Reliability Centred Maintenance?” and then proceeded to explain to his enthralled audience how it was – using PIPs (Performance Improvement Programmes) and SMRs (Strategic Maintenance Reviews).

In all of this strategic and high-tech engineering, one shouldn’t forget that some of the seemingly unimportant components can have a real impact on efficiency. What is the point of carefully labelling all of the cables in a wiring loom or telecommunications network if, the moment they get hot, all of the markings disappear? Nick Michaelson, chief executive officer of Silver Fox, explained how all labelling systems are not the same and that one should be wary of low-cost components which aren’t up to the job.

To round off the first day’s programme, Michael Chatteris, West Midlands chairman of Young Rail Professionals, explained how the organisation had doubled in size over the last year and how 2,000 young professionals in the first ten years of their railway careers were now networking and interfacing both with each other and with their employers.

Every young railwayman or woman should be a member of one of the seven regional centres which are helping to develop and inspire the next generation of railway talent.

Varied topics

Following Terence Watson’s keynote, Thomas Kriegel of Voith Turbo started off the second day’s technical programme. Attention is now focusing on ways to improve and future-proof the drivelines of existing fleets. Thomas explained how Voith is able to design, manufacture, supply and integrate complete drivelines and individual driveline components from a single supply source, providing the complete driveline with fully integrated and optimised ‘ready to fit’ solutions.

The transition from the analogue to the digital age is giving customers service teams at stations freedom to move around, with station management and control at their fingertips. Paul Dobbins of Telent Technology described how systems developers and integrators can make a vast difference to customer service, safety and security while enhancing the experience of the rail traveller.

There was more integration from Keith Jordan, managing director of Hitachi Rail Europe, as he reviewed the various elements of the company’s offering and explained how these all combine into a truly joined-up approach to railway engineering. From the Class 395 Javelin trains on SouthEastern, through the new Class 800/801 IEP trains now on test on the East Coast main line to traffic management systems and ETCS signalling, Hitachi delivers end-to-end solutions in rail.

There was more high-technology as David Collier of Pilz UK outlined the use of commercial off-the-shelf technology in the form of PLCs (programmable logic controllers) which have been used to control level crossings on the continent for some time and are now being introduced in the UK. This technology is now also starting to find its way into automated rolling stock applications in the UK and David discussed both the progress so far and the opportunities to come.

Mechan, the Sheffield-based specialist in equipment for depots and train maintenance facilities, discussed the topic of non-contact measurement of wheels and flanges. Adam Elliott introduced Manuel Haushofer of Calipri, manufacturer of non-contact hand-held devices, and Jeser Zalba of Visiona Control Industrial that produces the WheelPro system which measures wheel profiles automatically as the train passes through the system.

Today’s railway systems require broad computing support for varied needs, from rolling stock and fleet management to video surveillance, passenger Internet and ticketing or conductor/driver information. Kontron’s Robert Negre outlined the benefits from implementing the unique, intelligent and autonomous health management capabilities of TRACe computing platforms. He explained how to go from simply- reactive to positively-proactive in managing application functionality and uptime.

Returning to infrastructure topics, Dura Composite’s’ Stuart Burns and Tom Bowman looked at the use of composite materials for station platforms, taking into account critical issues such as re-gauging and stepping distances to and from trains. Composites can provide a solution whereby existing standards are not compromised whilst allowing contractors to deliver cost savings and significant time savings within CP5 and beyond.

Weighing trains can be an effective, economic way to improve efficiency and safety at the same time. Charles Seccombe of Railweight explained how maximising loads, increasing network utilisation, safeguarding infrastructure and assets can all be achieved by integrating a train weighing system that seamlessly forms part of day-to-day freight handling operations. Such a system can also help reduce excessive wear on wheels and bogies and, in extreme cases, derailments.

Safety is always in everyone’s mind, and the new European flammability standard EN 45545 means that, for the first time, a mandatory European requirement for the fire behavior of components and materials used in rail vehicles is now in place. Harting’s Mike Brookes described how, depending on the installation situation, the same requirements may be in effect for heavy connectors as for the switch cabinet on which they are mounted.

From rails to signalling

Following Tim Shoveller’s interesting look at deep alliances on the railway, Matthew Locke of Korec Group discussed the use of innovative video monitoring systems to better understand the behaviour of rail track and structures under dynamic loading. He explained how this ground-breaking technology has been used to good effect on a number of rail projects, including the 80mph handback at Wigan Springs on the West Coast main line, and also highlighted the complementary part this technology plays in the full process of 3D survey, design and installation.

Daniel Pyke of Tata Steel addressed the complexities of balancing track performance for a combination of higher traffic volumes, heavier axle loads and faster train speeds with commercial aspects such as cost and ease of maintenance. He provided a few examples to illustrate how appropriate rail grade selection can help minimise these issues, enabling rail engineers to extract more life from their assets and reduce their life cycle costs.

Daniel also gave some real-life examples of how to reduce rolling contact fatigue and minimise wear and corrugation, challenging rail engineers to think about lifetime performance when selecting rails for their next projects.

Ian Jones of Siemens Rail Automation rounded off the Rail Engineer seminar programme with a fascinating look at the rapid convergence of previously very different solutions for mainline and mass transit signalling and train control solutions.

An unmanned Communication Based Train Control (CBTC) system architecture is very similar to a European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) Level 2 or Level 3 system, often sharing platforms and sometimes operating systems.

As examples, Ian looked at current developments on the Thameslink project, including the use of Automatic Train Operation (ATO) with ERTMS Level 2 in a dense urban environment, and the application of CBTC technology within the central section of Crossrail.

A rich panoply

But of course it was the exhibition stands themselves that most visitors had come to see, and there were more of them than at any Railtex for the last 10 years. There were large stands and shell-scheme stands. Some exhibitors had obviously spent loads of money on their displays, others had a couple of pop-up banners. But they all drew a crowd, and they all had something interesting to show.
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Rail Engineer was there, on the Rail Media stand, and visitors could try the iPad and new iPhone editions for themselves. Editor Grahame Taylor and several of the regular writers also attended the show and chatted with industry colleagues and new contacts.

At the same time, sister publication RailStaff’s editor was on hand, as were the organisers of the group’s many events including the RailStaff Awards, the Rail Exec Club and the Rail Safety Summit.

RailwayPeople.com personnel manned the Railtex Recruitment Wall, which was powered by the latest version of the RailwayPeople software and search engine. Director Asif Ahmed and his team were kept busy for the whole three days. “We had a great mixture of visitors to the stand,” he said on the last day. “Recruiters, employers with vacancies to fill and rail professionals looking for new career opportunities, all came along and talked with us and in most cases we were able to help them immediately either using our online system or by directing them straight to an appropriate exhibitor.”

Even visitors with an international query about their career could be assisted by referring them to the new GlobalRailJobs.com.

The larger stands were towards the centre and front of the exhibition. Siemens showed off the new Desiro Verve train, which will be the next train for the British market. A derivative of the Desiro City that the company is building for Thameslink, it is a more-general offering for main-line operation. The Verve features a more aerodynamic exterior design than the Class 700 and an interior more suited to intercity travel.

Hitachi was using a 3D virtual display to show off the interior of the new Class 800 train that is being built for use on the East Coast and Great Western main lines. The technology was impressive and visitors were rightfully impressed. “The 3D concept was amazing – it really brought the rail industry into the modern age with the images and presentation,” commented one exhibition-goer afterwards.

Bombardier’s stand featured the Aventra train for Crossrail, due to start production in July. It also displayed a model of the latest Frecciarossa 100 high speed train for Italy and graphics of Blackpool tram.

The Knorr-Bremse Rail UK stand showcased not only some interesting new rail vehicle system technology but also the extensive overhaul, maintenance and upgrade portfolio of the specialist RailServices business. The UK operations of Knorr-Bremse have more than doubled in size since the last Railtex in 2013 and the stand reflected these changes and the enhanced systems and service offering.

Interactive touchscreen technology provided a clear overview of the complete range of systems and services with many visitors to the stand taking the opportunity to interact with the innovative tool and talk to the Knorr-Bremse team.

Also on show was the newly- developed iCOM system which provides powerful insights on the condition of a wide range of train systems to assist customers to manage fleet operations proactively through a predictive approach to equipment maintenance.

Old hands and first timers

As world-class leaders in LED signalling innovation, Railtex 2015 provided Unipart Dorman with the ideal opportunity to highlight its extensive capabilities in design and manufacturing and also to launch its new Spring Assisted Trunnion, the latest addition to the Lightweight Signalling range. Designed to increase safety and reduce installation and maintenance time, the new trunnion uses progressive rate spring technology and does not require the use of a winch, therefore eliminating the risks associated from working at height.

“We carried out a large number of demonstrations to highlight the benefits of the new trunnion, these were very well received by visitors and overall the feedback from the exhibition was extremely positive,” commented commercial manager Richard Flanagan.

LB Foster’s rail offering is expanding from its legacy services in wheel/ track friction management, track products such as the EKOS switch roller to signalling control, REBs and LOCS, customer information display, platform DOO CCTV and passenger information signage (OIS). All of this was on display, and there was also some terrific coffee from the company’s in-house barista.

While many of the exhibitors had been to previous Railtex exhibitions, for many this was the first time. One of these was German company PC-Soft GmbH.

“It was our first time at Railtex,” commented marketing specialist Ulrike Gollasch. “As an exhibitor we were very impressed by the open- minded visitors and the positive feedback we got about our zedas® products, since we are a new company to the British market. Especially our Linear Asset Management Solution for railway infrastructure attracted great interest. One visitor called the track health prognosis the 3-Million- Dollar-Question – which zedas® actually can answer.

“For us, the UK is a very sophisticated exciting market and will remain so in the future. With Railtex we were able to provide a vision of effective railway asset management to interested visitors.”

As well as being one of the speakers at the Rail Engineer Technical Seminars, Dave Collier of Pilz was on the company’s stand throughout the show. “From my point of view, Railtex was extremely worthwhile because we had very many Network Rail staff and associated signalling designers and contractor staff visit us,” he stated. “This confirmed that what we have been doing in the arena of PLC LX control (with some good coverage from Rail Media – thank you) for the past year has got their attention. We also had interesting conversations with one or two heritage railway signalling engineers needing to upgrade their level crossings.

“We also met quite a few system integrators who are involved in both railways and general factory / process automation so opportunities other than railway were unearthed. Lastly we met with associated specialised technology suppliers, such as Frauscher, who are already in close contact with Pilz in Europe. All in all a good number of leads, and plenty of ongoing learning about the industry condensed into 3 days.”

Products and services

A good example of the great variety of products on show was the range of high quality composite trench covers from Fibrelite. Technical director David Holmes said: “Visitors to our stand were often very knowledgeable about the multiple benefits of using composite covers rather than traditional metal or concrete but were still surprised by just how lightweight and easy to handle composite covers are, even at larger sizes and load ratings.

“Our new wider range of sizes and load ratings certainly proved a talking point and almost everyone wanted to try easy-lifting a composite cover using our ergonomically designed lifting aid.”

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Mabey Hire had a great Railtex: the 2015 exhibition saw the launch of the newly- implemented Monitoring and Control team, an industry first initiative that provides a comprehensive range of both structural and non-structural services. With applications including environmental monitoring, equipment calibration and product testing, the newly- formed team consists of highly experienced Geodetic, Geotechnic, Electronic Engineers, Civil/ Structural Engineers and Hydraulic specialists, providing access to a broad skill base which can support clients with efficient monitoring and measurement solutions.

Railtex saw the official launch of the new division, and there were a large number of visitors to the Mabey Hire stand, including several doctors and a professor, and some had travelled from as far afield as Scotland and Carlisle. Many of the visiors were unaware of the breadth of services provided by Mabey so Railtex provided a good opportunity to launch the new team.

Another company launching a new product was Zonegreen, the safe working solutions specialist. Its new Points Converter, designed to power manual hand points within depots and sidings, attracted a great deal of interest which has led to numerous feasibility meetings being arranged for the forthcoming weeks.

Railtex wasn’t all about products. A number of consultants in various fields attended as well. One of these was staffing specialist Syntax. “We had a fantastic show – the first time we had exhibited after numerous times attending,” operations manager Sarah Gibson enthused. “We conducted a piece of research while we were on the stand to understand what were the top staffing challenges in the Rail industry in 2015. Top of the list was attracting STEM graduates, followed by how we get more women interested in working in the industry, and the ageing workforce. We will be releasing the full analysis paper after the show and will be sending out to all who met us.”

Andy Ridout, managing director of Advance Training and Recruitment Services, was similarly impressed with the show. “This year, we were again blown away by the enormity of the rail industry coming together at Railtex. Over the course of the exhibition we were able to meet up and speak with hundreds of clients and candidates, both old and new. We’ve heard stories from projects across the country showcasing just how world-class our railway infrastructure is becoming and we’re really enjoying being part of the rail revolution.”

Creactive Design’s stand also generated a lot of interest. Managing director Tony Hume confirmed they had a lot of leads, some of which they were still evaluating, but commented that everything “looks great so far”.

SCG Solutions, part of the Tinsley Bridge Group, launched FabBloc60A at Railtex 2015. This is a high performance, lightweight fire and insulation barrier system designed to protect railway carriage flooring, stops the transfer of heat from its source to the underside of the aluminium decking or floor. The company also unveiled a new aerial surveying service and demonstrated its Stretcher Bar delivered to Network Rail.

Kontron demonstrated the latest additions to its TRACeTM family of operational computers designed specifically for the transportation market. This offers a flexible baseline for integrators and system designers to easily customise and rapidly deploy specialised applications and new infrastructures. Already verified and in operation worldwide, the TRACe product line addresses the broad range of modern, connected rolling stock applications through easily customisable, EN50155 pre-certified (EMC, EMI, climatic, shock and vibrations), application-oriented computer profiles – allowing multiple applications to run on the same platform including video surveillance, passenger entertainment and communication, and train control.

Railtex Awards

The middle (Wednesday) night of the Railtex show is traditionally the time for the Railtex Awards. A host of exhibitors and their guests assembled at the NEC’s Hilton Metropole Hotel for an evening of entertainment and those all- important awards.

Sponsored this year by Rail Media, awards would be presented in twelve categories reflecting both product innovation and exhibition stand design.

But before all that was the entertainment for the evening. The drinks reception was sponsored by Quattro Group, which also sponsors British Superbike rider Luke Mossey who was on hand with his bike answering questions about riding in the UK’s premier motorcycling championship. Singer Harriet McDonnell entertained guests while they networked until it was time for dinner, when pianist Mark Bettis took her place in providing background music.

After dinner, comedian Rob Woodward took to the stage. Or, more strictly, he took the chair – he thought the stage was too far from his audience so he did his entire set standing on a chair close to the diners’ tables. The audience enjoyed his performance and were impressed that he didn’t fall off the chair once!

Well-loved TV presenter Roy Walker hosted the awards. Roy had spent dinner on Rail Media’s table playing Jelly Baby Catchphrase with events manager Karen Payne, sales manager Jolene Price and social media manager Susie O’Neill. But he tore himself away from that excitement (thank you trainpassenger.com for the jelly babies) to say a few words and then to present the prizes once they had been announced by compere Colin Flack of the Rail Alliance.

The first award was for Innovation in Technology, sponsored by the TEW Group. Trainpassenger.com was the winner (it must have been down to the jelly babies) with Camlin and Perpetuum commended. Trough-Tec Systems won the Innovation in Safety award, sponsored by Eurosafe. Gary Elliott stepped forward to receive the award from Roy along with Eurosafe’s Janine Reid. Beck & Politzer International and Concrete Canvas were highly commended for this one.

Best New Rolling Stock Product was judged to be the new S-Stock trains from Bombardier working with London Underground. Martin Bright was pleased to accept the award from Mike Heneghan of GGR Rail, while B Hepworth and MTU Friedrichshafen got a mention.

Rolling Stock Maintenance Equipment had its own award. Mechan won this one, with close competition from ASL and Houghton International.

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Rail Engineer had to step forward to present the award for best New Track or Infrastructure Product. Tom Bowman and Stuart Burns, the same team that had presented a technical seminar earlier in the day, were the lucky recipients for Dura Composites with Hilti and Perpetuum being the less lucky runners-up.

The Rail Alliance sponsored a Newcomer to Railtex award, won by B Hepworth, and the Judges’ Choice, as they walked around the show seeing what caught their eye, was won by the TEW Group and LB Foster.

That just left the two awards for best stands, both sponsored by exhibition organiser Mack Brooks. Space Only was won by Dura Composites, their second success of the evening so well done to them, while MPI won for the best shell scheme.

So that wrapped up the awards. That only left the band Smooth Criminal to entertain diners, many of whom disappeared to the bar to ‘network’. It had been an entertaining evening, some deserving winners had been recognised, and everyone had to be back on their stands at 10:00 the following morning!

And there’s more…

As well as the exhibition itself, the Rail Engineer Technical seminars and the Railtex Awards, there were other benefits for both visitors and exhibitors. There was the Networking event on Tuesday evening, open to all exhibitors, followed by a reception for Railway Industry Association (RIA) members.

A second seminar theatre – the Knowledge Hub – hosted presentations on major projects as well as the Platform panel discussions. So visitors had access to experts on the Rail Supply Group, Digital Railway, the National Electrification Programme and HS2.

There was a meet-the-buyer event, organised by UK Trade & investment and RIA, a breakfast meeting of the Rail Alliance and a break-out session on the Rail Supply Group.

All in all, it was an excellent way to spend three days. Next year is an Infrarail year, and the UK’s national railway infrastructure show moves to the ExCeL Centre in London’s Docklands. It will be open from 12-14 April, so the Rail Engineer preview will be in the April issue with a review in June. Come and say hello on our stand.


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