HomeRail NewsStripping away the gold plate

Stripping away the gold plate

Who says there’s no focus on efficiency? Those commentating from outside the industry should first witness the conviction of many within it, like Network Rail’s North East Project Manager Ben Lynch. He speaks with erudite clarity, not just about his current mission – the Hickleton and Moorthorpe signalling renewals scheme – but also on cost-effective engineering as part of a sustainable ‘value for money’ railway. If the industry is currently hamstrung by conventional wisdom and disproportionate standards, it’s not for the want of trying by people like Ben. He recognises that “We have new opportunities and new technologies that offer so much.” And he’s keen to tap into them; so are his colleagues and so is their boss.

His climb to a position of high responsibility started from the bottom. “I started out in my railway career working on the tools and this has given me a good grounding. There tends to be a lot of noise and distraction around large rail projects” he continues. “The trick is to concentrate on what’s really important to get a project moving forward in a cost-effective manner. Our targets on cost may seem onerous, but they are there for the right reasons. In the past there have been layers of over-engineering and spare capacity. We now need to question whether this represents good value for money. New practices and technologies can give us a railway that’s safer and more reliable than before, and at an affordable cost.”

And that’s what the McNulty Report, or Rail value for money study as it’s more properly known, demands of the railway. As described in last month’s issue, it sets out recommendations for a leaner fitter industry, designed to deliver a £1 billion saving annually by 2019. Without this, the report claims, the railway’s growth requirements cannot be achieved.

Computer control

The Hickleton and Moorthorpe signalling renewals scheme, situated on the Sheffield-Leeds/York route, provides some timely examples of the forward thinking that Network Rail needs, both at the design stages and on the ground. It was commissioned during a 79-hour blockade over the late May bank holiday weekend, a £9 million contract having been awarded to Invensys Rail in January 2010.

The project has involved the replacement of mechanical signal boxes at Hickleton and Moorthorpe – latterly controlling only power signalling – and has involved the installation of 52 SEUs (Signalling Equivalent Units), including 32 new LED signal heads. Some 11½ miles of two-track railway have been resignalled, much of it bi-directionally. This is based around an Invensys Rail WESTLOCK computer-based interlocking located at York. Communication with the trackside modules is via the FTN network which has necessitated an acceleration and upgrade of the local FTN installation programme. This aspect of the project was undertaken by telent together with the provision of new telecoms throughout.

At York Signalling Control Centre, the WESTLOCK is interfaced via a DeltaRail IECC with the existing Ardsley area workstation and is presented on three screens. WESTLOCK is a powerful and highly versatile interlocking system which, since its trial at Leamington Spa in 2007, has been commissioned at several locations across the UK, mainland Europe and Australia. Some notable applications have included the resignalling of Glasgow Central, Oxley near Wolverhampton, the Durham Coast scheme, the South Wales Control Centre in Cardiff and, most recently, at the Thames Valley Signalling Centre at Didcot.

Safe and secure

Lessons learned for the recent Durham Coast resignalling project (see Issue 75 of the rail engineer) have been put into practice on the Hickleton and Moorthorpe scheme, especially the use of deeply buried ducts for cable routes. 200mm in diameter, these are 1m below ground level and even the inspection chambers are covered by 200mm of ballast in an effort to deter thieves. The route runs through the Yorkshire coalfield’s former heart; having stopping beating, crime thereabouts has flourished and the area between Swinton and Moorthorpe has become a hotspot for cable theft. So there has also been further use of anti-theft cabling (see Issue 64 of the rail engineer).

And it’s not just cables – the signal box at Moorthorpe has been burgled several times. Fortunately on each occasion the signalling equipment has been completely ignored – it’s the domestic white goods that have disappeared!

Another feature of the Durham Coast scheme that became a requirement of the Moorthorpe project at the GRIP 5 implementation stage involved Network Rail and Invensys Rail setting up shared office and storage facilities well away from the railway. In the event, a large and secure industrial unit at Manvers was used for this purpose. As Ben confirms, “These measures, coupled with good on-site housekeeping and the use of guards placed at strategic locations, mean that theft and disruption have been cut to minimal levels. This, together with the buy-in of the BTP, has also ensured the protection of rail personnel from the attention of criminal gangs.”

The specifications called for the use of high security location cases and palisade fencing around REBs, as well as installing the new cable in a buried route. “We are confident that these measures will cut theft and disruption” asserts Ben. “On the Durham Coast route, Network Rail maintenance staff used to be out patching cables virtually every weekend but since the new signalling was commissioned in November 2010 there have been only two minor thefts of tail cables, with no impact on train services.”

The Moorthorpe project covers some 30km of railway encompassing the Swinton relay room and stretching northwards as far as Pontefract Baghill Station. At Moorthorpe Junction, immediately north of the station, a chord joining with the Doncaster to Leeds (East Coast Main Line) route is used by Cross Country services.

The existing Down and Up goods loops at Moorthorpe have been upgraded to passenger status, the Down loop having been entirely relaid and new turnouts installed. Four trap points have been recovered and clamp lock point actuation has been replaced with HW2000 point machines throughout the scheme. All existing REBs have been refurbished and two new ones installed, together with new UPS systems. Medium voltage track circuits are used exclusively and all signalling is of the four aspect type. Hot axle box detectors are provided near Pontefract Baghill Station and at Hickleton. A further change at Moorthorpe Station has involved the construction of a new footbridge to replace a MWL (Miniature Warning Lights) foot crossing.

Local delivery

Network Rail’s local maintenance delivery units based at Sheffield and Leeds, with some sub-contracting to Story Rail, have undertaken significant tasks including the installation of the buried cable routes, S&C and 30 pairs of insulated block joints, together with the plain-lining works. Although not affecting the completion date of the project, the severe weather and low temperatures experienced during November and December did cause some disruption. As Ben explains, “We can’t disturb the ballast at temperatures below -7C and track welding can’t take place below -2C. Fortunately we were able to work around this.”

Invensys Rail was the principal contractor responsible for the design of most engineering assets, installation and commissioning of the project. A close alliance was formed between the separate contractors on site which contributed to the project’s excellent safety record. This was born out of behavioural culture embraced by all.

The expertise of Network Rail FTN commissioning engineers was harnessed to help build and commission a very complex and diverse transmission system which carries the SSI circuits. The determination to succeed from all the technical staff from different delivery teams was impressive and key to realising the project on time.

Dorman LED signal heads were specified in the design stages and a massive signal-supporting gantry was to be installed at the southern end of the Moorthorpe loops. As an example of the cost saving mindset and forward thinking described earlier, the gantry idea was abandoned in favour of unique flat-faced and very lightweight signals from VMS Limited (see Issue 72 of the rail engineer), using technology developed by the company for highway matrix signs. They were trialled at Pelaw near Gateshead from August 2010, with Network Rail granting VMSL full approval in March this year and then wasting no time deploying them. Installed at Moorthorpe on 21st May, both signals are mounted on posts with integral tilting mechanisms – one 3.3m high, located in the cess, and another of 5.1m between the Up line and passenger loop. The height difference is driven by signal sighting issues and the kinematic envelope. Their use marks a significant – and highly visible – step forward in rail engineering cost reduction.

Another departure from normal practices, and a further indication of lateral thinking, took place at Moorthorpe. Here, the new switches and crossings were assembled just over the boundary fence in the concrete-surfaced car park of an adjacent – and fortuitously vacant – industrial building. This area was also used for ballast stockpiling and the dismantling of recovered point work. A Liebherr 250-tonne mobile crane, supplied by Baldwins Crane Hire, undertook the lifts.

Maintenance reduction

The benefits of schemes typified by the Hickleton and Moorthorpe signalling renewals are neatly summed up by Ben Lynch. “By investing in modern technologies and additional security measures such as the deep cable routes, we are able to concentrate on maintaining our assets rather than carrying out continual repairs and replacement of stolen cabling. Access to the railway is expensive and it is one of our aims to reduce this requirement.”

Network Rail recognises that costs across the industry as a whole are at an unsustainable level. Even before the McNulty Report was published, it was committed to attaining savings in its annual costs of 23%, or £800 million by the end of Control Period 4 in 2014. As we now know, McNulty identifies a potential for even further savings to be made. At the same time, Network Rail must deliver sustainable improvements in safety and performance whilst investing in capacity enhancements.

The company is confident that its financial performance at the end of CP4 will be at least £471 million better than its original target. It says this can be achieved through increases in income and reductions in operating, maintenance and renewals costs. Rebates to the Government and Scottish Executive would also mean that interest payments can be reduced. Decision making and accountability will be decentralised and moved closer to its customers – the TOCs and FOCs – which it is hoped will drive further efficiencies. Time will tell.

“The industry must look at everything it does and be willing to change” asserts Network Rail in its 2011 Delivery Plan Update. This vision will needs heroes and heroines at the sharp end to deliver it, and to take some of those decentralised decisions. It will fall to people like Ben Lynch and his 26-strong team to play a pivotal role. If their efforts at Moorthorpe and Hickleton are anything to go by, there seems little doubt that they are up for the challenge.

Stuart Marsh
Stuart Marshhttp://therailengineer.com

New and innovative technology, signalling (particularly on narrow gauge and industrial networks), telecommuications and fibre-optics

Stuart Marsh has had a lifelong interest in railways, especially in railway signalling. He blames this on his grandfather and uncle, who were both railway signalmen.

However, having graduated from Bangor University with a Joint Honours degree, Stuart decided to pursue a career in business. He now finds himself the owner and Managing Director of two companies. Highblade Cables, which he started in 1985, produces cables, wiring looms, fibre optics and racking hardware for the electronics, telecommunications and data communications industries. Thirty years later his business is still going strong.

Unable to keep away from railways, Stuart has worked for many years as a volunteer signalling technician on several heritage lines. This outlet for Stuart's skills in electrical and mechanical engineering led eventually in 2008 to the formation of his second manufacturing company.

Signal Aspects Ltd designs and produces specialised and bespoke signalling equipment, mainly for minor and industrial railways. Its products include LED signal lamps, route indicators, train detection equipment and electric point machines. Indeed, it was his development of a new point machine, designed specifically for narrow gauge railways, that led to his debut article for Rail Engineer magazine.

Stuart has since become a regular contributing writer, covering a host of topics ranging from the capture of newts to major resignalling schemes.


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