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PERMANENT WAY SOLUTIONS


Understanding the third rail


Simon Green, chief engineer for Southern’s TRIME project, explains how a new maintenance prototype has the potential to signifi cantly reduce damage to the third rail.


D


amage to the third rail can lead to signifi cant passenger disruption, and yet it


remains diffi cult for rail operators to determine how problems with the interface between track and bogie arise.


A new project known as TRIME (Third Rail In-service Maintenance Equipment) seeks to improve this understanding and offer data and information on the interface behaviour.


Southern’s chief engineer Simon Green talked to RTM about the project, and how it could change the way maintenance is conducted.


Wrong place, wrong time


TRIME was developed in response to issues where trains lose shoes, resulting in damage to the equipment and potentially shorting out the power to the third rail. Southern set out to identify where excessive force is present on the network, to allow more targeted maintenance to be carried out by Network Rail.


Damage at the interface can lead to rail shoes being broken off, with the arm tearing and can even lead to the DC third rail supply being cut off.


“If it happens in the wrong place, at the wrong time, you’re talking thousands of minutes [of delays] which equates to huge amounts of passenger disruption,” Green said.


Below: System block diagram.


TRIME is expected to potentially save “several thousand minutes” a year, which saves money from penalty payments as well as improving delay management considerably.


Parameters for success


Previous research carried out by the University of Birmingham helped to provide measurements that Southern could use as an indicator of the condition of the third rail, based on contact between the conductor, the shoe and the rail.


Green explained: “They found the height that a shoe gets thrown in the air actually correlates pretty well with the force it experiences when it hits the ramp end of the conductor rail or in fact any feature on the conductor rail. Although we can measure lots of different parameters, that one gives us a really good indication of the interaction between the shoe and the conductor rail.”


The operating company then worked with Network Rail to transform this research into a functional system on board the train. Funding was achieved through an RSSB grant scheme and prototype equipment was installed on the train.


He said: “In essence, we installed an extra set of shoe gear on a bogie in the middle of the train, and pointing at the shoe arms is a laser measuring the position of the shoe arm.”


Because this system is relatively non-contact, it can remain in service for much longer than other damage measuring equipment, such as strain gauges.


Green commented: “It’s robust enough to be left in service without any risk of it breaking.”


These measurements are recorded by on-


50 | rail technology magazine Aug/Sep 12


train equipment saved onto a hard disk. Green said that a more sophisticated real-time data transfer would hopefully follow.


“The next thing we [need to] do is get that off automatically rather than in disk arrays.”


Targeted maintenance


The idea behind the scheme is to target maintenance much more effi ciently. Once the data has been analysed, Network Rail can be alerted to locations that need some form of repair.


‘An exciting trial’


Southern’s fl eet director, Gerry McFadden, said: “TRIME is a marvellous example of just how important the Alliance between us is. By working with Network Rail on this project we aim to reduce the instances of shoe- gear damage and so reduce delays and reduce costs associated with disruption and maintenance. First results have been really positive which has to be great news for our passengers.”


Mark Ruddy, Network Rail’s managing director for the Sussex route, said: “We are always looking at ways to make the railway more reliable, effi cient and cost-effective. This is an exciting trial which highlights the many areas we can target to achieve this. Working closely with Southern, will be able to monitor the conductor rail across Sussex and highlight sections which need to be improved.”


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