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on rails

In the October/November edition of RTM, we spoke to Network Rail’s head of track delivery Steve Featherstone about the benefi ts its High Output Plant is bringing. Soon after that article went to press, RTM’s Adam Hewitt joined the team operating TRS2 on a November night, heading north from Derby up to Chesterfi eld, and got an insight into how it all works from Ben Brooks, Network Rail’s head of track delivery for LNE and East Midlands.

N etwork Rail’s two track re-laying machines, TRS2 and TRS4, plus its three

sophisticated BCS ballast cleaning systems, make up its High Output Plant service – which gets an amazing amount of work done in relatively little time and makes best use of overnight possession windows.

The machine is really more of a factory, and is 800 metres long when the sleeper wagons and auto-ballasters that accompany it are taken into account, weighing 415 tonnes.

With a midweek delivery record of 864 metres (four rail lengths) in seven hours, it is not just high output but fast output, automating and mechanising processes that take teams of men far longer.

High output vs conventional renewals

Of course, there is a big cost attached, but as Network Rail’s track delivery manager Ben Brooks told RTM on our Thursday night site visit to see TRS2 in action: “The unit cost of track renewal via high output – a combination of ballast cleaning and track re-laying – is now the same, in effect, as conventional renewals. So if I came along and renewed this stretch in 30-hour blocks using conventional methods, it would cost me the same as running this factory operation mid-week.

“But we wouldn’t be able to physically get the amount of weekend access to be able to do the work conventionally. One of the big reasons we need the high output capability is because the railway can’t sustain the amount of weekend

28 | rail technology magazine Dec/Jan 13

access we need to deliver this volume of renewals. It’s a no-brainer: we have to have a way of doing this midweek.

“Our conventional programme tends to target smaller locations with more immediate problems, whereas our high output programme is a bigger, more strategic approach.”

Plain line only

The method does have some limitations – it is currently only appropriate for simple stretches of plain line, for example: no S&C, no platformed sections, no tunnels or viaducts. “Any structural clearance issues automatically take us to a conventional renewal,” Brooks said.

Similarly, with the ballast cleaning high ouput machines, anywhere that requires any underlying formation treatment will be done conventionally, such as where deeper digging is required or geo-textile is being put in under the track.

The number of workers required on site is “broadly similar” to conventional renewals, Brooks suggested: 40-50 people on the core site when RTM visited, with around 30 spread further out on other tasks.

The Amey Colas joint venture won the £250m contract to provide the high output service in 2009, until October 2014.

On RTM’s visit on a Thursday in November, we saw TRS2 in action: the original track relaying system that came to the UK in 2004 after being

purpose-built for our network and gauge by Matisa in Switzerland.

It and its cousin, TRS4, will between them lay more than half of the new sleepers in the country this year, Brooks said.

Maximising track availability

A vital advantage of the TRS trains is that they allow working with the adjacent line open (ALO). The working gauge clearance is further assisted by the sleepers being positioned longitudinally on the wagons, allowing both the wagons themselves and the gantries that move them into position to be narrower.

Brooks said: “Typical conventional renewal, of course, will replace the rail by bringing trains alongside on the other line, then loading materials to and from. With high output, we’ve got this unique operation in that we’re self- contained on the line we’re renewing.”

Safety is always the number one priority for Network Rail, but when working ALO, it is especially important. Brooks said: “There’s a massive emphasis on safety, given that we’re working with the adjacent line open every night.”

We saw this on our site visit – an East Midlands Trains Class 222 heading south came past on the adjacent line. A combination of instruction from site safety offi cials, loud blaring alarms, and the standard protocols when working next to an operational railway alleviated any risk from the passing train.

The track ‘factory’

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