Westwood Heath, on the outskirts of Coventry, was the setting for Network Rail’s recent National Plant & Equipment Show. Around 100 suppliers were invited to participate, presenting their products and services to maintenance engineers from all over the country. The show was the successor to the popular regional events that have been held for the past couple of years. Located in a large field across the road from Network Rail’s Westwood Training Centre, there was plenty of room for exhibits whilst the main building had facilities for meetings and press conferences.

On arrival, the first impression was of the display’s sheer scale. There were over 80 separate exhibits, with some stands having two or three suppliers sharing space. A central marquee offered free tea, coffee and lunch – and shelter when it rained as it did on the Monday and Thursday. However, Tuesday and Wednesday were dry so the rail engineer made the most of the conditions to look around the stands.

Looks very smart

First port of call was Hydrex. To one side of its display was the Neotec ELAN platform access basket which has recently gained product acceptance from Network Rail. The ELAN has been engineered to make OLE maintenance and construction easier with three elevating platforms, an off-road rubber-tracked chassis for easy on-tracking, and automatic cant levelling in rail mode for stable mobility. A crane arm is also fitted – this can be used via a remote control from any of the three workstations for added control and visibility.

Hydrex also had on show a gleaming Case 988 Megarailer – one of 50 RRVs that it has recently put through an upgrade programme. £3 million has been spent to bring the machines into line with RIS-1530-PLT Issue 2 by fitting an entirely new RCI system, adding cameras to remove blind spots and additional control valves to prohibit work at height when changing the diverter valve. The brakes have also been upgraded and the finished product given a full respray. The one on display certainly looked very smart.

Sitting under the arm of the Megarailer was a Bracke C16a tree felling head – a highly effective attachment that can cut down and remove trees up to 10” (260mm) in diameter. Hydrex reputedly have the only ones operating in the industry.

A watchful eye

Next stop was the Quattro caravan. For some time the firm has specialised in the hire of road-rail plant, including the small and versatile Multicar vehicles. A representative from Multicar was on hand to explain the latest range of vegetation control and drain-clearing bodies that are available for the vehicles. Naturally Quattro’s heavier plant was also on show as would be expected from a company that supplies almost a third of the rail sector’s RRVs.

Three of Network Rail’s contracted security companies were lined up in a row. Vital Rail Security showed how they could use a portable CCTV arrangement to enhance their traditional manned surveillance. The VT Sentry camera system on display was a modified telescopic light tower with four fixed cameras and a moveable one to give 360° coverage. One of VRS’ newly-delivered security patrol vehicles in Network Rail livery was also there. Senator Security had an impressive railway backdrop to its stand and emphasised how good PTS-qualified security staff could help combat cable theft as well as providing more traditional worksite protection.

Robel was showing an assortment of on-track tools. There was much interest in its new mobile track profile grinder for use after welding. It can now grind both the sides and top of the rail so that no further fettling is required. A new clipping/unclipping machine was also on show, as were a variety of rail saws and drills. A small stand from Tasty Plant Sales, an emerging company dedicated to rail maintenance attachments, featured the Richter & Muller HSW, a combined wet-bed excavation/single sleeper removal tool.

Balfour Beatty Plant & Fleet Services had a large display, showing off its range of specially built sustainable welfare cabins. Known as Ecolootion Units, they include rainwater harvesting systems and an incinerator for waste disposal. They are also able to operate from any on-site power source as well as internal batteries, and naturally include a comfortable seating/canteen area.

To deliver these container-based cabins, Balfour Beatty has developed a lifting attachment known as Lo-Loc. This provides a safe, quick and simple solution for attaching chains and slings to lifting points which cannot be reached without working at height. It can also be used on a variety of plant and equipment such as generators, lighting towers and rail tools.

Taking the strain

Keltbray Aspire had some smart road-rail OLE access platforms mounted on DAF chassis while A P Webb Plant Hire Ltd exhibited two brand new access machines. The Super Scissor 180 Slew offers a huge platform capacity of 500kg at 11m working height and an impressive work area of 1.7 x 4.6m when fully extended, while the 180° platform slew allows great versatility. The twin-cabbed Railboss 500/900 access platform, featuring an optional pantograph, is ideal for OLE maintenance and renewal with a basket capacity of 900kg to 6m and 500kg to 8m. It is certified to work in winds up to Gale Force 8.

Factair exhibited its temporary tunnel ventilation systems and range of instruments for monitoring atmospheric conditions. For dustier applications, lightweight battery-powered air-fed respirators with a PF20 protection factor were on show. These devices provide a filtered source of breathing-air to a face mask including head, eye and ear protection.

Several vegetation maintenance companies were present. UPM Tilhill was showing the Greenmech range of chippers and shredders while HTR (Homegrown Timber) had an impressively larger chipper on its stand. JSD Rail Research & Development Ltd showed the EcoPlug Max which solves the problem of trees that have been felled growing again, while the Embankment Maintenance Deep Cutting Sprayer is capable of covering 20m of bank in one pass up to 25m high.

Fighting foliage

QTS showcased some of its unique road-rail vehicles. The Valmet 830.3 Forwarder/Chipper has been modified by adding a low-rail guidance system allowing it to be used on track and eradicating the need for rubber wheeled vehicles. A Woodsman Drum Wood Chipper has been added to form a multi-use vegetation management machine which can access land-locked areas via rail. The forwarder will lift and process the materials from either side of a track using the 10m-reach crane, with the chipper processing up to a diameter of 22”.

An Atego road-rail demountable jet/vac unit was also on the QTS display. This has a night/day reversing camera system and is capable of towing rail trailers. It also has a powerful Rootes blower with a suction performance of -500mb and discharge pressure of 1 bar, as well as a high pressure jetting system with 3,000 litres of clean water storage capacity which can be loaded on-track using standpipes or other approved sources.

The QTS 18m Long-Reach Excavator is the only long-reach RRV in the UK and, with the ability to be fitted with attachments such as a flail head or quad saw, can also be employed for vegetation works. QTS has used the excavator successfully on several embankment regrading jobs where access has only been available via rail.

An impressive variety of smaller machines – including a Unimog fitted with a 16” chipper and a 3.5t Takeuchi mini excavator capable of working under live OLE – completed the QTS offering.

Boy’s toy

SRS had some of the largest vehicles at the show. One of its typical 25-tonne road-rail lorries was fitted with two hydraulically powered cable drum carriers with wire dispensing units front and rear which can recover or pay out catenary or contact wire under tension. Also on display was a front-mounted HMF 2120 crane together with rear-mounted Hiab and Palfinger 290 cranes, all on SRS RRVs. Rear-mounted cranes leave the vehicle loading areas free to carry rails, sleepers, drum carriers, wire and so on. The Palfinger crane was set up with a spray arm for vegetation clearance in deep cuttings, while the range of crane attachments included clamshell, rail and log grabs.

There was quite a variety of things to see from Cintec. Outside one of its inflatable marquees stood an LUF Bushfighter, a radio-controlled tracked mulcher designed to tackle vegetation even on steep banks. With a variable track, it is a true boy’s toy as Steve Featherstone of Network Rail proved when he demolished a clump of scrub and brambles with it later in the day. His wide smile said it all!

The Arboricultural Association’s Utility Arboricultural Group (UAG) was very pleased to be invited to have the opportunity to explain how the association, through the UAG, seeks to represent all those involved with vegetation management adjacent to railway assets and plant.

Let there be light

Lighting specialists Peli Products brightened up the show with their new 9440 Area Lighting System. This is a rechargeable portable floodlight which can be rapidly deployed in areas where there is no mains power. Weighing only 7.3kg, the unit is ideally suited for S&T engineers as it can be easily carried along the track and leaves hands free when fault finding and testing. Peli’s 9430 mobile lighting system was also on display. Used throughout Network Rail, this self-contained unit weighs less than 10kg. The retractable mast extends to almost 1m in height and can be rotated through 360°. The head also pivots to angle the light to where it’s required. There is a low battery warning system to prevent users being caught without light.

Bance was showing its latest Alumicart-mounted gauging and recording equipment which can be used for a variety of tasks including tunnel and platform gauge clearances, OLE height and stagger and ultrasonic rail testing. Synthotech has designed a pan-and-tilt CCTV system specifically for Network Rail which can simplify the identification of blockages in pipes, pin-point required repairs and locate covered catchpits. A fleet of systems similar to the one on display will shortly be rolling out through the network.

Using up to 90% less product over traditional track lubricants, Interflon’s new Teflon lubrication system has been developed and field-tested as a response to the need for environmentally-friendly systems that demand less maintenance. An interesting display made the most of its advantages.

GGR was showing a couple of its rail mini cranes which have full Network Rail product acceptance. With a lifting capacity of up to 6 tonnes, they have often proven to be quicker, safer and more cost effective than traditional RRVs. Using GGR’s unique Strail, Holdfast and Bomac vacuum lifters, they can also handle rail panels weighing up to 1400kg.

Size isn’t everything

Small tools were much in evidence. Cembre showed a new rail saw, while Maxim Power Tools had a new trolley to steady its rusted-rail-clip loosener. Next door, SigAssure also had a new lightweight trolley, this one to carry tools and supplies from access point to worksite. Aggreko was showing off its range of quiet generators and a small stand had a couple of lighting towers from Arc-Gen Hilta. Gray Campling, manufacturer of industrial airless paint sprayers, showed a novel arrangement for painting the sides of rails.

A large area at the bottom of the exhibition was given over to the VP Group. TPA Portable Roadways, UK Forks, Torrent Trackside and Hire Station all had displays there. Torrent was showing off the plant that is used as part of its on-track tools contract with Network Rail, while Hire Station was concentrating on its less specialised portable tools. TPA had a small display but, as all the show’s visitors were walking around the site on their roadways, it was hard to miss them!

Some 1,200 visitors went through the show over the week and all were in agreement that it was an excellent way to see the plant that is now available for use on our railways. Organisers Scott Harrison and Ray Caines are to be congratulated on a job well done and we look forward to next year’s show.