Network Rail held a Signalling Suppliers’ Technical Conference in the Royal York Hotel on the 16 November 2011.

This was one of a series of conferences which aim to bring together the signalling function and associated interests at joint events to encourage, communicate with and brief suppliers.

Delegates were welcomed by Ken Peters, Principal Engineer – System Design, who introduced the programme and the first speaker.

Alan Kitchen, Senior Programme Engineering Manager, Infrastructure Projects, delivered an encouraging keynote speech.

His audience became used to the expression “STAMP” (Signalling Tools and Methods Programme), which will provide the basis for future developments as engineers in project teams assess the use of design tools.

Alan pointed out that the software will be free but not, of course, the hardware. The watchwords will be “Design to Cost”, and an eye will be kept open for unnecessary and unfunded enhancements as the direction for designers was to “Strive for Simplicity”!

A desire to reduce points with more signals, and the gain from increased lower speeds, were both emphasised. The Network Rail devolution process was covered as was the huge challenge as the company moves forward into control period five.

Following this intriguing keynote, there followed a range of subjects delivered by both Network Rail experts and suppliers.


First off was Mike Howard, Enterprise Architect – Technical Information Management at Network Rail, with a fascinating insight into ORBIS (Offering Rail Better Information Systems).

This was presented as a positive culture of management information and was designed to meet the needs of the newly-devolved organisation.

Its aim is to make information available in all forms including a mobile access and a local view to avoid site visits. Modern mobile phone technology will make this generally available to staff.

We were then treated to a session on modular signalling presented by Ken Vine, Applications Engineer, Investment Projects.

Ken’s subject can be summarised as an integrated system of products and processes which enables the resignalling of secondary routes at a lower unit cost than other current methods.

Fundamentally, this requires a challenging target price per signalling equivalent unit, a 24 month programme from the start of scheme development to commissioning, and all achieved through standardised designs and more off-site construction and testing.

It is accepted that elements of the system, both process and hardware, can be used in other applications if they can give a cost saving.

Plug ‘n’ play

“Plug and play” followed. It is a well-known expression nowadays, but in this context it refers to the use of plug couplers in signalling and related installations.

This is seen as a real cost-cutter for signalling and electrification although some changes to the signalling works and installation handbook methodologies will be required.

Cables will be pre-assembled with standardised plug arrangements available from several suppliers.

The final part of the session before lunch was an excellent presentation by Peter Dickson of iLecsys on materials innovation for trackside cabinets.

He emphasised that composites are not the simple fibreglass (GRP) with which we have been familiar with over the years, but a much more advanced material without the shortcomings of the earlier product.

Modern composites are very stable and resistant to damage and impact. An entertaining video was shown in which an FRP cabinet was subjected to attack by everything from a crowbar and sledgehammer to a shotgun blast, culminating in even a dose of petrol and flame, which indicated the ability to stand up to total abuse! The material has also been used for a footbridge as a core design.

Standard design catalogue

Following a very useful networking session, the next presentation was on standard designs.

The crux of this section was to understand the desire for a Network Rail standard design catalogue, or “ProjectWise.”

These designs would be accessible externally, and delegates were shown examples of current development where there is a full suite of approved B and C designs from the relevant Network Rail standards.

The process is helped by “Gatekeepers” in the various Network Rail departments.

This led onto views from Phil Hickey of Unipart Rail who also referred to Plug and Play, and instances in which product development anticipated the elimination of trackside hard wiring and the reduction of possession times – a most laudable goal.

Tahir Ayub, Senior (Asset) Design Engineer, Infrastructure Investment, moved on to the area of signalling power supply design and outlined the development of proposals for the use of class II equipment at the trackside.

The class II-based design solution is to be implemented into new-build signalling power distribution systems, existing signalling power distribution systems and legacy signalling power distribution systems – standards are under development for these latter two.

Tahir anticipated that there will be considerable savings, not least in material costs.

Next up was another acronym, ELPOD (ELectrical POwer Design). This is a process for design, installation and testing which utilises tools for the exchange of designs, power supply architecture selection and design platforms.

Its intention is to reduce the burden on power design engineers, rationalise the current number of design tools in use, improve accuracy and equipment optimisation and increase productivity.

The philosophy is to input data only once, use it many times and allow the portability of designs.

Finally the day’s host, Ken Peters, looked back to 2006 and the history and progress of the STAMP project.

Principal objectives included better access to data, automatic data exchange and designer aids.

This was followed by a concise summing up by Alan Kitchen which sealed the end of a most useful and interesting conference – all to the better for the industry.