Safety fencing. It’s something that’s always around, yet no-one sees. It needs to be put up at the start of almost every lineside job, and taken down afterwards, but other than that it’s just there – like sleepers and ballast.

However, it needs to be put up quickly, as everyone else is waiting to get on with the job, and taken down even more quickly if the work is running a little late and the hand-back time is approaching.

So what is needed is a simple, even foolproof system. It also has to be light, easily transportable, and to do the job of separating people from trains.

Lightweight safety fencing, which fastens to a track while protecting people working in the cess or on an adjacent track, is not new. There are several systems on the market which clip to the rail in one way or another, but now there is one which is even simpler, and doesn’t use clips at all. Instead, it capitalises on two of the great facts of life. Rails are made out of steel, and steel is magnetic.

The new Magnetic Safety Barrier from Rail Safety Systems (RSS) has been brought to the UK by Innovative Railway Safety. Based in Swansea, they are specialists in such equipment and know a good safety system when they see one.

What is it?

A square-section steel tube, zinc-plated to protect it from the elements, is fitted with a broad black plastic head containing two powerful magnetic strips. When this head is attached to the web of the rail, the tube extends horizontally out from the side of the track. As the head is hinged, some vertical movement of the tube is possible and the tube itself is shaped with a double kink which rests on the top of a sleeper and keeps the tube approximately horizontal.

At the other end, a sleeve fits over the tube. This then curves upwards to form a vertical stanchion, again in lightweight square-section steel tube. The actual position of the stanchion is adjustable – the sleeve can slide along the horizontal tube and is bolted in place using a series of pre-drilled holes. As standard, there is a total of 600mm of possible adjustment, allowing the fence to be positioned the correct distance from the running track.

On the outer face of the vertical stanchion are two, pre-positioned plastic clips. Once a row of stanchions is in place, horizontal poles can be clipped into these, forming the fence itself. Both fibreglass and aluminium poles can be used – if aluminium then there are plastic isolators along its length to prevent any problems with the metal poles bridging signalling circuits.


Poles and stanchions are transported to site in specially designed bins. Normally, the horizontal tubes and vertical stanchions are already bolted together with the correct clearance. These are then simply clamped, about three metres apart, to the side of the rail web over a sleeper on which the kink in the horizontal tube rests. The installer never has to go close to the running rail, but can stand in a position of safety holding the vertical stanchion while attaching the magnets to the rail.

Once a run of stanchions is in place, the first fence poles are clipped in place. Subsequent poles are attached using a patented bayonet connection and clipped up. A team of people, working together, can install a run of fencing remarkably quickly. Once they get into the swing of things, and assuming the stock of components is close by, several hundred metres can be erected in just a few minutes. No ballast needs to be disturbed – provided that the rail web is accessible, the fence can go up.

In operation, the strong magnetic clamps hold the fence securely in place. It is practically impossible to just pull the magnet off the rail, so work can take place behind the fence in complete safety.


Taking the fence down is almost a reversal of putting it up. The poles are removed first, the bayonet couplings making splitting it into short lengths easy.

Despite the magnetic clamps being almost impossible to pull off in service, removal is actually quite easy. The stanchion, and it’s attached horizontal pole, is just pivoted up vertically. This assembly hinges on the magnetic head until that hinge hits a stop. Continued upward movement rolls the magnet off the rail – the head has a radiused upper edge to allow this. So the whole bracket comes free without undue effort.

Then it is only a case of putting everything away and removing it from site. As no ballast was disturbed in erecting the fence, there is nothing to be replaced.

Critical acclaim

The Magnetic Safety Barrier was first introduced onto the Dutch railway system in 2010. In March 2011, it won the Europe Innovation Award at the Rail-Tech Europe trade fair in Amersfoort. “All together, the crucial significance of safety for employees performing maintenance work on the track was reason enough for the jury to send Rail Safety Systems home with the 2011 European Innovation Award”, said jury chairman Professor Riessberger.

The new fencing has been tested by TÜV and is approved for use in Germany and is now also approved by Network Rail for use in the UK. Initial use has found that is can be up to twenty times quicker to erect and dismantle than conventional barriers, reduces the physical effort of the operatives and the ballast is not disturbed. Installed correctly, it does not affect axle counters or DC track circuit signals.

Innovative Railway Safety arranged the first major use of the new fencing in the UK last month and, with the advantages that Magnetic Safety Fencing offers, no doubt it will shortly be appearing on a work site near you. Once erected, it still won’t be noticed, but it will certainly appear and disappear a lot quicker!