The Midlands Centre of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Railway Division arranges a business related colloquium in Derby every two years. With the announcements of expanding electrification in the United Kingdom and, in particular the Midland main line, the committee decided to organise the 2013 event around the emerging details of the project to wire the route.

The Institution has excellent relations with Derby College and therefore a most appropriate event site chosen was the Roundhouse, the Guinness world record holder for the oldest surviving locomotive stabling roundhouse and a vibrant place to hold a rail related gathering.

The programme for the day was built around a general overview of the current state of electrification design and construction in the United Kingdom followed by a walk-through of the Midland Line proposals and presentations on the design issues, and then wrapped up with a look at construction methods. With the developments in high-output plant, the Windhoff high output system train was an obvious choice.

State of the art

The proceedings commenced with an introduction by the Centre Chairman, Allan Jones, Managing Director of QSS limited. The event had been organised by a section of the Centre and was timed to run through the afternoon.

There followed a fascinating insight into the many aspects of the current state of the art, incorporating the challenge facing the industry and how this related to the environment and the transport mix in this country. This first session was ably presented by Peter Dearman, Head of Energy for Network Rail. Peter has been involved with rail electrification in the United Kingdom for longer than he cares to remember and is probably one of the most experienced electrification engineers to be found.

Just six years ago electrification did not appear on the national agenda; indeed there were suggestions from the Department of Transport that the future was diesel and even that the wires north of Newcastle could be taken down! There was, however, a sudden Eureka moment in government and things began to move. There is now a thirty year gap to close and a massive construction programme to mobilise, all in a railway system which is busier than for many a year with restricted access. High output plant is becoming available but that will only tackle 80 % of the route mileage, the rest will require more conventional access. The audience was reminded that there is not enough plant in the country; there are not enough engineers in the country and there are not enough skilled workers and technicians in the country!

Energy is not cheap

A basic statistic is that energy costs are rising and will continue to do so. India, China, Brazil and other fast developing countries have a sharp rise in their demand for oil and related products, and it is predicted that by the time the year 2050 is with us the price will rise dramatically. Electric railways are seen as clean technology and perceived to be very efficient and future-proof with varying energy / fuel sources. In addition, electric trains are lighter and inflict less track damage than much of the existing oil-fuelled traction technology.

Nationally, there are a string of proposed electrification schemes from the currently active North West Electrification through to the Great Western, the Cardiff valleys and the useful link through from Gospel Oak to Barking. The most exciting and strategic project is the provision of the electric spine and here Peter emphasised the route available from the south to the north of the country, filling in electrified gaps to enable heavy electric freight haulage.

The conference noted, however, that the energy equation does not necessarily stack up too well within this country and Peter issued a challenge to the traction and rolling stock sector of the rail industry. Air, private cars and foreign railways have all significantly increased their rolling stock efficiency and decreased energy consumption by a wide margin. British electric multiple units, however, have moved the other way. The example was given of a class 315 from the 1970s at 600 kilowatt versus a modern electric multiple unit at 1.7 megawatt. Efficiency is a concern for the whole industry.

Notwithstanding that conundrum, the scale of the programme is sobering. The electrical rating of the electrified railway will be greater than one of the country’s current distribution network operators. The works will involve erecting two hundred overhead contact system structures and foundations a week, eight miles of overhead a week, a new substation every three weeks and a new grid intake point every four months.

In summary Peter can be quoted as closing the session by telling those present: “The railway is responding to twenty-first century challenges, running a large and exciting programme and taking an opportunity to improve technology where railways are in a fundamental place in our national economic response to the new energy world order.”

Grip 3 and counting

The man who has to deliver the midland scheme took to the floor. Richard Walker is the route delivery director for the East Midlands
and is based in Derby. His team will develop the project to delivery – it is currently in GRIP stage 3 but powering ahead. The scheme covers some extremely significant works. The original south end of the line from St. Pancras to Bedford incorporates 1970s technology while distinct capacity issues occur at Leicester, Nottingham and Derby. These have to be solved before the wires are put up. The evidence of current progress, however, is there in the shape of the Nottingham blockade this summer. Some of the project figures put the scope of the scheme into perspective. There are 600 single track kilometres to be equipped – that’s 10,000 foundations, 122 bridge modifications and three grid intake sites.

The overhead catenary system (now known as OCS in Europe) is the currently emerging Series One. This is a new system for the UK, developed with the European Technical Specifications for Interoperability in mind. The system is a major advance on previous designs with simplified insulator provision, telescopic adjustable registration equipment and much less complex small-part steelwork. Even system tensioning will be achieved by the new system of Tensorex automatic tension maintenance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASouth of Bedford also presents a technical challenge in achieving fitness for high speed running and a quantum leap in reliability. The old obstacles of bridge and other structural clearance carry their usual baggage. Track lowering is not much loved by the permanent way engineers and Toadmoor Tunnel, with its metal ribs inside, is a particularly hard structure to deal with. Richard also noted that even Leicester station has very restricted headroom around the bridges at the north and south ends of the site.

The GRIP 3 team is hard at work with several notable industry contractors participating.

The point was made that the high output construction plant is not necessarily the right answer for much of this route so the build strategy remains to be finalised.

Overall this was an illuminating description of a major project that was not even on the horizon a few years ago.

Four design stages

Continuing the theme of putting the electric railway into the Midlands were Keith Orgill and Kevin Bruce, from Overhead Line Engineering Limited and Jacobs respectively. These extremely experienced gentlemen proceeded
to educate the audience in the design issues related to overhead contact systems and their associated infrastructure. The processes are well defined in Network Rail standards but can be summarised as four stages.

The first is system design, covering the preparation and integration of the power supply and overhead line equipment design specifications with the environmental requirements, other utility and statutory needs and constraints. The inputs are the rolling stock, the track, the power system and signalling systems interface.

Secondly there is the basic design, incorporating the preparation of designs for overhead line equipment and traction power supplies based on the system design. This encompasses detailed technical illustrations, standards, specifications and dimensions of general arrangements, assemblies, sub- assemblies and components. These basic designs are used for allocation, purchase, manufacturing, installation and commissioning of an electrification project and allow the subsequent maintenance requirements to be developed and implemented.

Following these phases is the allocation design. Here appears the geographical allocation of the basic design within an electrification project to meet the system design and performance specification, thus allowing the production of a bill of quantities for all components and associated materials. The completed allocation design enables all materials to be identified, purchased, assembled as necessary and installed on the project, and determines the detailed records of construction for maintenance purposes.

Finally comes the construction design. This is the assessment of the allocation design, determination of the installation methodology and the identification of necessary change to the allocation design to meet changes in site conditions or construction constraints. Components supplied are matched with a bill of quantities and basic design to ensure compliance. Safety and quality of installation are managed to ensure safe construction and railway operation, and compliance with the allocation and basic design.

Significant issues in recent developments include the wide ranging reduction in the number of components required in recent electrification design and a robust examination of the presentation of design for construction.

A number of automated systems for design have been developed although it is felt these may well struggle with the application to complex areas. No doubt there will remain a strong demand for competent and skilled designers.

Keith and Kevin predicted that the future would indeed see the minimisation of the number of components used with an emphasis on standard arrangements wherever possible. To achieve higher output, there will be a requirement to keep designs as simple as possible and reduce the need for checking of the design production.

High output

After all the project management and design and risk assessments, the equipment has to be put into place. When electrification of the rest of the UK system became a reality, it was necessary to consider novel ways of construction which had not been seen in the country before. Very quickly, Network Rail was showing videos of the concept of a high output construction train. That train is now under construction, and Anne Watters from Amey gave the colloquium a progress report.

The train will first come into use on the Great Western electrification scheme and is now under construction at Windhoff’s works in Germany. Once it arrives, and to achieve some practical experience, a twenty mile test section will be constructed on the route near Didcot.

This will follow initial UK commissioning at the Network Rail site at High Marnham.

The plant will challenge many United Kingdom traditional methods of working, although practices on mainland Europe may not necessarily transfer to this country. The train is fitted with a ‘wall’ which may be erected to keep staff safe within its confines. There are three consists: to install foundations, steelwork and wiring. It will run for six shifts a week and the intention is minimal disruption to the operational railway.

The Invitation to Tender detailed a number of key requirements for the equipment:
» Meet a performance based specification;
» Work with the adjacent line open to traffic;
» Construct an average of one tension length of

OLE per shift;
» Transit in traffic at 60mph;
» Be easily maintained with reduced whole life cycle costs.

Other targets from the original specification included adjacent line open working (allowing trains to still run on adjacent lines), seven hour possessions and managing down the schedule 4 costs.

Ninety two staff will work on the system on Great Western, operating out of what is called the HOOB (High Output Operating Base) at Swindon. The location will hold seven days materials but this will be backed up by an off- site storage location. The train is anticipated to bring a sea change in OCS erection costs.

Allan Jones summed up the day by thanking the presenters and all those who had attended. The IMechE Railway Division is keen to promote the railway and the high-tech modern status that is not always seen in the media. The day had shown where the industry was going and how it would flourish in the new world where cheap energy is very much a thing of the past.