If you’ve been going to the two main UK railway exhibitions (Railtex and Infrarail) over the years, perhaps you might have noticed a recent change. Certainly it was very evident this year. The change? Well, Railtex always seemed to be drivers’ seats, upholstery, platform signs, lighting – you get the drift? This year all the old favourites were there of course, but who would have expected rail steel, road rail machinery, PLC technology or permanent way tools? So it seems that Railtex is subsuming the rail infrastructure market as well. Can Infrarail do the reverse with rolling stock? Perhaps not so easily while its name starts with ‘Infra’.

One of the more exotic tools to be found in a diehard DIY mechanic’s toolbox is a bearing puller. Used, abused, adapted, they sometimes work – they often fail because either they don’t fit or they’re not up to the task in hand. In contrast, the Betex HXPM 100 tonne puller supplied by Bega Special Tools can’t fail. It is a truly impressive bit of kit that’s used to pull wheels off rail axles. Mind you, the toolbox would take a little lifting.

There was a stand proudly displaying chrome plated Mills clips – who on earth makes a clip for a fastening system that had its heyday back in the 60s? It’s Henry Williams of Darlington who not only make new obsolete fittings, but also manufacture a whole range of trackside cabinets for the railways – and motorways too it turns out.

Displaying a product that seems so simple yet so effective was Kwik-Step who make modular galvanised staircases for embankments or cuttings. Bent strips of steel, long steel nails. Basically, that’s it – although refinements like handrails are added as well.

Last month in The Rail Engineer we featured a range of radio- controlled vehicle shunters manufactured by Zweihoff. A far cry from the rumbling 08 shunter, these machines are no larger than a dining room table. And, of course, similar machines were featured at Railtex. Chunky and bright yellow, there were examples displayed by Harmill and Windhoff.

Exhibitions are great places to have a close look – a really close look – at components that would normally be well out of bounds in service. Anything to do with overhead line equipment comes into this category. Even more remote are the bits and pieces on top of electrified rolling stock. So, an exhibition is the time to have an up close stare at pantographs, and Brecknell Willis had one you could touch. There’s always a slight unease though – just in case!

What’s the prime task of a permanent way engineer? Keeping a train on the rails is probably high up on the list. So it was a little un-nerving to see a bogie sat in the ballast. The Hitachi exhibit was impressive, shiny, technically perfect – but it wasn’t sitting on rails, it nestled cosily up to its flanges in stone. Odd.

One of the treats of Railtex is seeing beautiful examples of heavy machining. They’re complete fantasy of course as in real life they’ll be well out of sight and probably a good deal grubbier. But as pieces of exquisite engineering sculpture I would mention DePe Gear with their display of assorted cogs, Lucchini wheel set and axles, Associated Rewinds with their polished traction innards, ZF with sectioned transmission systems and Sauter Bachmann AG with some huge precision gears.

And finally, there were the folks striding round the hall in brightly coloured tee shirts emblazoned with their company details. But I can’t report who they were representing as everything was in a large square bar code and I’m not fluent in barcodese.