Network Rail Infrastructure Projects’ second track engineers conference was held at the Earls Court conference centre recently. Writes Simon Harvey

It was attended by a broad spectrum of track engineers from the Network Rail renewals and maintenance communities, track renewal suppliers, consultancies and component and equipment suppliers. The scheduling of the event enabled delegates to attend Railtex 2013 on the same day, with the exhibition hall a short 5 minute walk from the auditorium.

Conference themes included the promotion of Safer – Better – Faster – Smarter working and continuous professional development. It also provided an opportunity for networking and knowledge sharing.

Change and reliability

In his opening remarks, Steve Featherstone, Network Rail programme director – track, covered diverse subjects including the effect of planning changes, plant reliability and the training of next generation designers.

Timely availability of information will significantly reduce the volume of changes made during the planning stages of a renewal project. Each change made (for example, changing train plans, plant allocation, or labour resource requirements etc) has an associated cost or can import a safety or performance risk to the works. The volume of planning changes will be monitored to establish the scale of the problem.

A railway plant reliability working group steering group, chaired by Steve, will oversee initiatives designed to improve levels of reliability currently available to the industry, and will include small plant, through to road / rail vehicles, on-track machines, and high output equipment.

Star Track and projects

Network Rail has joined industry partners including Amey, Atkins, Arup, Babcock, Colas, Hyder, Jacobs, Balfour Beatty, Tata, Tubelines (TfL) and URS, to develop the “Star Track” programme – intended to create the track design engineers of the future. Enrolment of the first candidates is expected in September this year, and the programme will combine practical learning with placements at Sheffield Hallam University. Trainees will study a Foundation Degree in Railway Engineering, as well as obtaining practical experience with installation and maintenance teams.

Sean Murray and Ben Venables, representing the Reading Remodelling project, updated the conference on the significant progress made to date, including the recent Easter commissioning works. They outlined some of the logistical problems encountered, and described a few of the prominent details of the scheme including the construction of the new passenger transfer deck, platforms and viaduct.

Mark Prescott provided an update on Adjacent Line Open working. Work is underway on a quantitative risk assessment for RRVs working in rail mode, from which the rake of Adjacent Line Open working options may be revised.

The chairman’s view

The keynote speech was delivered by Network Rail chairman Professor Richard Parry-Jones CBE. Safety remains the company’s primary objective, alongside delivering Network Rail’s customers with a well performing and cost efficient transport system.

Richard acknowledged the problem of loss of corporate memory and that efforts were being made to capture tacit information held by its employees for the future benefit of the company through its corporate systems. Lastly, he promoted the adoption of techniques and technologies which had been successfully utilised in other industries.

Suppliers in the dark

David Benton and Daniel Pyke from Tata Steel presented their High Performance hypereutectoid HP rail, which had been developed to contribute to the control of rolling contact fatigue and to reduce rail wear. Successful trials held in the UK had paved the way to
its approval for use in Network Rail infrastructure, and although being a premium grade steel, the whole life cost benefits for specifying the rail where RCF, sidewear and rail head corrugation was endemic were compelling.

Tata also presented their Railcote zinc coating protection system for rail, an alternative to epoxy / polyester barrier coatings, and one option which is less susceptible to handling damage.

It was at this point that the venue and surrounding area suffered a total power cut, and while this could have put paid to some of the presentations, in true Dunkirk spirit, the presenters made best use of the situation, and carried on without electronic amplification or visual equipment.

The other suppliers who made presentations included Topcon GB Ltd, Fiberweb Geosynthetics Ltd, L.B Foster Rail Technologies (UK) Ltd, Rotabroach, Willamette Valley Company, and Aspin Group.

Fulfilling one of the aforementioned conference themes of continuous professional development, David Packer, CEO of the Permanent Way Institution, gave an introduction to the institution with benefits available to members, and an update on progress being made to attract young engineers into the institution, and discussions with the engineering council with regards to professional qualifications.

Despite the premature plunge into darkness, the conference was well received by Network Rail personnel and suppliers alike who also appreciated the proximity to Railtex. This enabled them to visit two events on the same day and maximise the opportunity to learn more about both their own business and the industry at large.