Every four years, Europe’s railway engineers and equipment manufacturers gather at the town of Münster, in northern Germany for the IAF (Internationale Ausstellung Fahrwegtechnik) – the International Exhibiton for Track Technology. It has been going for some time, this year was the twenty-sixth, and it has become THE place to go for track engineers, manufacturers, contractors and anyone involved in railway track construction, maintenance and renewal.
Not to be outdone, The Rail Engineer went along as well at the invitation of several of the German manufacturers to see what was what.
To start with, it is bigger than one would expect. Three decent-sized exhibition halls house stands from manufacturers of everything from overhead wiring to track clips, rail to level crossings, and on-track plant to depot equipment.
But it is outside that the real interest lies. Three tracks run the entire length of the exhibition site and, with a couple of smaller spurs, these are packed with simply enormous machines – most of them yellow.
By far the largest stand in the halls, and the biggest display outdoors, is by Plasser & Theurer. The Austrian manufacturer had 16 full-sized machines on display. Just the logistics of getting them all there had to have been problematic, let alone the conversations with various customers so they could be ‘borrowed’ for the week.
Among them were some world firsts such as the all-in-one turnout and track maintenance machine, a completely new kind of ballast cleaning machine for turnouts and a mobile rail welding robot on a road-rail vehicle.
Better ballast cleaning
The first of these is the URM 700. A ballast cleaning machine with several novel features, it doesn’t require an entry hole to be dug for the guide bar, it does that itself. The width of the excavation is infinitely variable, so it can continue along the main line without having to stop for turnouts.
In addition, the URM 700 can be used as a shoulder cleaning machine, and is ideal for use on moderate lengths of track in short possessions as the ability to dig its own entry hole saves a lot of time.
In contrast, the new ZRM 350 can undertake ballast cleaning with or without track. In the latter case crawler tracks support the machine while ballast is replaced, and two different ballast feed mechanisms mean that it can go down in layers.
Tamping is one of Plasser & Theurer’s core product lines, so two new tampers took pride of place in the display.
The latest ideas in tamping switches and crossings are included in the Unimat 09- 475/4S N-Dynamic. This is an all-in-one machine that combines ballast placement, ploughing, profiling, tamping, stabilising and sweeping. When tamping points and turnouts, there is often a lack of good ballast on site, meaning that some has to be delivered separately. Now this new machine can supply ballast directly down to the track itself, saving both time and cost. In one pass, the whole job is done from start to finish.
The latest tamping technology has now come to the UK as the second new machine was a Unimat 09-4×4/4S. This is a continuous-action one-sleeper tamping machine with three-rail lifting and four-rail tamping. Designed specifically for the UK market, the actual machine on display was handed over to its new owner, Babcock-Swietelsky, at the show.
A tamper with a difference was the model 09-2X/SD. Not only is it a versatile tamper, it can switch between one and two-sleeper tamping at the push of a button, it also has another attribute – it is quiet. Noise pollution is a hot topic in Japan, and this machine is destined to work for contractor NKH on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line. So the engine compartment is sound-insulated and the machine is equipped with sound protection panels on the sides.
The air intake and the exhaust units also have special sound insulation.
Truly mobile welding
Rail welding may not be such a familiar Plasser & Theurer speciality, but it is. For the first time, the company showed a mobile flash- butt welder built into a road-rail lorry. One of the challenges was to keep the whole vehicle under 32 tonnes.
The actual welding technology is the same as on Plasser & Theurer’s rail machines, this is just the first time that it can travel to sites by road. The actual welding process is automatic, and every weld is certified.
As with all complicated, expensive and potentially dangerous machinery, training is important. For some time, Plasser & Theurer has operated two training simulators for tamper operators, at Linz in Austria and Bingen am Rhein in Germany. However, the first mobile simulator was on show at Münster so now tamper operators can be trained close to their workplace, making it even easier to be safe.
The simulators are part of a larger training organisation which not only covers operation but also maintenance and repair.
Robel Bahnbaumaschinen GmbH was another company with a major display, which encompassed both large and small machines. On track, the company displayed a couple of versions of its Mobile Maintenance System (MMS). These three-car units are designed
to protect and support a mobile workforce undertaking quick and safe track repairs.
The three cars are a driver’s cab, power unit and crew quarters, a workshop and storage area, and the mobile work area itself. This is a car without a floor and with extendable sides. The whole vehicle can travel to site at speed. Once in-situ, the sides of the work area are extended to a preset distance to give the maximum access to the damaged track without impinging on adjacent lines or structures. It is now safe to work on the track under the car, in the dry with lights provided and using hand tools, power tools and overhead hoists.
Items such as replacement rails are simply hoisted up in the workshop car, run along an overhead track between the two vehicles and lowered into place. A removed rail goes back to the workshop the same way. It is all much quicker that conventional methods as all the equipment is to hand and items such as the hoists are easily available.
Two versions of the MMS were shown. One was the layout as described, which with a bit of modification could be made to work on the UK network. The other was a double-deck arrangement with the crew quarters over the work area. This was also kitted out for clearing drainage in tunnels with suction and sluice arrangements built in.
On the small side, Robel were showing off two interesting new battery-powered tools. One was a rail drill which easily bored bolt holes in demonstration rails, and the other was an impact wrench the head of which could be pivoted to accommodate either horizontal fishplate bolts or vertical rail retaining bolts. .
The lithium-iron battery packs were a new Robel development and had plenty of power to do these jobs. The interchangeability also allows only one battery to be taken on a job requiring several different tools, saving weight, or several batteries to be taken when it is known a lot of power will be consumed.
These two new tools were demonstrated and show visitors could try for themselves. Even your writer drilled a perfectly satisfactory hole in a short length of rail in only half a minute – impressive.
Having interchangeable power packs is not new for Robel. Its modular hydraulics series was launched at InnoTrans last year and has proved popular.
Extra modules were released at IAF and a selection of clipping/unclipping machines was on show for even the newest FE clips. The power modules (petrol or cable- electric) are easily attached and removed, allowing for easy transport and versatile use. At 70kg per module, they are much more easily transported than a one-piece machine weighing over 150.
Windhoff was showing the first two sections of the high-output electrification train that it is building for Network Rail. Basically multi- purpose vehicles with manipulator arms on the beds, these will be joined by over twenty more units by the time the train is complete.
The Swedish Huddig machines mentioned in The Rail Engineer recently (issue 104, June 2013), and often used for overhead line replacement, were also on display – this time with Rosenqvist attachments. Both Swedish and British versions of SRS were present as well, the latter with a Chinese-built road-rail lorry.
Another Swedish company, Railcare, had its snow melter parked on track next to their hospitality unit. Mainly used in depots, snow is swept up off the track and blown back into a warm water tank inside the machine, where it melts. Excess water is pumped back to a storage tank in a trailing wagon.
Hopefully, that too is heated or it is a great way to make a big block of ice! Incidentally, Railcare’s Rail-Vac machines can be used for snow clearance at a push. As the UK always seems to be surprised when it snows, that may come in useful.
Specialist manufacturer and contractor Speno had a large stand and a large track grinding train. The company runs one train in the UK, in the south, but has many more around Europe.
Rail milling specialist Linsinger was there too, although based inside the hall. There seemed to be a steady stream of visitors to the stand.
Quite a few companies well known to The Rail Engineer were at Münster. Several Network Rail representatives were having a look around. Tata Steel were showing the latest developments in rail, and doing a nice line in sandwiches – thanks Karen!
Strail had a busy stand, and RSS, manufacturer of the magnetic safety barrier which was first seen in the UK at the Rail Safety Summit a year ago, was showing how many different poles and uprights are needed for different markets. There was British blue, and yellow/black, and red/white – what was that about European standardisation?
There was even a little yellow wagon outside the hall. That too was a Robel product. A number of contractors use little yellow wagons they have made themselves, and which are now failing safety checks due to tightened regulations. So Robel has made a proper one. Just another measure of the variety on show at IAF 2013.