There’s nothing new under the sun may be an old adage, but in the main it describes the railway industry very well. Derby celebrated 175 years of railway involvement last year while London Underground celebrated 150 and, to a large extent, not much has changed since.

Granted, technology has improved, so today’s steel rails are much better than the old ones, modern earthworks are less likely to collapse, and bridges stay up when they are built and have much higher capacities, but superficially it all looks quite similar.

Steam traction has given way to electric and diesel trains. But even they are not new – the first third-rail electric system was the City & South London Railway (opened 1890). Diesels are newer – the first main line locomotives regularly used on UK railways were introduced in 1948, but that’s 66 years ago now.

Most Interesting

So it’s always refreshing to find something that is truly new. The recent Most Interesting Awards, organised by the Rail Exec Club, was
a good place to do that. Nominees weren’t chosen for any reason other than that they were Interesting. So some little-publicised and new ideas were seen in public – often for the first time.

One of these was the EPS Platform System from MegaTech Projects. EPS stands for expanded polystyrene, which is the stuff that cheap ceiling tiles were made from and is now used as the moulded packaging around televisions and electronic equipment inside the cardboard box.

If you have ever tried to handle a large sheet of this material, outside and in a stiff breeze, you will know how unhandy it can be. So the idea of using it to make railway station platforms is, on the face of it, ‘challenging’. Surely it will just blow away?

Yet that is just what MegaTech Products has done. The system was described in issue 112 (February 2014) and it really is very interesting. A large block of expanded polystyrene is placed on a simple screed-bed foundation, and is then weighed down by a large slab of concrete that forms the platform surface and also solves the ‘blowing away’ problem. Simple – and Interesting.

Now proven

The original report looked at the initial trials at East Grinstead and the most recent application as part of the major upgrade of Peterborough station. The success of that project allowed Network Rail to analyse the benefits of the MegaTech EPS platform system which include:

» Safety: StephenFletcher,NetworkRail’s route area manager, confirmed: “As the MegaTech system requires no piling (even on embankments) and only excavates to a depth of 250mm from the top of the sleeper, the likelihood of cable strikes and encountering ‘unknowns’ is greatly reduced. This is a massive benefit when it comes to the safety of the workforce and the public.”

» Quality: As the key platform components are all pre-fabricated in factory conditions there is greater control on the quality of materials and the finished platforms which are all fully compliant with Network Rail and European standards.

» Environmental: The chairman of the EPS Group of the British Plastics Federation, David Emes, also pointed to the environmental advantages. “As well as high impact strength, light weight and design versatility, polystyrene also offers outstanding environmental credentials. It is 98% air bound in a polymer matrix. It’s recyclable at the end of its life and scores the highest A+ summary rating in the BRE Global Green Guide to Specification. This is supported by at least eight ‘straight As’ in each of the separate impact ratings for each EPS density. The results show that, in every density measured, EPS had a summary result of A+ – the highest BRE rating meaning the lowest environmental impact”.

»  Time: Steve Coe was the programme delivery manager for Network Rail at Peterborough and he confirmed: “Using the system meant we went from 20 weeks to 20 days and the overall programme saving was massive.”

»  Money: Network Rail’s route managing director Phil Verster confirmed: “The system is at least four-times quicker than traditional build and 2-3 times quicker than using a modular steel solution.”

Looking forward

Throughout 2014, MegaTech Products Ltd (MPL) has been working with main contractors including Carillion, James Murphy & Sons and C Spencer Ltd to design and install platforms from Kent to London and the East Coast Mainline. Each and every project has its own characteristics and time constraints which vary from only being able to work two hours each night to only being able to work for six hours on a Saturday night. Collaboration with the contractors and Network Rail ensured the successful design of these stations and, more importantly, that the works were delivered with the minimum inconvenience to the train operating companies (TOCs) and the public.

MPL is continually working to develop the system and, heading into 2015, is already working on the delivery of projects in the all areas of England, Wales and Scotland. The success of the system has also gained international recognition with MPL developing enquiries from as far afield as Milan in Italy and Auckland in New Zealand.

In recognising the successful delivery of the platform works to date, this would not have been possible without the team that works with MPL. This includes Adams Consulting Engineers, which heads up the design, and installers Rainton Construction and GK Railways.

Together, they have come up with a really Interesting new approach to platform design and construction. Long may they continue.