In the twenty-first century, we have all become accustomed to technology moving on at a frantic pace. Mobile phones change every year, cars every three. There are hybrid buses, fuel cells, Wi-Fi in coffee shops, smart-this, hyper- that – it’s almost impossible to keep up with the rate of technological change.

And then there are the railways.

Railway engineering has always had a reputation for longevity. It allows plenty of time to pay back the often-huge investments that have been made in the past, and the established way is often thought of as being the safest way.

But that attitude can stifle innovation and keep costs up as well as down. The benefits that new technology can bring are often not realised. It doesn’t have to be ground-breaking innovation either – simple upgrades to existing equipment, making them fit for purpose in today’s world, are often all it takes.


One company that has taken that idea on board is SPX Rail Systems. It has launched a ‘new’ line of products that are major improvements on what has gone before, but which keep the simple ideas of earlier models and are also interchangeable with them.

The new Mk3 line of products was launched at the recent Rail2015 show and was a reaction to Network Rail’s reliability improvement and ‘Whole Life Cost Reduction’ programme and showcases exactly how successful collaborative working can be.

The Mk3 range, including a barrier system, Clamplock and power pack, would never have been possible without a full buy-in to collaborative working, the importance of which has never been higher on the rail industry’s agenda.

SPX Rail Systems’ history of working hand- in-hand with its customers goes right back to the original Smiths Industries Hydraulics Limited and British Rail-designed hydraulic power pack, Clamplock point machine and road level crossing barrier system. Fifty years on and SPX Rail Systems continues to support collaborative development and regeneration of its products.

Delivering the challenges

With 50 years’ experience in collaborative engineering practices, the SPX Rail Systems team and its customers have developed strong lines of communication that played no small part in the success of the ongoing product development. Network Rail’s whole life costing (WLC) manual supplied the definition and problem statement principles, and detailed analysis of National reliability data produced upgrade proposals for development. These collaborative processes have helped ensure that methods for life cycle costing, sustainability and reliability are driven into the SPX Rail Systems upgrade decision making process though safety, risk and value management.

Detailed analysis of existing and potential failure modes are key to all upgrade works, but these are only part of the requirement of understanding a true upgrade development. Understanding the original design, historical product changes and reasons for change all contribute to understanding the risks involved in delivering a safe, reliable and cost effective upgrade.

“We have to fully appreciate exactly what our customers are looking for before we undertake any developments with them,” said Iqbal Chadda, commercial development director at SPX Rail Systems. “Sometimes, we are working to support engineering design changes to track, or maybe equipment is going to be used in a slightly different way or environment, or the customer is looking for a more efficient operation – we have to understand exactly what is expected of the development before anything takes place.

“Over the course of an upgrade the requirements can change again – but if we are working closely with our customer the design develops to meet the requirements of the customer’s needs – that’s just the railway, forever evolving!”

Upgrade work is often complicated, especially where CE approval process is required. SPX Rail Systems ensures that all upgraded components, when introduced, are approved with CE Declaration of Incorporation, specifically approved against each previous product design iteration to ensure risk-free compatibility.

Safeguarding product integration is a key element of every upgrade. The SPX engineering stage gate system allows for assured product changes to be integrated into the principle design with all engineering and historical use knowledge considered. The latest Mk3 specifications now bring a new level of CE and Product Approval which supersedes all upgrades.

Unique testing facilities

To deliver the upgraded customer specifications, SPX Rail Systems has invested heavily in ensuring that the engineering design and testing can be completed in-house. All testing is completed on a loop system that cycles barrier machine, barrier machine power pack, Clamplock and Clamplock power pack on a round-the-clock basis. SPX Rail Systems is the only company in the UK with a fully hydraulically jacked adjustable 21 metre F panel test rig which can simulate realistic track conditions for component testing.

Flexible installation methods enable test programmes to be devised and implemented against customer specifications and a wide range of testing facilities are available to support this activity. All data is captured on a dedicated server, and analysis during the validation stage ensures that design safety and performance are achieved. Customer approval of the test rig parameters and testing outputs brings considerable project advantages. In most cases, having empirical data from the bespoke product testing can bring about a reduced test programme on the infrastructure, significantly reduced risk, improved performance, less down time and a range of additional cost savings.

Looking forwards

The launch of the next generation Mk3 products in the UK heralds an important time for SPX Rail Systems and will be followed by the introduction of the European Mk4 Clamplock in November 2015. Customers from various markets were invited to see the new developments for themselves at Rail2015, and looked around the rest of the show while they were there.

“We were delighted to welcome some of our European customers, and we hope that them visiting Rail2015 was beneficial to some of the other UK suppliers, and vice versa,” said Scott Harrison, general manager of SPX Rail Systems UK. “We believe that collaborative working is as much about sharing contacts as it is about utilising knowledge – the UK rail market has such a wide breadth of talented people and clever organisations, and hopefully our European customers will have benefitted from meeting with some of these great organisations.”