Last year’s Rail Live exhibition, organised jointly by Network Rail, Rail Alliance, Rail Media and MacRail and held at the Quinton Rail Technology Centre at Long Marston site near Stratford-upon-Avon, was a great success. 4,000 visitors met 400 exhibitors over two days of blazing sunshine in June 2014.

However, the challenge in putting on that show was immense. Heavy on-track machines came in from all over the country. Colas and DRS had front-line locomotives parked up and there were tampers and inspection trains and all sorts of expensive equipment on display.

On top of that, several plant suppliers seemed to have a large part of their fleets on hand and most of the specialist Network Rail technical departments (electrification, signalling, track safety) were there so, in some ways, work on the railway stopped for the week.

Because of this, and because major innovations don’t happen every year, Steve Featherstone, Network Rail’s track programme director, decided not to run the show in 2015 but to wait until 2016 for the next one, to spread the load.

Exhibitor pressure

But a number of the exhibitors had found that the show, one where they could dig holes, give live demonstrations, run plant, and generally make a mess, was a good one for them. Formal exhibitions where attendees are in suits, and work gets done in comfortable surroundings, have their place. But the best way to show off plant and equipment is to see it running – and that can’t be done in the country’s neat and tidy exhibition halls.

So Rail Alliance, working closely with Rail Media, set out to put on a different show for 2015. Initially intended to show off the innovation process and backed by Future Railway, it grew as more of the previous year’s exhibitors joined the party. Stand sizes were still restricted, but demand increased so much that the show had to be put back from June to September to allow plans to be changed and everyone to be accommodated.

In theory, that could have put the whole show at risk due to the weather, although some would claim that the weather in June can be just as unpredictable as the weather in September. And they were nearly proved right. Set-up day was wet, and muddy, and taxed everybody’s patience. The fear was that the Wednesday, first day of the show, was forecast to be as bad.

As things turned out, it wasn’t. Overcast but dry, the rain held off for both days of the show. Colin Flack’s team at Rail Alliance had also been careful in positioning the stands to avoid known bogs so the land drained well and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

In the end, around 2,500 visitors attended to see what the 200 exhibitors had laid out for them. The second day was a bit busier than the first – perhaps those put off by the weather forecast delayed their visit by a day – but that had the effect of balancing out the attendance. As it was, the show was busy, but not uncomfortably so, and everyone got a chance to take in all that there was to see – thanks, in no small part, to the skills of the team at Topcon for marking out the exhibition space.

First impressions

Arrival was painless. Parking at Long Marston Aerodrome was easy (following directions from the traffic team from ISS Labour and the signs to the drag strip pits) and on hard standing, albeit with some rather large potholes. After a short pause to put on waterproof boots (essential) and a high-viz jacket (compulsory), there was a row of coaches waiting to take visitors to the show site about a mile away.

Off the bus, walk to Shannon Rail’s caravan ( they were controlling entry this year) where pre-printed passes were inserted into plastic wallets and hung round necks, and then straight into the site.

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Pino de Rosa and his team were at the entrance, handing out casino chips which were, in fact, tokens for a cooked breakfast on the Bridgeway stand. His offer was gratefully accepted and Bridgeway became the second port of call, after collecting a show guide from Rail Media’s Jolene Price and Karen Payne. Rail Media’s own stand was right next door to Bridgeway so, after a quick stop to see the team, it was time for a bacon sandwich.

Talking with Huw Thomas while munching on said sandwich, he enthused about the company’s new IBEX slope crawling rig. Designed to take core samples and drill holes safely on slopes of up to 55o, this impressive piece of kit has been developed jointly with Dando Drilling International.

Nearby was what looked like a shipping container full of water. It actually allowed Bridgeway’s divers to demonstrate how they undertake the underwater inspection of structures.

Rail Media’s Matt Stokes, who had been walking steadily around the site carrying what looked like some sort of ancient totem used for religious processions, became very excited by all the water. His ‘Roman standard’ was actually a 360o camera on a pole – and all six camera heads were waterproof! So they ended up in the container with the diver, producing stunning video and confirming that the cameras were indeed leakproof.

Having exhausted the entertainment at Bridgeway, it was time to take in the rest of the show and see what caught the eye.

Looking around

TPA Portable Roadways, part of VP plc, had what looked like a bright- orange level crossing on its stand. Closer inspection showed it to be a UTAS – the patented Universal Track Access System. Richard York explained that it is a heavy-duty, steel, three-piece assembly that allows heavy plant to cross the track without damaging it and can also be used as a RRAP (road-rail access point) to get machines on and off track. With a 50-tonne capacity, even the largest machines can use it, although the components are heavy and have to be removed if trains want to come past.

If weight and portability are a consideration, then TPA also has a lightweight foam access ramp system (LWF) constructed out of two-metre long foam sections, each of which weighs under 25kg so they can be easily hand-carried into position.

Richard Casey of Horizon Utility Supplies presided over several different products on his stand. Horizon is a distributor and developer of kit, and two different types of OLE connectors were on show. Those from CPI (Connector Products Inc) of New Jersey, USA, are bolted connectors which were being demonstrated on a tall yellow rack simulating the real-life environment – complete with pigeons sitting on top.

Klauke battery-operated hydraulic cutting and crimping tools were also being shown on the Horizon stand, and the ease with which one could cut through large diameter cable was impressive.

ISS Labour, the kind people who had provided the labour and traffic management support so vital to the show, had an interesting stand, housed in its own bouncy castle. Topically, chief executive Simon Higgens explained how the company provides a managed OLE service to Babcock and ABC while fellow director Colin Kelly pointed out that the company specialises in OLE isolations, training and has even hung wires with Network Rail’s own OCR team. Administration director Nicki Sunderland was keen to speak of the welfare ‘village’ that ISS had provided to the Box Tunnel project, as described in last month’s Rail Engineer.

A visit to the Anderton stand gave the opportunity to see one of Rail Engineer’s stars. To advertise its lightweight concrete troughing, the company has used a photograph of a young lady holding a trough, seemingly without straining. She was on the stand, and no – she wasn’t built like a Russian shotputter. In fact, she explained how the latest Anderton concrete troughs had straps to hold the lids down and fins inside to secure the cables, both deterring and preventing thieves from dragging cables out and stealing them.

When Collin Carr interviewed Steve Featherstone recently, one of the products he enthused about was a long, high-speed rail clamp, a device which will enable overnight track works to be returned to service at 80, 90 or even 100mph line speeds.

And there it was, on the Holdtrade and GB-Rail stand. Two long yellow plates, made in France by ALR, held in place by four Robel rail clamps. Hamlet Cromwell and Richard Mulhall explained that normally only two clamps are used but, for these specially made plates, using four gave the desired result and the high-speed handback. Simple, but it works.


Just around the corner, and there was an exhibitor messing with a wooden fence post in a bright yellow plastic bucket. In fact, he wasn’t showing off either the post or the bucket, but what filled the gap between them. Postcrete is a new, fast-setting concrete from Tarmac, and it was being shown on the Keyline stand.

Dig a hole, place the new fence post and hold it vertical, fill the hole with water, tip in the Postcrete which is a ready-mix of dry cement and fine aggregate, and that’s it. The concrete starts to set in five minutes, so ensure that the post is self-supporting and move on to the next post. It’s so simple.

But that wasn’t the only eye-catching item on the Keyline stand. A large drainage catch-pit sat on the ground. Nothing special about that, but the duct entries were adjustable. So the one pit, with the correct adaptors, can be used with various bores of pipe and with those pipes at various depths. It doesn’t work any better than a conventional catch pit, but it does cut down inventory and improve delivery times. Neat!

Talking of neat, Aquarius was showing off its latest big boys’ toy nearby. Well-known for its road-rail conversions of Land-Rover Defenders, there is now a three-axle, six-wheeled trailer to go with it. So a work team can all fit in the Land-Rover, load two and a half tonnes of kit onto the trailer, and whizz down the motorway to the job, accessing the railway at a handy RRAP.

To show how good it is, one of the Aquarius team spent both days driving up and down a 100 yard length of track with a trailer full of plastic cable troughing on the back. Another good example of the benefits of an outdoor show.

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Parked alongside the track was another Land-Rover but this one had a drilling rig in the back. Developed for Aspin Foundations, it is used for ground investigations in the four foot, drilling right through the ballast into the trackbed beneath. If necessary, the whole rig can be unclipped and manhandled into the cess, but, for most applications, an investigation between the rails suffices.

Just up from the Aquarius stand was a large marquee. In here were a number of smaller, tabletop displays, some just with a few posters and others which had obviously had some attention paid to them.

Infrarail and Railtex exhibition organiser Mack Brooks was there, promoting Infrarail 2016 (12-14 April at ExCeL if you want to know). It was a great demonstration that the industry has a place for two different types of exhibitions – one in a large hall and the other at a unique working railway venue. It’s horses for courses.

Nearby was A Proctor, manufacturer of the Spacetherm insulation for points heaters described in last month’s issue. Ged Weedon had three lengths of rail, all of them made of wood for lightness.

One was painted blue, one red, and one a natty graduation between the two. It was all to show how hot or cold a rail was, he said.

Then there was a man sitting on a park bench. He seemed comfortable, but what was he doing there? And where had the park bench come from?

Then the penny dropped. The park bench WAS the display. It was actually a waiting room bench for stations, made by Erlau. Presumably, towards the end of the day when exhibitors and visitors were all getting tired, this would be one of the show’s more popular exhibits!

Flexicon had a display of tubes and conduits used to protect wiring on trains, and Colin Legg explained how special versions had been produced for particular markets.

PCAT (Pre Cast Advanced Track) was proudly displaying its award- winning system which, courtesy of an Innovate UK/RSSB competition win, will soon be under construction and on trial at the QRTC test track at Long Marston. A world beating slab track system conceived, designed and manufactured in the UK!

At the end of the marquee was the Innovation Hub and lecture theatre, complete with speakers from Future Railway, RRUK(A) and prize winning innovators presenting on Innovation and other topics.

Credit where it’s due

Colin Flack, Rail Alliance’s chief executive, was standing outside the theatre. He was characteristically upbeat about the show’s success.

“Reacting to pressure from our members, originally we were just going to create a bit of space, get 50 companies or so together, and that would be the show. It rather took off from there,” he commented.

It all started with the first Rail Alliance show four years ago, Macro Rail, which was in a warehouse on the Long Marston site. Then Network Rail’s shows followed, the National Plant Exhibition in 2013 and Rail Live last year.

“The link is Scott Harrison, who was then at Network Rail,” Colin explained. “He had attended Macro Rail and was looking at a site at Gloucester for the Network Rail show, When he found it wasn’t suitable, he thought ‘why not Long Marston?’ He gave me a call, came and looked around, and the whole thing snowballed into Rail Live after a further visit by Steve Featherstone’s team.” Colin kept being interrupted by exhibitors and visitors who wanted to tell him how good the show was, and he seemed very pleased about that.

“The team worked hard to pull it all together,” he praised, “and we couldn’t have done it without our industry partners, particularly ISS Labour and Rail Media, so thanks must go to them as well.”

There seemed to be only one fellow at the show not dressed in orange (or, in a few cases, yellow), and that was George Stephenson. He visited the show and gave a short talk in the theatre, and it was great to have the famous engineer take part.

A closer inspection showed that George was in fact Felix (Schmid from University of Birmingham) and he was actually complying by wearing a high-viz bow tie. When he was told that, next year, he might have to wear a high-viz top hat as well, he indicated that it might be Mr Brunel’s turn in 2016.

The other variation on PPE was on the Quattro stand, where two girls clad in orange lycra were looking after the British Superbike that the company sponsors in the British Championship. To ensure compliance, stand manager Polly Rivers had painstakingly sewn reflective stripes onto the girls’ lycra jumpsuits. Nice one Polly!

More exhibitors

Gioconda’s squidgy trains are legend – Rail Engineer has a full set of five different colours. Very handy for both squeezing for stress relief and for lobbing at errant colleagues in the office. The Rail2015 offering was a dark grey one (already in the editorial collection) and the stand also had some clever new variations on Gioconda’s well- known signal-sighting software, now with added GPS.

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Probably the furthest-travelled exhibitor was Andrew Melvelle. His Melvelle Equipment Corporation is based in Newcastle – the one in New South Wales, Australia. He was showing a rail unclipper that uses vibration to loosen old, rusted-in clips. Unlike impact hammers, it doesn’t damage the sleeper so new clips can be reinstalled easily.

Steve Featherstone happened past. “We’ve got a couple of these,” he said. “Good bits of kit. We should make more use of them. I’ll have to talk with…” and he was on his way again.

As well as the Anderton lightweight concrete troughs mentioned earlier, and a couple of polymer versions (Trojan’s TroTrof and TroTed and the TTS Trough-Tec system that is made in Japan), BCM was showing a system for elevated troughing. Darin Ballington and David Lomas explained that it came in two-metre lengths with lids that bolted down. The increasing use of these troughs for high-voltage cables, which don’t bend very easily, has led to the development of new larger-radius curves and transitions.

Staying safe

With all visitors wearing some form of high-viz jacket (with the few notable exceptions already mentioned), there were several PPE suppliers showing off their wares. Bodyguard had a Formula 1 simulator, with new marketing manager Parveen Nar drumming up interest for it, while STEL was showing a bright orange wheelbarrow. Safeaid Supplies and Gore were there with racks of clothing, as well as a couple of others. Talking of safety, there had recently been an unfortunate collapse of a ditch while it was being dug. Mabey Hire launched a new aluminium shield system at Rail2015 – the two aluminium sidewalls are cross-braced with steel tubes but these are arched to go over ducts laid in the bottom of the trench. Richard Hinckley explained that this ‘hogsback’ system, developed in conjunction with Network Rail, can also be use for joining two ducts in the six foot, something that other systems can’t do. “No other product at this show will have the impact on safety that this new system does,” he boasted.

RVT Rentavent showed some enormous green fans, and Edward Taylor described how they had been used to keep the air fresh inside Box Tunnel during the recent works – another company involved in that interesting product.

Demco had a tent full of track drainage components, with its TerraRange of pipework and filters and its well-established STAKKAbox catch pits. Peter Harris was on hand, keeping an eye on the display and advising visitors of the complexities of the subject and a few simple solutions.

SPX, manufacturer and supplier of level crossing equipment and Clamplock points machines, had an interesting display of its new series 3 equipment. General manager Scott Harrison explained that a host of upgrades and improvements had been incorporated into the
new models. It certainly attracted attention from the show’s visitors. Steve Featherstone spent some time looking at the new kit and seemed impressed.

Opposite was the stand that Steve claimed was, for him, the highlight of the show. Popaloo is a convenient one-person tent with a portable toilet inside. Compact and easily carried, it addresses the needs of female engineers who find it more difficult to go behind a bush than their male counterparts. “We’re attracting more female engineers onto the railway,” Steve claimed, “and we have to give them the facilities they need. This is just the sort of product that will do that.”

A loo in a tent in the middle of a field makes sense, but a bus shelter? Actually it was a Rail Waiting Structure, more commonly seen on station platforms than in fields. Andrew White was only too pleased to discuss the relative merits of polycarbonate, laminated and toughened glass, as well as future plans for the product. One has even been used as a ticket office, albeit with a few additions to the basic structure!

So that was the show – Rail2015. The highs and lows? Apart from the unexpectedly dry weather, the remarkable organisation and the knowledge and dedication of all the exhibitors, there were a few things that have to be mentioned. Rob Hopkin on the public address, promoting the next talk, or the next demonstration, or who was giving away free food, and trying to prevent exhibitors from packing up early on the second day while visitors were still looking around the site (a forlorn hope but he tried hard).

Cisco did a great job in actually making Wi-Fi work in a Warwickshire field, while there was the disappointment of not winning a bottle of Welsh Whiskey in the Welsh Government’s raffle, despite sweet-talking Mike Gillard.

The one question on everyone’s lips was, what will happen next year?

Colin had the last word in this “We are delighted to confirm that Rail2016 (incorporating Rail Live) is being planned
for 15tand 16 June next year and that the Network Rail supply chain will be fully involved. The theme will continue to focus around Ingenuity and we will be looking to create an environment where we can encourage a wider range of participants including schools, colleges and universities. We will be working with partners such as NSARE and Young Rail Professionals to achieve this, along with HS2 and TfL. We will also be using the show as the climax of the first year of the Rail Supply Group/Rail Alliance Mentoring Scheme… exciting times, watch this space!”