Just six weeks after the great and the good of the rail industry had gathered in Coventry for the RailStaff Awards, which celebrate the people that go that extra mile to keep the nation’s railways running, it was time for their directors and managers to get together for the Most Interesting Awards.

Held this year in Derby’s iconic Roundhouse, the Most Interesting Awards are for the projects, new products, innovations and developments that the editors and writers of the Rail Media publications Rail Engineer, RailStaff and Global Rail News found most interesting over the past twelve months.

As the most deeply embedded journalists in the sector, Rail Media’s editorial staff know what’s going on in rail, or they should do, so there is no need for companies to make an entry. In talking to Rail Media, they entered automatically.

However, many projects are routine, and many ‘new’ products are developments of earlier models. So, to qualify for the Most Interesting Awards, the entry has to be just that – interesting. That’s not to denigrate the others as ‘uninteresting’ – after all, they are the bread and butter of the industry – but the editors want to put forward the truly novel and unexpected for an award, where the teams and companies involved have really excelled themselves.

Having created the list of nominations, and then developed a short list in twelve categories, it would be unfair of Rail Media to judge the awards as well. So a panel of independent industry figures, from the former chairman of Network Rail to the current chairman of Young Rail Professionals, was invited to help with that aspect. Care was taken that they did not judge a category in which they had an interest.

The result? A collection of the most novel, the most innovative, the most daring, the most inventive and – above all – the MOST INTERESTING developments on the railways over the last twelve months.

A night to remember

With the shortlists announced, representatives of the companies involved gathered at the Roundhouse for the awards themselves.

Originally built in 1839 for £62,000 by Robert Stevenson, today the Grade II* listed building is normally used as the canteen for Derby College. However, one evening in late November, it was converted into a venue fit for the Rail Exec Gala Dinner – the ultimate networking event of the year that would include the Most Interesting Awards.

On arrival, diners were shown into a star-spangled drinks reception sponsored by Ford & Stanley Group, which provides a range of innovative talent services to support employers and the people they seek to recruit, develop and retain.

In creating something ‘most interesting’ in time for the event, Ford & Stanley engaged with students at Derby College to design, develop and manufacture a rail-focused sculpture (below), built entirely out of ex-operational railway parts supplied by local rail business, RVEL Ltd.

Art and design students created a sculpture which illustrated past, present and future developments within the industry. The vertical structure represents a tree formation, from the original seed invested in rail. As the tree continues to grow, elements of the sculpture begin to evolve demonstrating growth and the progression of innovation and technology over time.

The sculpture was well received by attendees on the evening, with many complimenting the originality and uniqueness of the design concept. Ford & Stanley’s customer focus manager Lynsey Buxton, who led the project, said: “It’s great to see the students getting involved in something different that directly contributes to their education. It’s also great to do something that has direct relevance to the college and the event itself. The sculpture was a real focal point of the evening and attracted a lot of positive attention.”

After the drinks, it was through into the body of the Roundhouse itself for the main event. Welcoming the guests, Rail Engineer editor Grahame Taylor said: “This must be a unique evening in the rail awards calendar. We’re not limited to the biggest, the most expensive the most high profile projects. We’re here to celebrate the best – the best – of railway engineering.”

The Rail Exec Club is rapidly developing into the industry’s premier networking organisation, with three luncheons, a golf event and a gala dinner every year. Two or three keynote speakers address guests and then there is plenty of time for high-level networking.

The two keynote speakers at this Gala Dinner were Pauline Latham OBE, Member of Parliament for Mid-Derbyshire, and Jon Shaw – engineering director of Network Rail Infrastructure Projects.

Mrs Latham highlighted Derby’s close connection with the rail industry and both its early and continuing development, while Jon Shaw reviewed some of his experiences working for companies as diverse as Hitachi, Bombardier and now Network Rail. Both speakers entertained their audiences and, critically, kept their addresses quite brief.

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Then it was time for the dinner, and for a spectacular Manhattan City Stomp floorshow, which was actually mostly above the floor as acrobats hung from both a trapeze and cloth drapes. Guests were truly entertained, and many flinched when a ‘controlled’ descent seemed to be going wrong. All agreed that it was Most Entertaining.

A safe start

Dinner over, and with everyone suitably entertained, Grahame came back to the stage to signal the start of the awards proper. Sponsored this year by J Murphy and Sons, Rhomberg Sersa Rail Group, Ford & Stanley Group and Taylor Construction Plant, a total of twelve categories were to be awarded.

The first award of the evening was The Most Interesting initiative in safety and sustainability. The Rail Industry’s common purpose is to move people and freight safely and efficiently by rail whilst being careful with the resources used to do it. This cannot be achieved without companies designing products that are sustainable and having policies and procedures in place to ensure that team members come home safe each and every day.

Grahame then invited Simon Iwnicki, director at the Institute of Railway Research at Huddersfield University and one of the event judges, to present this award. Simon opened the sealed envelope, and announced that the winners of the Most Interesting initiative in safety and sustainability 2015 were Carillion, Futronics, Vysionics and SEA for installing red light cameras at level crossings.

Jumping lights at level crossings is already an offense but drivers can only be prosecuted if a police officer witnesses the event. New Home Office- approved cameras capture evidence data, digital images and video using a combination of scanning radar, advanced computer video analytics and automatic number plate recognition for the detection of offences. (Rail Engineer issue 130, August 2015)

Riki Mistry, contract manager at Carillion, said: “Level Crossings have always been a risk for Network Rail in terms of safety. Installing cameras was initially meant to deter people from jumping the crossings, it all stemmed from there.”

Highly commended by the judges was a project to install audio guides at stations for the sight impaired, undertaken by Microsoft, Guide Dogs, Network Rail and the Future Cities Catapult. (Rail Engineer issue 124, February 2015)

International design

The award for Most Interesting original design was next, presented by Rail Engineer writer Paul Darlington. From a varied list of nominations, the judges had chosen Sustrail – a European initiative to increase the performance of the entire rail freight system involving 31 organisations across 12 countries.

In the UK, work was undertaken to design an improved freight bogie and to reduce weight, as well as to develop high-performance track. This was combined with work on coated wheelsets and improved braking that was carried out on the continent, resulting in a final vehicle design that was tested in Romania. (Rail Engineer issue 131, September 2015)

One of the UK participants is the University of Huddersfield, and Professor Simon Iwnicki returned to the stage to collect the award. He said: “This is fantastic and unexpected. It certainly was an interesting project and I hope the results will be useful to the freight industry, shifting freight off the roads and onto rail.”

The judges also chose to highly commend Brecknell Willis’ development of a closed loop pantograph in this category. (Rail Engineer issue 130, August 2015)

Strong support

When the applause died down, Grahame Taylor announced the next category – for the Most Interesting development in support equipment. “No project in the UK can be delivered without the use of support equipment and as projects become larger and more complex the use of innovative support equipment is imperative for the jobs to be finished on time and within budget,” he said, by way of introduction.

Chris Kearns, project manager at Rhomberg Sersa UK, came to the stage to make this award which, after the obligatory fumbling with the envelope, he announced was going to Telent for replacing RETB in Scotland.

Radio Electronic Token Block train control used the old BR National Radio Network so, when those radio frequencies were reallocated, that caused a problem. As the ageing equipment also needed replacing, a £20 million programme was initiated for Telent to re-engineer all the radio elements within the system. At the same time, Train Protection and Warning System emergency braking was introduced to prevent trains from overrunning a token section. (Rail Engineer issue 125, March 2015)

Dave Clarke, sales director of Telent, said: “RETB is an upgrade of the Radio Electronic Token Block system in Scotland which allows the single- track running of trains up there and it’s really important in those outlying areas that the trains are running and bringing in tourism. The highest asset that Network Rail owns in the UK is on White Corries ski resort and we’re changing out the aerials and flying in new REBs into that area, while working in extremely different conditions and situations.”

Network Rail’s mobile flash-butt welder, developed by GOS Engineering, Holland and Rosenqvist, was highly commended. (Rail Engineer issue 125, March 2015)

Commenting afterwards on presenting the award, and on the evening as a whole, Chris Kearns said: “Rhomberg Sersa UK had been contemplating sponsorship of a rail related event for some time but, as newcomers to the world of corporate sponsorship, we struggled to find a vehicle that reflected our own values and aspirations of innovation and improvement.

“Reflecting on last year’s gala we felt that this was an occasion that may be suitable for sponsorship. We were especially attracted to the ‘Most Interesting’ strapline which was an unusual series of awards not seen at most black tie events. Particularly so as our products and services seem to regularly elicit the comment ‘interesting’ in reaction to them.

“We were even more intrigued when we saw that the event was not in London but was in fact in the Roundhouse – a building more than worthy of the title ‘Most Interesting.’ We were also intrigued by the ‘Most Interesting’ themed nature of the event.

“What made us take the plunge was the wide range of projects and the diverse assortment of awards – all of which were more than Most Interesting. We were lucky to be presented with an opportunity to sponsor this event and, looking back with 20/20 hindsight on the event, we were more than delighted to do so.”

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Looking to the future

“What fantastic winners we have had so far,” Grahame Taylor enthused before announcing the next category – the Most Interesting training and development programme.

“Up-skilling, cross skilling, recruitment drives and employee development are words we hear constantly in this industry,” Grahame continued. “Whether we are looking to launch new safety initiatives, driving more people into the industry or up-skilling our existing staff, none of this can be achieved without the determination of training and development teams.”

James Wall, managing director of event sponsor Ford & Stanley, joined Grahame on stage to announce that Linbrooke’s new National Rail Academy was the winner.

With an ageing railway workforce coupled with the demand for signalling testers being at an all-time high, Linbrooke’s National Training Academy, delivered with registered training and recruitment partner ntrs, is primarily geared up to provide training for signalling works testing. The site’s authentic platform and tracks incorporate various styles of signalling, point operating and train detection and protection equipment, providing a realistic and accessible set-up for safe and practical training. (Rail Engineer issue 125, March 2015) Tony Gaunt, Linbrooke’s head of training, said: “Absolutely fantastic. We strive massively and work really, really hard to help all the people that come through our National Training Academy both from the civilian side and public sector. Also we have a massive affinity and passion for military personnel, so we’re really, really pleased.”

ORBIS work orders, developed by Network Rail ORBIS, Capgemini and CSC, were highly commended. (Rail Engineer issue 127, May 2015)

Praising the whole event, James Wall of Ford & Stanley commented: “What better venue to celebrate the most interesting innovations and successes across the rail industry than at one of the most historic railway buildings in the UK. We look forward to continuing to work closely with Rail Media in 2016.”

Expanding overseas

The fifth award was for the Most Interesting international participation by a UK company. Simon Meades of sponsor Taylor Construction Plant joined Grahame on stage as he explained: “Over the past few years we have seen more and more involvement in international projects by UK companies. This is testament to our industry. We have some of the highest skilled workers in the world and this is being recognised worldwide.”

The project to build a bypass around Montpellier in southern France won this one. The first ‘combined’ high-speed railway in France, designed to carry both passengers and freight, this €1.8 billion bypass of the railway bottleneck at Montpellier joins the existing Mediterranean high-speed line at Redessan, just to the south of Nimes, and connects near Lattes with the route on to southern France and Spain. The joint venture includes Colas and Colas Rail (both Bouygues Construction subsidiaries), Alstom and Systra. (Rail Engineer issue 129, July 2015)

Jean-Pierre Margolin, international business development manager, Bouygues Travaux Publics, said: “It’s a great honour for our company to be voted as an international reference.”

Project manager Francois-Xavier de Malherbe added: “It’s a big challenge because the time is short and it’s a new conception.”

The Norwegian ERTMS signaling programme, in which Atkins has a major involvement, was highly commended. (Rail Engineer issue 128, June 2015)

Simon Meades was impressed with the whole evening. “Taylor Construction Plant Ltd was keen to support these awards because we strongly believe that industry in general should be recognised and acknowledged for its entrepreneurial spirit, business acumen and a commitment to the wider business community within the rail sector.

“We are also keen to promote the rail industry as a career opportunity for young people. We believe that we work in a dynamic industry which is now driving environmental best practice for future generations and providing an important societal need. All of the nominees and winners are providing, much-needed role models for their younger peers.

“Supporting and applauding successful business is something we always want to do more of and that is why TCP was delighted to sponsor the International Participation by a UK Company award.”

What a development!

With the drive to increase efficiency and reduce costs for infrastructure projects becoming ever more essential, the award for the Most Interesting railway infrastructure development was keenly anticipated. Your author made his way to the stage as Grahame announced: “This award is for a small-scale railway infrastructure project or development in the UK.

In the news we hear constantly about the huge projects that are under construction, but it is also the smaller scale projects that can have a huge impact on the industry. Many of these projects save time, money and ensure our network keeps running.”

The winner was revealed to be Farnworth Tunnel, a project undertaken for Network Rail by J Murphy & Sons supported by OTB Engineering and the Buckingham Group.

What do you do when a tunnel is too small? The answer, in the case of Farnworth tunnel near Bolton, is to fill it in and then start again from scratch. J Murphy & Sons used 7,500m3 of foam concrete to fill the existing northbound tunnel, built in 1838. A nine-metre diameter tunnel boring machine then re-bored the tunnel – taking out concrete, old brickwork and some virgin hillside – to construct a new tunnel 270 metres long, wide enough for two tracks and electrification. (Rail Engineer issue 127, Jay 2015)

“This job was special,” said Mick Boyle, project manager, J Murphy & Sons. “We’ve had a lot of special people. I’m privileged to have worked with them all.”

Ray Rawtron, Murphy’s programme manager, added: “As the winners are chosen by reporters who go on site regularly and see the work we do at first-hand, this was a real honour. Farnworth tunnel has been a challenging but incredibly rewarding scheme, and the team, led by Mick, showed skill and determination on the job.

“I’m privileged to have been part of this important project and to have worked with such a brilliant team, whose achievements have been recognised with this award.”

The refurbishment of Scarborough bridge by Story Contracting, Mabey Bridge and Moore Concrete, was highly commended. (Rail Engineer issue 126, April 2015)

Happy snapper

After six awards, it was time for a break. Over the summer, Rail Engineer had been running a photographic competition specifically for photographs taken on smartphones. With many project reports arriving at the magazine accompanied by such images, it is frustrating that so many of them are unprintable either because the resolution is too low or because there are problems with the image’s definition.

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As Grahame, who frequently has to search for high-quality images to accompany articles in Rail Engineer, said: “Seeing that their phone has a 12-megapixel camera, the same number of pixels as some professional cameras, people think that the results will be good. However, on a smartphone the lens is tiny, frequently dirty, and then the operator has quite often selected a smaller file size to save memory space, reducing the quality of the photo still further.”

So professional photographer Paul Bigland was invited to write an article on how to (and how not to) do it (Rail Engineer issue 129, July 2015). This formed the basis of a competition which attracted 140 entries, most of a high standard.

Paul Bigland had the task of sifting through them to find the winner. He was interested in not only technical quality but also composition. Having rejected an early front-runner because it was actually slightly out-of-focus when viewed on a large screen, he whittled the entry down to a short list of ten, then to three, and finally he came up with the winner.

When it was announced, Network Rail track worker Paul Sheriff was astonished. He knew he was shortlisted, after all his employer had released him to travel down from Inverness for the event, but when his photographs of ‘Footsteps in the Snow’ was shown on the big screen he was quite overcome.

Paul Bigland presented Paul Sheriff with his prize, a KAZAM Tornado 350 smartphone, and he then had his photograph taken with Network Rail managing director of network operations Phil Hufton, who is his boss’ boss’ boss’ boss’ boss’ boss (there may be a boss’ or two missing there). The pair spent some time discussing Paul’s work and his entry, giving him a great story to take back north with him.

Two images were chosen as highly commended, Signal on the Forth Bridge, taken by Mark Woodliff of Siemens Rail Automation, and Heli Air by Lee Clinton of Telent.

Linbrooke and NTRS have a Most Interesting training and development programme.

Battery powered

Then it was back to the MI Awards, as they are colloquially known, and the award for the Most Interesting approach to train operations. To win this award, the judges were looking for the most effective or interesting use of route, rolling stock and crews or the most interesting take on franchising and train operating company management.

The presenter for this award was Peter Darling, HM Inspector of Railways at the Office of Rail and Road, and the winner was the IPEMU Battery Train from Bombardier, Abellio, Future Railway and Network Rail.

Fitting batteries to an electric multiple unit (EMU) allows it to go off the electrified network onto non-electrified branch lines, or into depots, or to carry on working if the infrastructure has failed. Those batteries can be recharged once the train returns to the network. The Independently Powered EMU, a joint project conducted by Network Rail, train owner Abellio and manufacturer Bombardier to prove the concept, was tested in passenger service with excellent results. (Rail Engineer issue 125, March 2015)

James Ambrose, principal engineer at Network Rail, described the project as “a game changer”. “Now we’re actually looking at the battery technology,” he continued. “We’re doing further testing on the battery technology to try and take it through to market. We’re working with DfT, we’re working with all the operators and working with manufacturers to try and achieve that goal.”

A project by Thales to install CBTC signaling on London Underground’s Northern line was highly commended. (Rail Engineer issue 127, May 2015)

Contented neighbours

The award for the Most Interesting community engagement activity followed. “In an industry where most things we do impact on the local community, it is vital to work with that community,” Grahame announced. “Information gathering, forums and public consultation has become the norm now for any major project, but how the information is then delivered to the public can have a huge impact on what the public feel about it.”

Chris Leech, senior corporate adviser – transport sector, Business In The Community, was invited to the stage to present the award. Chris is leading the Station to Station event for the Queen’s 90th Celebration in 2016. The objective of this is simply to demonstrate the Rail Industry as a “force for good” in the UK, by simultaneously replicating the street party celebrations planned for the Mall on 12 June across UK train stations. Rail Media is the official media partners for this event.

Track Partnership, Transport for London and Balfour Beatty working together, was announced as the winner of this category. Over the last two Christmas holidays, Track Partnership renewed track and ballast through one of London Underground’s busiest stations. The overall station public/ workforce segregation was commended by the general station manager as there were no complaints from passengers and no-one in the station was really aware of any works going on, such was the lack of intrusion or disturbance. (Rail Engineer issue 124, February 2015)

Andy Titterton-Fox, project manager, Track Partnership, said: “The project went like clockwork from start to finish. There was a lot of pressure to finish on time, but I’m pleased to say we actually finished ahead of time.”

He added: “There were probably about 200 people per day on site for eight days. It was a complete team effort. It wasn’t just a good plan, it was great delivery. Everyone from top to bottom contributed.”

The Borders Railway, built by BAM Nuttall and others for Transport Scotland, was highly commended. (Rail Engineer issue 131, September 2015)

Big bang!

“Now for a big one, in terms of size of project that is,” was how host Grahame Taylor announced the award for the Most Interesting major infrastructure project.

“What a year it has been in terms of huge projects across the country,” he continued. “The impact that these projects will have on the network will last a lifetime. As the population continues to grow and we see an increasing push on to public transport, we need to ensure that these projects continue and we build a network for the future.”

Andrew Boagey, chairman of the Rail Engineers’ Forum and a judge for the Awards, was a natural choice to make the presentation. He was obviously very pleased to announce that the award went to the team reconstructing Birmingham New Street station, which had been opened by HM The Queen that very morning!

The £600 million overhaul of Birmingham New Street has resulted in a much brighter, bigger and more modern station with lifts and escalators linking all platforms to concourse level for the first time, significantly improving accessibility and passenger flows. Designed to cope with 40,000 to 60,000 passengers a day, the station now handles around 175,000 – 35,000 more than when Network Rail started the refurbishment six years ago. (Rail Engineer issue 129, July 2015)

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Speaking on behalf of the companies involved, Stephen Ashton, engineering director for Atkins, said: “It’s a real compliment to Network Rail, Atkins and Mace who have worked really well together to deliver what is a transformation to a station that really is making a difference to Birmingham as a whole.”

The judges highly commended the project to rebuild Selby Swing Bridge, undertaken by the Kier Group and AMCO. (Rail Engineer issue 120, October 2014)

Real steel

The use of new products is one way to improve how things are done on the railway, so the naming of the Most Interesting new product was eagerly awaited. Danny O’Brien of event sponsor J Murphy & Sons was to present this one.

“A new product can be anything from a widget that saves millions of pounds each year to a new train that drives heightened efficiency,” Grahame explained to a hushed audience. “By designing new products, we keep the industry moving forward, continuing to evolve and keeping up with the changing times.”

As befits such a category, there was a diverse entry list with products which included a whole signalling system (Hitachi), trains powered by fuel cells (Alstom), interfaces between new and legacy systems (Park Signalling), and new insulation for points heaters.

However the winner was a range of high performance rail from Tata Steel. Managing Rolling Contact Fatigue (RCF) is both costly and time-consuming in an industry that has a drive towards lower maintenance costs, shorter maintenance windows and greater track availability. To combat RCF, Tata Steel has produced HP335, a High Performance rail steel with a minimum Brinell hardness of 335HB. 600km of this new rail is now in use, delivering life cycle cost savings which equate to a seven-figure cost saving per year. (Rail Engineer issue 126, April 2015)

Daniel Pyke, Tata Steel’s product marketing manager, said: “The UK rail industry had a real problem with rolling contact fatigue. We responded by developing a piece of rail that is more resistant to that, increasing the rail life, improving the safety and reducing the maintenance. So everybody wins.”

The Oscar Helmet, a new safety helmet for track workers developed and introduced by Colas Rail, was highly commended by the judges. (Rail Engineer issue 127, May 2015)

Bill Merry, strategy and business development director at Awards sponsor Murphy, said: “These awards showcase the very best that the rail industry has to offer. We were proud to sponsor these awards, which recognise innovative technologies, people and projects from across the sector.”

Being innovative

New products shouldn’t be confused with innovation. In introducing the Most Interesting Innovation Award, Grahame Taylor explained that the award was for “an idea or best use of an idea, device, method or process that the editors have seen in the UK Rail Industry in 2015. Innovation is all about thinking outside of the box. Designing something new, innovative and above all useful!”

Ben Parry, East Midlands regional chair of Young Rail Professionals, was called up to make this presentation. As it turned out, it was a local win as RePoint carried the day for Loughborough University.

Modern signalling permits shorter headways, but nodes such as junctions and stations can significantly reduce capacity. Studying the impact of these nodes, Loughborough University asked interested parties what they wanted from a set of points. The answer was instantaneous switching, no maintenance, no failures, no space requirement, zero energy usage, no speed restriction and zero cost. RePoint is the University’s radical new switch design to help meet these needs. (Rail Engineer issue 131, September 2015)

Receiving the award, Roger Dixon, professor of control systems at Loughborough University, said: “It started out as looking at new ways of track switching, taking inspiration from other industries we’ve worked in to see whether we could remove some of the failure modes of track switches and improve the reliability and performance, and enhance the capacity.

“We’re really pleased with the award and we hope it will add also a bit of a trailing wind to helping us get over the next hurdle which is to build that full scale prototype. Over a period of time we came up with a design that was one of many but promising, presented it to industry and industry quite liked it and it kind of moved on from there.”

The Railway Industry Association’s regular series of Unlocking Innovation conferences was highly commended. (Rail Engineer issue 124, February 2015)

And finally…

That just left one award still to be given out, that for the Most Interesting thing we saw in 2015. More of a home for entries that don’t easily fit in any of the other eleven categories than an ‘overall winner’ award, the entries ranged from fire suppression in the Channel Tunnel to rope access inspections.

However, Network Rail’s managing director of Network Operations, Phil Hufton, announced that the winner was…Chris Scott, inventor.

The sense of innovation that characterised the Victorian railway age is not dead. There are still problems for which there are no off-the-shelf solutions. Chris Scott is one of the people who solve those problems, in his case particularly those involving tunnels. These include mobile crash decks, protective workforce shelters, a 10-tonne bogie for transporting materials that ran along the six-foot and an elevating platform for drilling 6,200 holes into Whiteball tunnel.

Quite overcome, first by being nominated and then by actually winning, Chris, whose clients include AMCO, Network Rail, PPS Rail and Innovative Support Systems, said he was “astounded” and humbled by the award.

With Chris being recognized, and applauded by all those present, the formal part of the evening came to an end. There was still plenty of networking to do, much of it alongside the bar, while the more party-minded made for the dance floor. Many even took a ride on the dodgems!

Everyone was complimentary about the evening, commenting that this second running of the Most Interesting Awards had outdone even the previous year’s event in Leicester. Now, they are all looking forward to the 2016 event!