It isn’t difficult to compare a modern trade exhibition to a butterfly. At 18:00 on the day before the show opens, all is a mess. Stands are still being built, areas of carpet are unlaid, aisles are full of packing cases and trolleys of all shapes and sizes, the lighting is harsh and people dressed in a variety of suits, jeans and high-viz are everywhere.

By 09:00 on the following morning, the ugly chrysalis has turned into a butterfly. All is calm and tidy, the floor coverings are immaculate, bright spotlights highlight colourful exhibits and, apart from a bit of last-minute arranging of leaflets and small products, all is ready. The most pressing question seems to be: “Where’s the coffee?”

And so it was for Infrarail 2016, held at London ExCeL in mid-April. Infrarail is the railway infrastructure show, which takes place in even-numbered years. The larger Railtex, which includes rolling stock as well as infrastructure, takes place in odd-numbered years at Birmingham’s NEC. Both are organised by St Albans-based Mack Brooks Exhibitions.

Move to ExCeL

London’s Docklands is changing almost daily. A mix of expensive and expansive office buildings (Canary Wharf) and hardly-developed wasteland, it has its own airport – London City – and its own railway, the Docklands Light Railway (DLR).

It also has its own exhibition centre. ExCeL London (be careful of the capitalisation) was opened in November 2000 and now belongs to the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Company. The building basically consists of two huge halls, North and South, which can each be subdivided up into 11 parts.

Since the last Infrarail show in 2014, the UK’s national railway industry exhibition had become homeless with Earls Court being demolished for a housing development. However, ExCeL was a suitable replacement and is actually no stranger to railway shows, having housed Railtex 2007 before that show moved, first to Earls Court, and then to NEC Birmingham.

The industry responded well to the move. Stand reservations were 12 per cent up on the previous show and pre-bookings by visitors held their own too. Hotels in the area, and there are several of them on-site, sold out.

On opening day, the halls looked bright and airy, there were plenty of coffee shops and catering stands in the main concourse between all the halls, and both exhibitors and visitors could arrive at the show using two DLR stations, one at each end of the building. The few doubters were swiftly silenced.

On show

But the reason for going was not to admire the venue but to be updated with all that is new and interesting in the railway industry. Infrarail’s specialisation in infrastructure was quickly apparent. Rather than huge mock-ups of trains, there were stands showing signalling, level crossings, geotextiles, soil nails, platforms, drains and all of the other stuff without which the railway would soon grind to a halt.

There were project stands from both Crossrail and HS2, exhibits by professional bodies such as the PWI, IET and IMechE (Permanent Way Institution, Institution of Engineering and Technology, Institution of Mechanical Engineers), and even a co-located Civil Infrastructure & Technology Exhibition (CITE), which could be distinguished by its red carpet.

The show was opened by ‘Rail Minister’ Claire Perry, MP for Devizes and officially a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport (Rail Minister is a bit shorter!). She joined Mack Brooks chairman Stephen Brooks and Railway Industry Association director general Jeremy Candfield in welcoming the first of around 6,500 visitors to Infrarail and CITE.

Following a quick tour of the show’s exhibits, Claire Perry was back for the first day’s keynote speech. Asked if she would take questions afterwards, she replied that the questions were often the most interesting part of the session. However, after having stressed the Government’s commitment to the railway industry and having praised the innovation and dedication shown by the supply chain, the only questions she received were on ticket prices and services. Not exactly the subject of an infrastructure show, but then hardly unexpected either.

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The Minister’s keynote address was one of three over the course of the show, one on each day, all organised and hosted by Rail Engineer. The second day’s ‘volunteer’ was Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy, who gave an entertaining speech to a packed seminar theatre, drawing from his experience at Transport for London and comparing it with his latest job, which he described as only part-time – four days a week – as he eases towards retirement. Anyone who has seen Sir Peter at work, and the energy he pours into his role, will quickly see that he isn’t ‘easing’ anywhere.

The reclassification of Network Rail as a public sector body has caused the organisation to change its view on how projects are planned and funded. Sir Peter referred to this both in his speech and in answering a question afterwards. Asked whether Network Rail would be doubling-up some of the single track railways around the country as demands on capacity grow, he replied that he would be delighted to, so long as someone paid for it. If there was a viable business case for such an upgrade, money would be found. If there wasn’t, then it wouldn’t. Simple.

David Waboso, London Underground’s director of capital programmes, came along on Thursday and gave delegates a whistle-stop tour of all of the work currently being carried out on the network. David will be leaving LU in June to take up the post of head of Digital Railway at Network Rail, so his appearance was very topical.

In fact, it was almost as though the keynote speakers were planned. On Tuesday, Claire Perry talked about the Hendy Report. On Wednesday Sir Peter Hendy, author of that report, mentioned he was soon to be joined at Network Rail by David Waboso, who duly spoke on Thursday. Take a bow, the programme organiser.

Seminars and discussions

The technical seminar programme, organised by Rail Engineer, gave visitors to Infrarail the chance to hear all about the latest developments from the ‘horse’s mouth’ – the engineers which developed them.

The programme stretched over all three days of the show and was extremely varied. In keeping with the modern, high-tech railway, a lot was about electrical power and electronics. Thomas Schaad of ABB spoke on Innovation in Electrification and Automation, Chris Harris of Tratos chose Cables for a Digital Railway as his topic, TE Connectivity’s Mario Appello explained how to choose materials for marking cables to meet current fire standards and then Beth Dean, Reaction to Fire technical specialist at Exova Warringtonfire, explained recent changes in train fire safety requirements and the testing to go alongside them – for all materials and not just cables. Beth’s talk sparked off an interesting Q&A session, with the audience even arguing amongst themselves. And all of that was just on the first day!

On the second day, following Sir Peter Hendy’s keynote address, Steve Roberts, engineering director of Unipart Rail, outlined the concept of Zero Maintenance Technology, particularly as it applies to LED signal heads. Korec’s Matthew Lock spoke about cost-effective monitoring solutions to detect movement in structures and earthworks.

Next up was David Short of Wireless CCTV who explained how body-worn camera systems could assist with security on the railway and also prove that procedures were being followed. Lastly, Arnaud du Grand Placitre spoke for Fimor on how the use of under-sleeper pads could significantly reduce track maintenance costs, giving examples from their successful implementation in France. Interestingly, Arnaud’s presentation spawned the most active Q&A session of the day as he covered aspects such as recycling of spent sleepers.

The third day’s session followed David Waboso’s address. Pascal Grosjean explained how Setec could bring its expertise to bear to both assist and temper the design process for high-speed lines to make it more compatible with the environment. Tata Steel’s Daniel Pyke described how the use of advanced technology materials and coatings can extend rail life in critical applications, and Martin Orman followed that with a look at Whitmore Rail’s applicators for the lubrication of both plain line and S&C.

In the same seminar theatre, between Rail Engineer’s technical seminars, there was a series of project update reports, delivered by the project teams themselves. Operations director Howard Smith described how the Crossrail project is already planning for train operations while Thameslink’s principal programme sponsor Nick Gray looked at how the project will transform north-south travel across London.

Jonathan Ferry, who is construction procurement director for HS2, explained the high-speed railway’s procurement plans as a ‘new’ client, and he was followed by Roy Freeland of the Rail Supply Group talking about the RSG’s strategy for productivity and growth in the UK. Southeastern managing director David Statham finished off the project updates for the second day by discussing how the train operator is working to create a better passenger experience while accommodating the major rebuilding work at London Bridge.

There were two industry briefings on the third day of Infrarail. Firstly, David Hoggarth, director, Rail North, explained how developments in the North were good examples of Devolution in Action. He was followed by RSSB’s John Abbott, who talked on supplier assurance and how it could be dovetailed with a strong health and safety policy.

The seminar theatre also played host to The Platform, a series of panel discussions, one on each day, on critical topics that are important to the industry. Skills and Training, Supply Chain Engagement and Infrastructure Planning were the topics this year and all were well attended and provoked lively debate.

All change

But the serried ranks of exhibition stands were what the visitors flocked to ExCeL to see. There were 242 exhibitors, including those in the CITE area, some in small shell-scheme stands and others with more elaborate constructions.

Tata Steel was making its last appearance under that name. The day before Infrarail opened it was announced that a Sale and Purchase Agreement had been signed with family investment office Greybull Capital, offering a future for the 4,800 strong workforce of the Long Products Europe business, of which the rail mills in Scunthorpe and Hayange are part, potentially to be renamed as ‘British Steel’. The purchase may be finalised before the end of June.

On its display were HP335 rail, for improved wear and rolling contact fatigue resistance to reduce grinding, the SilentTrack® tuned rail damper system to reduce noise levels by 3-6dB(A) to help comply with noise legislation, Zinoco® – the most durable system available to combat rail corrosion and a modular platform from Tata Steel Projects, designed to provide shorter construction times and better sustainability with improved health and safety.

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The modular platform was actually adjacent to two lengths of track which Tata had provided for the On-Track Display, a facility also used by Rosehill Rail, Sperry and several other exhibitors.

Keynote speaker and Rail Minister Claire Perry MP visited the stand as part of her tour. She talked to the team about her thoughts on future support from the Government for key infrastructure projects and Government support in general for the steel industry.

Another piece of news which broke at the show was the forming of a joint venture between Tarmac and Max Bögl to deliver a new slab track system specifically for high-speed rail applications in the UK. Tarmac is the UK’s leading sustainable building materials and construction solutions company and Max Bögl is the largest privately-owned infrastructure engineering company in Germany. The new JV draws upon Tarmac’s expertise and manufacturing capability for the UK rail industry and combines this with Max Bögl’s extensive experience of working on high-speed projects.

The JV had one shared stand at Infrarail, showing off Max Bögl’s slab track system. Max Bögl director Johann Holzinger, said: “The UK is a new market for us and we wanted to align ourselves to a company that can fully support our vision and values. We see the UK High-speed rail market as a key growth area and felt compelled to place ourselves into contention for future projects.”

Hi-tech on show

The show contained another shared stand, this one combining Gai-Tronics, Cisco and Telent. It showcased the ability of Telent’s MICA station management system to integrate with call managers, such as Cisco’s CUCM, and hence provide management and monitoring of GSM-R, legacy telephony (POTS) and IP (SIP) Gai-Tronics help points.

Of particular interest at Infrarail was the MICA integration of audio messaging, CCTV and the green ‘Samaritans’ help point that Gai-Tronics had on show. Demonstrating the ability to automatically detect unusual behaviours, and bring a view of that area to the attention of staff who can then trigger a suitable announcement out of the help point or PA system, proved very popular.

Also on display was a complete IP-based on-train communication system. Integrating Gai-Tronics’ new IP audio communication units (crew communications, driver to crew, PA and call for aid) with a Cisco network and Telent’s PIS (Passenger Information System) showed how companies can work together to give a powerful, total solution for fleet managers and engineers.

Technology was also a feature of Red CCTV’s stand. Fastmast combines a telescopic mast topped by CCTV cameras, solar-power and battery energy supplies and wireless communication into an observation point that can be deployed almost anywhere. Representatives of Network Rail, Irish Rail and principal contractors visited the Red CCTV stand throughout the show and, it is reported, two contracts have already been placed as a direct result of the Infrarail display.

Many more technology companies had their products on display. Westermo had a variety of data communication equipment on show while Socomec displayed uninterruptable power supplies. Dorman Unipart and Park Signalling, now part of the same group, showed off different aspects of signalling while Henry Williams and FT Transformers concentrated more on Class II switchgear, power supplies and transformers.

All this technology needs cables. Prysmian, Goldwing and Tratos were displaying the cables themselves, Flexicon showcased cable protection systems and Emtelle explained how to ‘blow’ cables under roads and railway lines. Flexicon’s Colin Legg was very positive: “We had a busy show with some great quality discussions on the customer benefits of our new product – Flexicon Ultra™ for rail applications. Customer feedback was very positive and the show was a great opportunity to network and catch up with new and existing contacts.”

Infrarail enabled Tratos to showcase its latest approved fibre-optic dual fire barrier cable and also to present ‘Cables for Digital Railways’ at the Rail Engineer technical seminar theatre. This seminar provided Tratos with the opportunity to raise awareness and understanding of the UK Digital Railway Programme and particular interest was shown in the company’s bespoke composite copper and optical-fibre cables.

Wrexham Mineral Cables is the only producer in the United Kingdom of Mineral Insulated Copper Cabling (MICC) which, the company claims, is the only real fire survival cabling to be found in the market. MICC is used to power critical electrical items such as sprinklers, lighting, air-extraction and elevators, all of which need to continue to operate while people try to escape a fire. The numerous visitors to the stand gave credence to the old adage: “ Safety isn’t expensive, it’s priceless”.

Harting was one of a number of companies displaying and demonstrating a wide range of plugs, sockets and other connectors for all of these cables, particularly for railway bandwidth expansion and inter-car jumper cables.

The Cable Services Group stocks and supplies both cable and cable accessories to the domestic and international markets, sourced from a select number of leading product manufacturers from various UK locations. Infrarail offered the perfect platform to target the rail infrastructure market and generated over 100 leads from contractors to design engineers and project buyers, many of which were not aware of the services the company provides.

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Safety first

Many stands had an element of safety and risk-prevention included in their displays. Security, CCTV, handrails and safety at height were all on show.

PPE (personal protective equipment) is often thought as being just high-viz orange suits and steel toe-capped boots. But one look at the range of items, fits and materials at Infrarail would soon dispel that myth.

Bodyguard was displaying its new Gore-Tex range as well as an all-important innovative Eco Vest which has been recycled from plastic bottles to offer sustainable workwear. Sounds like an industry first!

Stand staff claimed that feedback from visitors at shows such as Infrarail gives them valuable insight when developing the next range of protective clothing. This year there was a range of clothing developed and tailored especially for women – a response to complaints from the female workforce.

ARCO had picked up on the same idea, of having a specialist range for women. It had also developed a new way of distributing PPE using vending solutions. If you need a new pair of gloves, just get it from a vending machine!

In a more high-tech vein, Schweizer was showing its Minimel Lynx mobile track warning system, ideal for patrolling and short worksites, as well as its new enhanced user-worked level crossing system.

Making tracks

Trains run on tracks, so it’s not surprising that a host of companies were involved in this segment.

Tata Steel (or British Steel?) has already been mentioned and will shortly no longer be part of the worldwide Tata group. Speaking after his technical seminar presentation, rail specialist Daniel Pyke was pleased that a conclusion was being reached and confident that it would reassure the company’s workforce.

However, another large steel producer was at Infrarail for the first time. ArcelorMittal Europe Long Products is one of the key business units of ArcelorMittal. Employing 10,700 people with about 12 million tonnes of steel shipped each year and a total of 23 plants in 10 countries. Simon Cottam, UK area manager, commented: “Infrarail was an important opportunity to showcase our products and services and was also a fantastic forum to meet our customers. The exhibition facilitated meetings with key specialists within the industry and, as a result, an agreement was signed with Alphatek Hyperformance Coatings Limited.”

Representatives of Linsinger were on hand to discuss the merits of rail milling in restoring rail profile, while Spikefast, on the DWG stand, is used for repairing damaged sleepers. Whitmore Rail supplies both lubricants and applicators to manage friction between rail and wheel while Sekisui manufactures synthetic sleepers made from plastic.

On its large stand, Rosehill Rail had its complete range of modular rubber rail crossing systems on display, as well as a video wall showing life-size video of how quick and simple the systems are to install. Reflecting on a busy show, UK sales manager Wayne Hutton said: “From the conversations we’ve had over the three days, it’s clear that the continued focus on improving efficiency and reliability, tighter budgets and minimising disruption are driving the demand for our innovative crossing systems.”

He continued: “The video wall showed visitors just how quickly and easily our systems can be installed. Our customers can now install a 10.8 metre road rail access point (RRAP) in less than 90 minutes.”

GrayBar point heater systems were on show at Infrarail. Over a successful three days, company representatives were also able to introduce prospective customers to a new range of innovative trackside GRP signalling, points and axle-counting disconnection technologies.

Steps and platforms

Dura Composites seemed to have a complete railway station on its stand. “We came up with an innovative train station stand concept built entirely from our own composite materials which generated a lot of buzz and interest,” commented Richard Palmer, rail sector sales manager. “We’ve already secured some great orders and have several new opportunities in the pipeline for Dura Platform, Dura Cladding, our brand new Structural Stair Treads and our FRP Dagger Boards, making this an extremely worthwhile event.

“We found that Infrarail 2016 attracted a high calibre of attendees from a wide range of organisations with real-world challenges which our composite solutions are ideally placed to help solve, and we look forward to building on our success at Infrarail over the coming year.”

Stair tread specialist AATI also successfully displayed products for stations. “We had TOCs (train operators) East Midlands, Abellio and DLR who all wish to trial our products,” said a delighted Robin Oxborough. “TFL and Crossrail also visited regarding new and previous projects.”

Many station components, as well as those for other elements of the railway’s infrastructure, need corrosion protection. Wedge Group Galvanizing had the stand facing the seminar theatre so that helped bring interested visitors along to see what was on offer.

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Not only technology

All aspects of the railway industry were represented at Infrarail, and that included show media partner Rail Media. A busy (and very pink!) stand attracted a lot of attention as befits the industry’s largest and most active publishing and events company. Editors, reporters, sales staff and awards-event and conference organisers were all on hand and there always seemed someone ready to ask a question or look for more information.

Rail Engineer, the industry technical magazine with by-far the largest readership, was running the technical seminar programme while staff from (otherwise known as the Railway People people) were manning the show’s Recruitment Wall, which was perpetually busy.

Catering was represented as well, and Express Catering had a hugely successful Infrarail 2016. With 30 strong enquiries for catering over the next 18 months, staff were simply swept away with potential clients and a two-month 24/7 booking in central London is already close to confirmation.

The most exciting thing for those on the stand was to keep hearing “this is a great idea” and “we need this!” – referring to what is believed to be the first full rail-site catering one-stop package.

A success

The CITE co-located show was also well attended and received. Some familiar names amongst the exhibitors showed the sense in combining railway engineering and civil engineering into what was, essentially, one exhibition. Aspin Group, Erlau, Fuchs Lubricants, Mabey Hire, SCCS, and Platipus Anchors all work in the rail sector, and no-doubt so did many of their visitors at ExCeL.

Exhibition manager Kirsten Whitehouse was very satisfied with the result of her team’s hard work. “In terms of both visitor numbers and exhibitor support, this year’s combined event fully met our expectations,” she told Rail Engineer afterwards. “Any initial concerns about the move to ExCeL London turned into warm approval for the venue. There was also welcome positive feedback from exhibitors and visitors confirming that CITE was an important part of the overall event.”

So now it is time to start planning for Infrarail’s big brother. Railtex 2017 will be back at the NEC Birmingham for three days, 9-11 May 2017. Many stand spaces have already been allocated and it should be another bumper event.

Photos: High Viz Media.