Rail Vehicle Enhancements (RVE), the rolling stock industry’s annual components and systems show, moved to a new venue for 2017 and attracted more exhibitors and visitors in the process.

Rail Engineer reports on this exhibition each year. It had previously been held at Derby’s Riverside Centre, but it was obvious to regular visitors that it was getting a little cramped. For 2017, show organiser Onyxrail decided to move to larger premises and, on 5 October, a large number of people visited Derby Arena, the city’s new velodrome, adjacent to Derby County’s football ground in Pride Park.

Derby Arena is much bigger than the former venue, with space for the exhibition in the cycle track’s infield, a raked seating area for the conference, and a mezzanine space used by the Department for International Trade East Midlands (DIT) for a Meet the Buyer event, funded by the Midlands Engine. By, the way, if you’ve never been to a velodrome, but have seen the banked track on TV, I can assure you that it looks much steeper in real life!

The exhibition was opened by the Mayor of Derby. There were 80 exhibitors, and nine conference speakers. It was impossible to get around them all and visit the conference, so this is a highly selective report about the stands and the presentations that struck a chord with me.

Sell them off abroad

It has become traditional that Ian Walmsley, formerly of Porterbrook Leasing and now a regular contributor to another railway magazine, opens the conference with his usual round up of the market for enhancing vehicles. This year was no exception, although his usual wicked sense of humour was a little muted because this market “lives in interesting times” as the apocryphal Chinese curse would have it. He summed it up in five words “Enhancement or the Scrap Line”.

Despite a number of reports from organisations that should be well informed, it has become increasingly difficult/impossible to forecast the demand for used or refurbished rolling stock – “all those reports, always wrong”, he said. It seems that the quality score in the franchise process arising from new rolling stock trumps premium payments. Moreover, new rolling stock and its financing has never been cheaper, encouraging franchise bidders to offer new trains. Thus, thousands of electric vehicles from the 1980s could be destined for the scrap heap.

Ian suggested a solution, based on the time when the UK exported redundant locomotives and coaches (for example EM2 1500V locos to the Netherlands, MkII coaches to New Zealand and Pacers to Iran) called Project Electra. He suggested that the rail vehicle enhancement industry might buy some of these redundant vehicles, refurbish them and sell them abroad. Was he being serious? I don’t know, but I saw members of the audience nodding wisely as if a sea change was happening in owners’ willingness to invest so that existing fleets might compete more readily.

Innovation is key

Simon Evans, from Wabtec Faiveley, talked about the need for his company to innovate in the vehicle support area. In the UK, it faces a “cliff edge” in passenger rolling stock work as it ruses to complete modifications by the 2020 deadline which has been set by the DfT for compliance with the Technical Specification for Interoperability – People of Reduced Mobility.

He also talked about some innovations, including fitting powered sliding bodyside doors to MkIII carriages and the work to fit diesel engines to Class 319 electric sets, giving them bi-mode capability. Simon foresaw that UK rail will never be fully electrified and there will always be a demand for bi-mode trains, and the self-powered capability might not always be diesel. He also reminded the audience that new trains become old trains in time and will always need support.

On show

Back to the exhibition, and I think it is no exaggeration to say that there was a representative company of any activity that might be undertaken to enhance a train ranging from the highly technical (such as networks) to non-technical (insurance broker Jobson James Rail). A selection follows.

Connected trains: This is probably the fastest moving area of train technology. It doesn’t matter how old the train is, customers expect Wi-Fi and operators want data from the train’s data recorders.

Several companies offered equipment for installing or upgrading Ethernet backbones to trains and the various devices that connect to it – switches, antennae, servers.

At my first RVE, suppliers suggested that Gigabit (1 gigabit/sec) capable Ethernet was the coming thing. Now it’s all about future proofing at least the cabling by providing 10 Gigabit, generally in copper. Onyxrail, Westermo, Lütze, Harting, UR Group, Time 24 and LPA were amongst the companies offering Ethernet components, connectors or solutions.

On train systems: Hasler Rail, Televic Rail, KeTech, Knorr Bremse, Sella Controls, EKE Electronics make a whole smörgåsbord of sub-systems that use or rely on Ethernet and Wi-Fi, including passenger information systems, data recorders, and, increasingly, sensors and applications that aggregate data from these sensors and other systems. As Jan Richard of Hasler Rail put it, “we are in the age of the Internet of Things Trains”.

It’s also important not to forget the lineside systems that support communication to and from the train, which is ADComms’ specialism. I noticed particularly that full colour LCD displays have largely replaced LED displays for internal applications and there is now a reasonable range of long, narrow LCD displays that generally suit train interiors.

Arrowvale, famous for its On-Train Data Recorders (other names and acronyms available), was demonstrating a small, prototype box designed to monitor passenger comfort.

Just 140mm x 70mm x 50mm, it is intended to monitor temperature, humidity, light level, CO2 and vibration. The device can be powered by the train or have its own internal battery. As ever, once installed, the challenge is to turn the data it supplies into useful information – for example comparing vibration data between all cars on a train or over a whole fleet to identify rough riding trains, or indeed, gross track defects.

Decoration: Long gone are the days when trains were painted by coach painters with decoration by expert sign writers. Today, companies such as Ast Transport Branding say effectively: “If you can draw it, we can make it into printed film for a livery.” Moreover, they can apply it more quickly than it would take to paint the train.

Aura Graphics offers a complete refurbishment process whether paint or film. Forbo Flooring offered a range of materials ranging from classic lino (linoleum) though to quality carpets. I was particularly impressed with the specialist materials for entrance materials and by the Flotex Vision FR material, which looks like lino from a distance but has an upright pile and can be “printed” to almost any design.

Nuts and bolts: There have been a number of major incidents where at least one of the causal factors was nuts or bolts that were not properly tight. Staytite was showing its Hardlock two-part lock nut solution. The main nut is fitted with a short cone. The locking nut has a cup that fits the cone, but is off-centre to the threaded hole. When the lock nut is tightened to the right torque it binds on the main nut and will stay put, as a demonstration on the stand clearly showed.

Meanwhile, on the Hytorc stand, there was a demonstration of how to tighten a large nut to 500NM torque using comparatively compact power tools whilst an assistant holds a very short torque reaction lever. This involves a two-part concentric socket on the tool, the outer part of which interlocks with a washer between the nut and the part being secured. This washer is serrated on the face that mates with the part. The outside of the socket is held stationary whilst the inside part mates with the nut and builds up the torque. This process avoids the use of reaction fixtures that can damage the bolts and prevent the bolted joint seating properly.

Windscreen wipers: One of my very earliest jobs was to convert a really bad windscreen wiper system to use a sprung arm and a flexible blade. Hepworth Group and PSV Wipers were displaying their products, which have to cope with much bigger windscreens and higher speeds, have to have wash wipe systems and might even respond automatically to moisture on the screen. PSV made the point that wiper systems are getting bigger by displaying a two metre long blade on its stand, although they admitted that there is no current application for something this big. Today, even windscreen wipers are required to integrate to train Ethernet system to monitor, for example washer fluid levels, further increasing the complexity of what was once a very simple system.

Electronics faults and obsolescence: Referring again to “new trains will become old trains”, electronic trains will increasingly have faults and obsolescence issues that will need specialist electronics engineers. Amongst the exhibitors, Wabtec and SET both offer these services, the latter illustrating its capability with a number of case studies including work on frequency division multiplexing racks, IGBT (Insulated-Gate Bipolar Transistor) obsolescence and failure and automatic voltage regulators.

Lubrication: At the Certas Energy stand, I picked up a leaflet describing the benefits of reviewing the lubricants that are used in diesel engines with a case study illustrating how the use of Valvoline Premium Blue engine oil allowed Bombardier to change the frequency of oil changes from 36 days to 48 days. It also improved the engine wear properties on the Cummins QSK19R engines fitted to the Voyager DEMUs.

Meeting the buyers

Meanwhile, the Meet the Buyer event was doing great business. It was open to any to any UK registered company, and 114 companies registered; a great improvement on 2016.

The DIT had secured buyers from Alstom, CAF, Eurostar, Hitachi, MTR Tech Sweden, ÖBB Austria, SBB Switzerland and Siemens, providing a cross section of opportunities from federal operators to OEMs. Some 76 companies were selected for appointments, of which there were nearly 200 scheduled for the day.

The 14 booths for these short, 20-minute appointments provided valuable opportunities for face-to-face conversations and aimed to develop export opportunities for the UK’s rolling stock supply chain. In addition, DIT commercial officers leading on rail from South Africa, Nigeria and Austria conducted meeting programmes supporting companies interested in developing activity in these markets.

At the end of a busy day, Antxon de la Fuente from CAF said: “This was a perfectly organized meet the buyer event in Derby. It helps developing our supply chain in the UK, and is a starting point to work with new suppliers.”

Gustav Sjöberg from MTR Tech Sweden added: “The event was a good way to establish a contact and understanding of new potential suppliers that I could choose based on current interests.”

Alstom’s Tim Ward said they had met 28 suppliers in one day with well-planned and managed meetings “reinforcing existing relationships and making new connections. This was a very effective way of doing business”.

Parts list

Back to the conference, and Lee Barron from Siemens talked about the refurbishment of the 51 Class 185 diesel multiple units, currently all used by First Trans Pennine Express.

The following list of changes neatly illustrates how expectations have changed in just 10 years:

  • Auto passenger counting (Infodev);
  • Power sockets – one per pair of seats;
  • LED lighting;
  • Automatic selective door opening;
  • Additional passenger information screens;
  • Wi-Fi including Ethernet backbone and media servers;
  • External film livery plus roof repaint;
  • Interior refresh including new seat cushions and upholstery (flat cloth in standard and e-leather in first class);
  • LED headlights;
  • Driver advisory system;
  • Forward and rear facing CCTV.

Lee was especially pleased that they have reduced the production time to nine days.

For the fleet, some large quantities of materials have been required:

  • Enough external livery film to fill two football pitches;
  • Over 6,500m2 internal film and nearly 25,000 labels from Aura;
  • 7,400m2 of Axminster carpet;
  • Nearly 6,400 power sockets from TBM;
  • Over 12,000m of electrical cable for Wi-Fi and power sockets;
  • 1,275 tables from Baker Bellfield;
  • Over 1,300m2 of curtains from Richmond Interior Supplies.

In addition, Lee highlighted the success of the seats, which were refurbished by Diamond Seating of Sheffield. They used the existing frames but fitted new cushions and upholstery. It took 50 tests and over a year to demonstrate compliance with the fire requirements and the refurbishment used more than 6,700m2 of flat cloth from Camira of Huddersfield and nearly 1,500m2 of E-leather, not-surprisingly from E-Leather of Peterborough.

Refurbishment challenges

Tim Burleigh from Eversholt Rail gave a presentation about the current landscape from a ROSCO point of view. Tim echoed some of Ian Walmsley’s thoughts, saying that, in his 14 years in the industry, he had not known of such a period of change on so many fronts – volatility of passenger numbers and uncertainty over infrastructure enhancements which has led to “significantly reduced EMU cascade opportunities”. He thought that a refurbished train can still be sold, provided it is not specified (and priced) too close to that of new trains.

He added, though, that there are few, if any, places outside London that can absorb a “London-sized” fleet. He illustrated the work on the Class 321 Renatus project, where Eversholt has split the interior work, which is being carried out by Wabtec, from the work to replace the traction package and motors being carried out by Kiepe Electric.

Tim concluded that large new fleet builds and Network Rail enhancement delays have had a far-reaching impact. However, he ended on a positive note that enhancement programmes are delivering tangible benefits and new opportunities continue to emerge, but these will only succeed if focussed on efficient delivery of capacity.

Looking forward

In conclusion, whilst this is a challenging time for the rail vehicle enhancement sector, the general mood of the event was optimistic. Kevin Lane and his team at Onyxrail are to be congratulated on taking on the much greater risk with the larger venue. I thought that the event was a great success and there is still room to grow. Here’s to next year; put the date in your diary – 4 October 2018.


This article was written by Malcolm Dobell.


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