What’s not to like about a DMU gearbox that offers savings in fuel, CO2 and diesel emissions, as well as reduced maintenance costs, so that it can pay for itself in about four years? The answer seems to be that the individual companies concerned do not get the full benefit from these savings and so are not incentivised to replace the current gearboxes.

As we describe this month, this problem was mentioned at the excellent Railway Industry Association’s innovation conference, at which delegates considered procurement and risk aversion to be significant barriers to innovation.

Yet much is being done to support innovation, as was shown at the RIA conference. This includes the way that work package owners are supporting the delivery of the Rail Technical Strategy requirements and various Network Rail initiatives including its revamped product approval process and its rail innovation and development centres.

The recent establishment of the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN) was also described at the conference. This is a collaboration between academia and industry to provide purpose-built centres of excellence to develop new products and technology, for which private rail companies have committed investments totalling £64 million.

Despite this, there is sometimes not the incentive to innovate as with the gearbox example. This can be a problem with train operating franchises that do not last long enough to recoup their investment or innovations that cross the track-train interface. As our conference article describes, this is not such a problem in the electrical supply industry, in which the regulatory system actively encourages innovation.

Thus, it would seem that the ORR and DfT need to consider how a similar regulatory framework to incentivise innovation could be developed for the current rail industry structure.

Undoubtedly, future innovations will require the huge increase in telecommunications data capacity that could be provided by a 5G rail network. Clive Kessell reports from a recent telecommunications industry seminar that considered the mobile operators and equipment provider’s viewpoints, as well as wider business trends, to see what a 5G rollout will entail.

We also have a report from an IMechE conference that considered how to get more capacity and better performance from the current network. In her report, Rebeka Sellick explains the solutions presented at the conference and highlights the work done by the professional institutions to influence Government policy.

One factor reducing rail capacity is that signal spacing must allow for worst-case braking from poor adhesion. This happens when the small contact area between the wheels and the rail, the size of a one penny piece, cannot transmit the huge traction and braking forces involved. RSSB has led tests of additional and variable discharge sanders to find a solution to this problem. Malcolm Dobell explains why this is the biggest advance in adhesion management for years.

Extra capacity was also provided by some of the work undertaken during the Easter holidays. As Nigel Wordsworth reports, 15,800 workers on 3,000 worksites delivered work worth £118 million, all of which was handed back on time. Inevitably, such work affects train services over the holiday period, highlighting the importance of Network Rail working with train operators to minimise the disruption.

Deciding when track must be renewed, or when remedial action is needed, is a complex balance of risk, performance and funding. To support such decisions, Network Rail has developed its Track Decision Support Tool. As Grahame Taylor explains, this brings together data in the company’s various infrastructure databases, presenting it in an intelligible manner to better inform decisions. In addition, the tool will also predict the development of serious track faults.

The three-span 279-metre bridge over the Runcorn Gap is, as Stuart Marsh describes, a stupendous structure that is in need of extensive work, including steelwork and castiron parapet repairs, grit blasting and painting. In his article, Stuart explains how this work required bespoke solutions to take account of wind, tide, passing ships, environmental constraints and tight operational clearances.

A bespoke scaffolding solution was required for the brickwork repairs to Kilsby tunnel’s 20-yard diameter ventilation shafts. Graeme Bickerdike explains the intricacies of its erection and how the tunnel’s extrawide shafts were required to assuage the predictions of doom-mongers that it would be impossible to breathe in newfangled railway tunnels.

Today’s doom-mongers are concerned about the impact HS2 will have on the environment. Yet, as Lesley Brown has been finding out, the project’s sustainable approach will deliver an improved ecological outcome and its BREEAM certification gives an independent assurance that sustainability is in HS2’s DNA.

Some feel that HS2 is not required as hyperloop is just around the corner. Gareth Dennis debunks this myth in an article explaining why it is not a credible transport system despite its impressive engineering. Instead, hyperloop is an experiment, largely funded by Silicon Valley billionaires, which generates potentially harmful glossy publicity claiming that railways are an outdated mode of transport.

Whilst this may beguile those who do not look beyond the hype, the reality is that steel-wheel rail will continue to benefit the world for many years to come.

Read more: Read the May issue of Rail Engineer here