First staged in 1994, Infrarail is firmly established as Britain’s leading showcase for every aspect of railway infrastructure, technology and expertise, with a strong reputation for attracting visiting managers, engineers and buyers at the highest level.

Organised every other year by St Albans-based Mack Brooks exhibitions (which also organises Railtex in the in-between years), the 2018 show was the 12th Infrarail and the second to be held at London’s ExCeL following the closure of its previous home at Earls Court.

Although it is primarily a trade exhibition, Infrarail is more than that. It is also the UK’s largest rail networking event, as over 6,000 of the industry’s movers and shakers get together in one location, and its primary rail conference, with 41 speakers appearing in two seminar theatres over three days.

The list of those speakers was indeed impressive. It included the Secretary of State for Transport, the chief engineer of Network Rail, the managing director of Digital Railway, a director of HS2, the managing director of Balfour Beatty and the chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group.

RIA CEO Darren Caplan.

RIA CEO Darren Caplan.

Opening

Following rain the day before, Infrarail opened in sunshine on the first day of summer – May Day, Tuesday 1 May. The show looked impressive, clean tidy and colourful, as the first visitors were admitted. A wide variety of stands and displays awaited them, with exhibitors anxious to greet them.

The first formal activity was the Opening Ceremony. Mack Brooks chairman Stephen Brooks welcomed visitors and also introduced Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA). After extending his own welcome, he spoke on a variety of topics, including the recent Oxford Economics report “The Economic Contribution of UK Rail” which RIA had commissioned. It examines the contribution of railway-related activity to the UK economy, which it values at £36.4 billion annually and supports nearly 600,000 jobs.

Although he supported the funding of £48 billion that has already been promised for the upcoming control period (CP6 – 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2024), Darren was more concerned with the smoothness of that funding and avoiding what he termed the phenomenon of “boom and bust”. He explained: “At the start of control periods, funding goes up, towards the end it goes down, that means teams get disbanded, SMEs go out of business, and it costs more to renew the railway.”

Darren’s proposal was to get everyone together, the Department for Transport, Network Rail, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) and the supply sector, to smooth out the boom and bust system. “We pretty much all support five-year control periods,” he continued. “How can we eradicate boom and bust? It mustn’t be beyond the wit of man – let’s have that discussion.”

Jon Shaw, Network Rail’s chief engineer, admitted to being ‘very old’ (he graduated in 1994) and to remembering the very first Infrarail. However, he believed that the 2018 event was the most relevant, the most exciting and the most crucial. “We’re going into a new control period,” he explained, “but we’re going into that with escalating costs in signalling and electrification, we’ve got petabytes of data which we need to turn into intelligence, but we need to increase capacity, and to make sure we have a right-time railway, and that means zero service-affecting failures.

“But, in addition to that, we have connected passengers, informed travellers, who require constant communications as we move forward. We also, obviously, need a sustainable railway, but one which is resilient to the extremes in weather that we are now starting to see and which will only increase.”

Having listed the challenges for the future as he saw them, Jon passed the meeting back to Stephen Brooks who formally declared Infrarail open.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling.

Export opportunities

Just over an hour later, and the crowds were back at the Rail Engineer Seminar Theatre for the day’s keynote speech. Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, Secretary of State for Transport, would be speaking on Increased Investment for the Railway of the Future. The seats quickly filled up and soon there were a couple of hundred people standing in the aisles to hear what he had to say.

“It’s great to be here, great to see such numbers here today, and great to be at what is a highlight of the rail calendar,” he started. “No better place to take the pulse of the industry, to find out how business is going for the supply chain, and to see some really innovative new technologies around.”

He then went on to talk about the Government’s strategy for the railway, to invest for the benefit of passengers and freight users. He reiterated the Government’s commitment to the railway, and to its industry both at home and abroad. But he also set the supply chain a challenge. “If there are opportunities out there where government can make a difference, we won’t know how to help you unless you come and tell us how we can help you. So you must regard the door of my department, the door of the Department of International Trade, as being open to you to come and say ‘Please, we can do something here, help us.’ And if you ask us, we will do everything we can to make sure we do.

“There is great opportunity around the world. There are opportunities wherever you look. There are many other countries fighting for that business. I want this country to win more and more of it and I want to work with you to do that.

“It’s a time for real transformation, it’s a time when we need to get the railway really operating as one joined-up industry, and it’s time we really worked together to shape a strong, high-tech, effective, efficient, safe, modern railway as well as a thriving industry we can take around the world as a great British success story.”

After taking some questions from the floor, the Secretary of State left for a conducted tour of the show, visiting several exhibitors and seeing what they had to offer.

For the rest of the day, exhibitors made presentations in the Rail Engineer Seminar Theatre, introducing visitors to some cutting-edge technology. David McGorman of Instrumentel, now a Unipart company, spoke of the condition-based supply chain. Trevor Burton of Fugro Rail Data explained how to survey routes at line speed and Patrick Childs described the development and introduction of Sekisui Chemicals’ synthetic railway sleepers.

Rounding off a busy day, BMT’s Mark Whiteway spoke on asset management, Ian Poulett described how Siemens is improving wireless communications and Iqbal Johal of the Galvanisers Association reminded delegates how hot dip galvanising can protect steel structures for half a century or more.

Digital Railway managing director David Waboso.

Digital Railway managing director David Waboso.

Enhanced knowledge

While all that was going on in the Rail Engineer Seminar Theatre, a separate programme of talks was taking place in the Knowledge Hub, organised by the Railway Industry Association (RIA). Network Rail’s managing director of the Digital Railway, David Waboso, explained what the Digital Railway actually is – and what it isn’t. It’s about the command and control systems of the main line railway, it’s not about ticketing or smart infrastructure.

David then looked ahead to CP6. Because it’s a train integration programme, the process starts with train fitment. A significant number of trains are already fitted or enabled with this technology, and the skill now is to match that up with a resignalling programme to start to get a digital railway.

Other speakers in the Knowledge Hub on the first day included Steve Featherstone, Network Rail’s head of track, appearing in his role of president of the Permanent Way Institution, covering Innovation and Professionalism. Adeline Ginn, founder of Women in Rail, also spoke on her chosen topic of bridging the skills gap.

Incidentally, one major change to Infrarail this year was that all of the seminar programme, in both theatres, now qualified for Continuous Professional Development. Visitors were able to register as attending a talk and could then claim it against their CPD hours for the year.

Looking around

Despite all of the interesting talks, there was still plenty of time to look around the exhibits, and what a variety there was. Being an infrastructure show, there weren’t many trains, but there were loads of tools, fasteners, gratings, lights, concrete preforms and geofabrics. Several stands showed off the grey boxes often seen lineside with all sorts of expensive kit inside, while others had that expensive kit on open view.

One good example of the variety on show was Lindapter, which exhibited its extended range of CE-approved fixings that are used for a range of applications including overhead line equipment, station buildings, station fittings, facades, depots, rail bridges, access walkways and structural reinforcement.

Lindapter also exhibited the Type HD clip on the British Steel track area, a pair of tracks with bright orange steel sleepers where equipment from Sperry and Dual Inventive was also on display. Lindapter was demonstrating how its range of Type HD clips provide a quick way to align and secure low-speed rails, providing a strong, reliable and long-lasting connection.

British Steel itself was using the track to show how it carries out track inspections using, amongst other devices, a Greenwood track profile gauge.

Sekisui Chemicals’ display included one of the plastic sleepers that Patrick Childs had described in his seminar. It also showed a delaminated one, demonstrating how the sleeper was put together, but looking for all the world like an exotic blonde wig!

Although many were attracted to its stand by the excellent free Italian lunch, global cable manufacturer Tratos put fire safety and CPR at the heart of its Infrarail presence as it exhibited its portfolio of cables for mass transit and rail metro applications. The company designs, manufactures and supplies a wide range of specialised cable solutions including medium and high voltage cable for substation connection and switchgear, data and telecommunication cable (copper and fibre optic), signalling power & control cables, and station & premises cables.

The stand proved a focal point for industry engineers from London Underground and Network Rail who were interested in finding out more about the company’s bespoke and fibre optic cables.

Infrarail proved to be a successful few days for the Unipart Rail team, catching up with established industry contacts and meeting new potential customers. During the show, Unipart promoted both supply chain solutions and technology solutions on its stand, linked by the condition-based supply chain which brings together these two main themes as a business.

Visitors to Roxtec’s stand were able to see the extensive range of ‘adaptable at point of use’ cable and pipe seals, which eliminate delays when the cable/pipe sizing changes – something the rail industry finds very useful. As well as providing high ingress protection (IP), the product also stops rodents getting where they shouldn’t.

The team held meetings with existing customers – Network Rail, Thales, Transport For London (TFL), ABB and Bombardier to name but a few. Roxtec’s divisional manager for rail David Chalmers was genuinely excited by the new and existing prospects/projects he found at the show.

Rail Media, which incorporates Rail Engineer as well as sister publication RailStaff, online sites and the Rail Summit events, welcomed both show visitors and exhibitors to a stand that was hectic throughout the three days of Infrarail.

Busy day

Wednesday 2 May, the middle day of the show, is traditionally the busiest. Certainly both seminar theatres were full, without some of the hoop-la from the opening day.

The day’s keynote in the Rail Engineer theatre was delivered by Balfour Beatty’s Mark Bullock, managing director of rail and utilities. He looked at the UK rail industry and its challenges from the perspective of an infrastructure contractor, covering skills, innovation and devolution.

Mark acknowledged the £48 billion that Network Rail will be spending during CP6, and also mentioned HS2 and Crossrail 2. “These mega-projects are hugely complex,” he continued, “they are incredibly risky, very expensive and pose some unique engineering challenges.

“In order to meet those challenges, we’ll require large numbers of skilled and experienced workers, coupled with a huge investment in innovation and plant. We need competent, tried and tested, experienced tier-one contractors, backed by a strong supply chain, if we are to deliver these schemes, to build the world-class railway that sits at the heart of the government policy.”

Seven technical seminars followed, on a wide variety of topics. Trevor Moore of Murphy Surveys discussed the changing role of data and the impact of measurement techniques for design, planning and construction. Dr Julia McDaid from Cubis Systems explained that customers benefit from having a technical approach to product innovation and development, while Elvis Kozica of Linsinger described how rail-milling technology can extend rail life and eliminate defects.

Dr Rob Armstrong of Eurofins York, formerly known as York EMC, spoke about the importance of electromagnetic compatibility for infrastructure and products, and Claire Thompson, business manager of signal head manufacturer Variable Message Signs, chose “Illuminating the Route” as her topic.

Raphael Goudard, who is mobile mapping segment manager of Hexagon Geosystems, updated Infrarail visitors on the digitisation of the rail network, followed by Dura Composites’ managing director Stewart Burns, who spoke about developing new fire testing standards in collaboration with Network Rail.

Alex Burrows, who has recently joined the University of Birmingham as managing director from Alstom.

Alex Burrows, who has recently joined the University of Birmingham as managing director from Alstom.

Research and opportunity

RIA’s Knowledge Hub had a busy day as well. Alex Burrows, who has recently joined the University of Birmingham from Alstom, used his keynote address to introduce listeners to UKRRIN (pronounced yew-krin) – the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network.

“R&D and innovation are obviously hugely important in how we develop our solutions, our processes and our products to take to market for the benefit of our customers,” he said. In response to a question, he then went on to describe UKRRIN as ‘the gatekeepers’. “We will take on your problems, listen to what you want to achieve, and we will try and work out what capability is best suited to supporting your ambitions.”

Other talks were varied in the extreme. Topics included the role of SMEs, CEEQUAL and sustainable infrastructure, Crossrail, Rail Baltica, a new policy for market-led proposals and HS2 – a 10-year pipeline of opportunity.

Interested visitors

The exhibitors around the hall had a busy day as visitors kept arriving at the Docklands venue.

“Attending Infrarail was important for us as a key supplier to support the industry and to meet with our community of clients and new contacts, and to keep abreast of the latest news and opinions in the industry,” said Trevor Moore, head of infrastructure at Murphy Surveys.

“The UK rail industry is in a period of transition with projects such as HS2 changing the shape of our transport infrastructure. Measurement technology is moving at an incredible pace and new methods and tools for data collection, presentation and management of 3D information enable rail related precision measurement data to be captured faster and more accurately than ever before.

“It’s certainly an exciting time for UK rail and we’re excited to be shaping this journey.”

Silver Fox manufactures cable-labelling systems. UK sales manager Jensen Smart reported: “We met relevant customers and have already started getting business from the exhibition. Personally I enjoyed the show and it was a great learning experience to see the amount of interest and need for this type of product in the rail industry.”

Building engineering services consultant Hurley Palmer Flatt had a good show too. “We had taken a stand at Infrarail to get our message out to a wider customer base and potential new customers,” Douglas McGregor commented.

“We feel that the show will prove to be a great success for our consultancy in terms of new customers and spreading the word on our companies profile and services we provide. We also met some fellow exhibitors who we believe we can provide services to and them to us. All in all it was a fantastic experience.”

Flexicon, part of the Atkore group, showcased its capabilities when it comes to cable protection for rail. “Our Ultra display was operational continuously over the three days, demonstrating its true IP68 performance under dynamic load,” marketing manager Colin Legg enthused. “We had great feedback on our new UK Rail Infrastructure Brochure which was launched at the show. Designed specifically as a guide for contractors and installers who work on UK rail infrastructure projects, it lists all the Network Rail PADS catalogue numbers and features Flexicon’s 14 approved conduit systems compliant with TFL standard S-1085 for London Underground and Crossrail.”

Infrarail’s Recruitment Wall, powered by RailwayPeople.com, proved popular with both those looking for work and with recruiters, with a steady stream of visitors enquiring how the system works.

Many exhibitors reported on the high quality of the show’s visitors. “The quality of the visitors and the leads overall were pleasing and made our experience worthwhile,” was a typical comment, this one from Stuart Helm, national sales manager of Ellis Patents.

Lorna Pimlott, Phase 2 Sponsorship and Policy Director, HS2.

Lorna Pimlott, Phase 2 Sponsorship and Policy Director, HS2.

The final day

HS2 – A Lasting Legacy was the title of day three’s keynote speech, delivered by Lorna Pimlott, Phase Two sponsorship director. “We, as HS2, have a huge responsibility to get this right, and to do it well,” she said. “We really do need to make sure that the infrastructure we deliver will be flexible, adaptable, and will respond to changing requirements over the years, not least because we’ve got 15 years before it’s actually completed.”

Geosynthetics featured in the first of the day’s technical seminars, as Dave Woods of Low and Bonar explained what they are and their relevance to railway engineering. They are often used under track, so it was appropriate that British Steel’s Stephen Lewis followed with a talk on building stronger railways.

Advances in rail surveying using digital image processing, and using unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) were described by Phil Storr of MRL Eye, while the modelling of rail traction and power distribution systems was explained by Derek Smith of ETAP Automation.

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) presented the keynote in the Knowledge Hub. He stated that the RDG’s role is to bring the many parts of the rail industry together. “Why we are trying to do that is to confront some of the difficult issues between the different bits of the railway, however it’s organised, and also between the railway and its stakeholders, the customers, the government, and challenge the status quo to enable change.”

After Rail Baltica the previous day, which is the project to link Finland with Poland through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, today it was the turn of Egyptian railways to detail the opportunities presented by development in that country. Speakers from RSSB, RIA, and Heathrow Southern Railway also spoke in the Knowledge Hub on the final day, as did Paul Hodgson of Telent who explained his vision for the future of electrification control.

Despite it being the last day, the stands were still busy. CMP, the cable gland, cable cleat and accessories specialist, had a good show. “The Infrarail exhibition, for us, was a real success,” Lucy Cook confirmed. “We had some really interesting conversations during the show which we are sure will lead to some really successful working relationships going forward. Because I am new to the industry myself, it was a really fantastic opportunity to see the different rail-based technologies used and it gave me a real sense of pride to know that CMP Products is part of that.”

Eric Vigneras of Bigorre Ingenierie, the French company which designs and manufactures gap fillers to overcome those “mind the gap” problems on curved station platforms, was equally enthusiastic.

“It is our first participation in this show, and it was an excellent experience,” he stated. “It was the first time also in the world that we exhibit our products – mechanical gap filler and our electric scissor lifts adapted for maintenance to the roof of train or bus or on the wing of plane with safety condition. This show allowed us to meet many contacts and explain the solution to reduce the risk for the gap in many station in curve – probably exist in London Underground!”

ABG, which offers a comprehensive range of geosynthetics suited to rail applications, also had a good show. “Generally, the visitors were of good quality,” said Jim Herbert, civil and environmental sales specialist. “There was a lot of conversation around HS2 and the various geotechnical earthworks challenges that our geosynthetics can contribute to solving. We also saw a lot of people who were interested in the environmental and installation speed benefits of using our Deckdrain structural drainage system in place of porous block or granular drainage, having seen case studies on some of the high profile schemes that have already used it.”

As the rail industry made its way home, and exhibitors started packing up, thoughts were already turning to Railtex 2019, the next time that the UK rail industry will come together, to be held at Birmingham’s NEC 14-16 May 2019.

See you there!


Read more: Getting electrification right