The first National Track Plant exhibition, held last month at Long Marston, showcased the best of the industry innovations – and generated good business.
Over two blazingly hot days in July, a huge contingent of rail companies and kit rumbled into Long Marston, Warwickshire, for what amounted to the track plant industry’s first county show.
Over 3,700 visitors and 219 exhibitors flocked to the National Track Plant Exhibition; organised by Network Rail, Rail Media and networking group The Rail Alliance.
Billed as “The Track Innovation Showcase”, the event was the first of its kind to be held in a rail- connected venue. This allowed heavy rail-mounted plant, such as cranes and tampers to be brought in – hence the need for everyone to wear full PPE.
Once a train depot for the military, the site is currently used by owners MotoRail Logistics and other companies to store rolling stock and plant, and as a training facility.
Range of suppliers
From massive cranes and tampers to handheld tools, the show spanned the track plant industry – from conventional plant to some unexpected offerings.
Areas covered included: track plant hire, fuel systems, electronics, communications, sealants, track crossover systems, track safety protection, acoustic fencing, the Territorial Army’s only dedicated rail engineering unit, emergency lighting, blast protection, environmental management, surveying, civils, generators and industrial gases.
There were also talks from senior figures from Network Rail and other contractors, a hospitality tent, demonstrations and opportunities for visitors to try out new kit for themselves.
“Many of the facilities here have been provided by the exhibitors,” said Sharmila Sohanpal, of Network Rail’s organising team.
“People were keen to get involved as well as exhibit. So we had Aggreko, for example, providing the generators, MacRail doing visitor and exhibitor check- in, and security from OnGarde and Black Diamond Security. In addition, A Plant supplied washroom facilities, and Westwood the catering.”
Showcase for innovation
Uma Shanker, Head of Business Improvement and Engineering for Network Rail’s Infrastructure Projects Track Programme, explained the reason for the show.
“Control period five (CP5) from 2014-2019 will bring huge challenges for us. The industry needs to find innovative and collaborative ways to work, and this exhibition acts as a showcase for that.
“At this show, people can talk to each other, and bounce ideas around. On top of this, they can see machines operating and live demonstrations in an operational, rail-connected environment.”
Live track renewal
Visitors and decision-makers had their pick of exhibitors to look over – from Network Rail to smaller suppliers of tools, plant and equipment, such as Dual- Inventive.
A highlight was the “live” on- site renewal of 400 metres of track – the first-ever at a European track plant show – planned and delivered by Babcock and a team of its suppliers.
Bruce Wright, Babcock Business Improvement Manager, said the aim of the renewal was to show how innovative plant and construction techniques could deliver a conventional track renewal with a minimal labour contingent.
“It was a real team effort to overcome difficult site conditions, such as interfacing with the existing track work, which consisted of 75 lb rail bolted directly onto mass-produced concrete sleepers, installed during World War II.”
The delivery team included staff from Babcock, McCullochs, Quattro, Torrent, Morson, 3D Trimble supplier Korec, and Swietelsky Babcock Rail, which provided the tamper to finish the renewal off.
Simon Higgens, Senior Programme Manager, said the renewal had gone well.
“We wanted to demonstrate to the wider industry what’s out there and what’s available, and we did that.
“Given the tight possession regimes we’ll see during CP5, I suspect that a lot of the technology used at Long Marston will become commonplace.”
The relaxed atmosphere and sunshine stimulated commercial activity at the event. Deals were struck, product awareness raised, and new contacts made – between companies and Network Rail, and among the suppliers themselves.
A case in point was neighbouring exhibitors Keltbray Aspire, with its ranks of plant, and Avonwood, manufacturer of the Zonesafe vehicle protection system for pedestrians.
Paul Murphy, Head of Rail Plant, Keltbray, explained: “We were at the show to demonstrate to Network Rail our capabilities, such as bridge and tunnel maintenance, track renewal, rail piling and overhead line installation.
“But it’s also been good for networking purposes, and for doing business. For example, we had a look at our neighbour Avonwood’s Zonesafe road rail vehicle (RRV) proximity warning systems. We’ve now arranged to trial two of their systems, with a view to potentially purchasing them, depending on the trial outcomes.
Joe Rinaldi of Avonwood explained how Zonesafe works. “Zonesafe is a proximity warning system for any vehicle or RRV on the railway. Pedestrians working near the vehicle wear an RFID (radio frequency identification) tag. If a pedestrian gets within an adjustable detection zone, from 3-9 metres’ distance of the vehicle, a control box in the cab sets off a visual and audible alarm, alerting the driver of the pedestrian’s presence.
“Paul saw how the system worked, liked it and bought the system for a couple of his projects.”
Small is beautiful
Past the looming 500-tonne Ainscough crane near the site entrance, dozens of road-rail vehicles (RRVs) ranked along the lines, and the live track renewal, was the small exhibitors’ area – dubbed “Marrakesh Village” by organisers.
There, rows of small white marquees hosted some of the most exciting developments for the future of track. From McMurtry’s remote-controlled robot mowers to Cintec’s water- filled blast protection for buildings and Arbil’s sleeper-lifting devices, the village proved a hotbed of innovation.
At the far end of the field, in a roped-off area, a tracked robot resembling a model of a World War I tank was busily driving around. “These are remote-controlled slope mowers,” explained Richard McMurtry of the Gloucestershire- based McMurtry Ltd.
“They can be used on steep slopes, up to 45 degrees, where health and safety issues might limit the use of strimmer gangs.This is our first venture into the rail market, so we’ve been talking to Network Rail about how to get product approval.
New products to market
Network Rail’s Steve Featherstone, Programme Director, Track, sponsored the event for the company. “A lot of suppliers have a good idea, but don’t know how to bring it into the industry, so our product acceptance people made themselves available to explain how we approve new products and services.
“They also kept an eye out for anything that might prove useful for helping us meet our demanding targets over the next few years.”
Chris Browne, Senior Engineer, Plant and Traction & Rolling Stock, was a member of Network Rail’s product acceptance team. “The event was an ideal opportunity for us to talk through our approvals system and explain why we have it.
“A lot of companies need support when they’re first breaking into the rail industry, and we helped point them in the right direction. We also helped bring manufacturers together, to improve their products for the industry’s benefit.”
But while Network Rail product approval was key for many companies, larger suppliers were scouting too. Ben Mills, Business Improvement Engineer for Track Partnership – the infrastructure partnership between London Underground (LU) and Balfour Beatty Rail – said the partnership’s teams had visited almost all the stands at the show, looking for new ideas and meeting existing contacts.
“We’re rewriting the process of how we replace track on the Underground. Every second counts, and we have to work hard to minimise disruption for the four million people who travel daily on the Tube. To support this challenge, we looked for, and found, all sorts of useful kit at the show.
“For example, we recently introduced LU’s first new sleeper for 30 years – the Cemex 1502 with Pandrol’s Fastclip FE fastening. At the show, we were able to talk to our suppliers about the next steps for the system.
“Then there’s the Unimog RRV from Mercedes-Benz-Zagro, which featured on Balfour Beatty’s own stand. Using Unimogs means we can extend the scope of track renewals, and we also spotted other equipment that we can combine with to make our work even more efficient.
“We’re also bringing in the Non- intrusive Crossing System (NICS), so it was good to see that company at the show. The NICS allows us to create virtual sidings and crossing points, helping to transform our approach to renewals in engineering hours on the Underground. In turn, this will reduce station closures and minimise disruption.”
Colas Rail provided a number of live demonstrations with the 125 tonne rail mounted Kirow crane lifting a locally stored tank wagon high into the air (pictured, page 20) and the PEM/LEM machines demonstrating their unique capability to not only lift and move track panels and S&C units by rail but to ‘walk’ these units when track is not available.
Also, two track relaying machines (TRM’s) demonstrated their capabilities to remove and install track panels quickly and safely.
Over at the live renewal site, visiting Network Rail Project Manager Simon Brett declared himself impressed. “It’s a chance to see things outside the box in track renewal – things that are on offer that we don’t do now, but could help us increase our efficiency in future. Seeing it in the flesh definitely brings that home.”
Network Rail colleagues Francesca Wallace, Access Planner, and Lisa Riley, Planning Specialist, said their visit had been worthwhile. Said Lisa: “It’s been useful for us, and very interesting to see things like the live renewals and the demonstration of thermit welding. We spoke to lots of people, and even had a chance to sit in the Network Rail helicopter!”
End of the show
As the show ended, hundreds of weary, but satisfied visitors began to stream out the gates, passed by some of the larger pieces of kit on their way home. Over in Marrakesh village, Bryan Blareau of Henry Williams – manufacturers of trackside equipment including fishplates, clamps and control cabinets – was one of the last to fold his tent and leave.
“We’ve made some good contacts,” he reflected. “I’ve not had much chance to look around, apart from our neighbours, but we’ve seen the people we needed to see. For us, it was mainly about raising our profile, and I think we’ve done that.”
For organiser Colin Flack, chief executive, Rail Alliance, such opinions were more than welcome. “This has been a proper trade show, but I think people enjoyed it because of its informality.
“The big rail exhibitions are brilliant and have a place, but this sort of event gives people at all sort of levels a chance to talk to each other; to meet people and see what other companies are doing.
“The next stage for this event, I think, is for a much larger supply chain to get involved. It’s a great start.