Awards, contracts & appointments


EAO makes TOCs tick

How refurbishment projects can reduce the performance pressures on train operators.

It’s no surprise that Train Operating Companies are looking all the way down the supply chain to maximise reliability. The growing pressures of providing a service governed by performance regimes, ‘delay minutes’ and lateness bands, and the spiralling penalties for those that fail is enough to make all the TOCs look at weaknesses in every sub-assembly and component.

A vehicle may be delayed due to failure of what might seem like an insignificant component like a blown bulb in an illuminated switch in the driver’s cab. It might be easily fixed but the train still has to remain out of service until an engineer arrives on the scene.

TOCs are seeking solutions through preventative refurbishment. In fact, it is a common misconception that the purpose of refurbishment is to replace furnishings and interiors when the most important factor is to gain improved reliability.

As a supplier to many recent refurbishment contracts, EAO has observed a shift from purely cost driven reasoning behind contract awards to more serious consideration on the reliability and up-to-date technology aspects of the products.

When specialist companies like EAO, which provide custom-built switch and control panels, are approached by the rail industry for refurbishment projects, it usually involves driver’s cab controls, toilet door and passenger door controls. EAO has undertaken these projects for many different TOCs across a variety of vehicles including class 455, 318, 320, 321 and 315.

On stock that is over eight years old, many of the switches and indicators often need replacing as they are illuminated using unreliable filament bulbs instead of LEDs. For example, EAO frequently recommends replacement of old door opening units with custom-built panels containing their series 56 switch. With more than 10 years service in the UK railway industry, these switches have been proven to reduce the possibility of vehicle downtime due to panel failure.

They have also worked on contracts where switch replacement was necessary as the older style switches were unreliable due to the contacts behind the front plate being poorly sealed and not being self-cleaning. This resulted in switch contacts ‘sticking’ and in more severe cases, short-circuiting. Again, this can put a train onto the sidings until an engineer arrives.

One of the more common problems from having to replace switches, particularly on doors, is the fact that there are no industry standard sizes for switches and panels. Often the new switches have to be modified to fit into the existing space envelope. This often takes more time than straight fitting, and results in the train being out of service for longer.

EAO has expanded the capabilities of its custom project department to meet the demand for retro-fitting into existing envelopes. The series 56 range has been widened to include ‘secret til lit’ indicators, programmable buzzers and push buttons with raised Braille characters to ensure EAO can meet every requirement for a panel built to a customer’s specification.

In the UK, another important factor in refurbishment are the Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (RVAR). As a high profile point of contact (and often the main control device) for the customer, switches play an important part in these regulations. They need to be fitted at certain heights, operable by palm and identifiable by touch. EAO have manufactured their series 56 pushbutton switches around the RVAR requirements, and have had success in supplying to both the refurbishment and new build sectors. More interestingly, they are also now seeing this extend into Europe for both trains and trams.

EAO believes the pressure for increased reliability and less downtime from train operators will continue to be passed down the line to component manufacturers and more and more contracts will be won on lower long-term costs rather than immediate savings.

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