A repoint for track switch technology

Source: RTM Apr/May 16

Head of the Control Systems Research Group at Loughborough University, Professor Roger Dixon, discusses the development of the innovative Repoint track switch which has entered into the next stage of development.

It began with an idea, an idea that has led to a change which breaks with 200 years of tradition. Loughborough University’s revolutionary points mechanism – Repoint – could soon be made reality on the rail network after receiving industry-wide support and further funding to test the prototype under real traffic. 

At the start it was safety concepts derived from the aerospace and nuclear industries that inspired my colleagues and I, who make up the University’s Control Systems Research Group, to create an alternative to conventional track switches. What we have come up with is patented technology for the 21st century that will not only increase reliability and availability, but will also reduce maintenance costs and boost capacity on the railways in the UK and around the world. 

Back in 2010, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), DfT and the UK rail safety body RSSB (formerly known as the Rail Safety and Standards Board) sought collaborative university and industry projects to overcome constraints caused by nodes (junctions) on the GB rail network. 

Having been awarded one of five grants, we then spent two years working with industry to establish requirements and find out exactly what was holding track switching technology back – particularly in relation to pinpointing what was causing such a disproportionate volume of delay minutes. At the end of this period, we put forward Repoint as a fresh concept which allows, for the first time, multi-channel, redundant, actuation and locking elements for track switches. 

Prototype development 

We are now entering an exciting phase of the project, as we will be developing a prototype track switch alongside RSSB, London Underground, and its supply base. This is a fantastic achievement, especially at a time when Great Britain’s rail network, in particular, is under so much pressure, with viable solutions needed sooner rather than later. 

Rail passenger growth numbers show no sign of slowing down, and the network is operating above capacity in places. We believe that Repoint is one of the missing cogs that the industry has been waiting for – alongside true moving block signalling and condition-based maintenance – which will provide the capacity and reliability expected of a 21st century network without costing the earth. 

Our cost-effective technology can help make track switch failures a thing of the past. We have come a long way since Repoint’s early development in 2011. The switch mechanism has virtually no friction losses. 

Unlike a conventional switch, there are no sliding surfaces, and so it uses a lot less energy as a result. A lift and drop mechanism allows for expansion and provides an additional locking point. 

The multi-channel nature of the actuators means that any failed unit can be automatically isolated, with no loss of switch performance. With three channels available, we can potentially wait weeks to repair the failed point machine, rather than having to race out a fault team while the trains are backing up and delays are mounting. The switch fits in the footprint of traditional designs and will interface to existing interlocking designs – no wider modification of the infrastructure is required. 

With RSSB and infrastructure owners supporting the development of the technology in the UK, the team is now moving quickly towards a full-scale prototype to be tested under live traffic. 

The university is now in a position to explore opportunities to roll out the patented technology across international rail networks. We have already held discussions with companies in South Africa, Australia and China, and we are due to issue a tender notice for engineering support in The Official Journal of the European Union.

Head of the Control Systems Research Group at Loughborough University, Professor Roger Dixon, discusses the development of the innovative Repoint track switch which has entered into the next stage of development.


Peter Hirst   09/05/2016 at 16:28

The Professor should pay more attention to his English grammar - "- inspired my colleagues and I, who -" ! Too much of this sloppy English these days from people who should know better.

Jerry Alderson   17/05/2016 at 12:10

The best advice on grammar I heard was from an American (ironic, eh?) who advised people to remove all the unnecessary words in order to work out if it was "I" or "m". When reducing the sentence to "It inspired I to create" it is clearly wrong. Hence it should be "It inspired me to create". It's a pity the professor was not taught as a child about nominative, accusative, dative and genitive cases.

John Grant   17/06/2016 at 14:40

Of course, syntax errors in the description won't make the technology any less effective, however annoying they are to the reader. On the other hand, if attention to detail is lacking in that area it might be lacking in other areas too.

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