Rail Industry Focus

01.11.15

Revolutionising railway maintenance

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 2015

Craig Mathys, programme manager at Network Rail, talks to RTM about the introduction of the company’s new fleet of Mobile Maintenance Trains, which have been described as ‘workshops on wheels’. David Stevenson reports.

Network Rail has invested £47m in its new fleet of Mobile Maintenance Trains (MMTs), which it claims will revolutionise how the company’s frontline staff carry out railway maintenance and repair work.

The first of its eight-strong fleet, manufactured by construction and engineering expert Robel, in Freilassing, Germany, arrived in the UK in June.

During July and August the MMT, which is based in Darlington, underwent on-site testing and commissioning. It then entered service in early September. But as RTM was going to press, the second MMT, which is to be based at Paddock Wood in Kent, was due for arrival in October.

By December the third of these £5.3m trains is due to be delivered. This one is destined for Derby. The remaining five, expected to arrive in the next 12 months, will be stationed at Woking, Retford, Romford, Peterborough and Horsham.

One stop solution

Following the introduction of the first vehicle, we spoke to Craig Mathys, programme director at Network Rail, who said the new trains create a ‘one stop solution’ for the way maintenance will be delivered in the future.

“What we have is an end-to-end solution that takes the workers from their depot stabling point to a site with everything they need to do the complete job,” he said. “Everything is at hand with improved working conditions, better tools, worker protection from trains, good lighting and hoists to support the work. Then the MMT takes them back to the depot.”

Each train consists of ‘three’ cars, including a Traction & Supply Unit (TSU), an Intermediate Car (IC) and a Mobile Maintenance Unit (MMU).

The TSU provides welfare facilities complete with kitchen and toilet, and includes seating for up to 11 members of the maintenance team, excluding the driver, Mathys told us. He added that an average team size of five would be standard for use on the MMT.

Within the IC there is a large storage area for tools and materials. Hoists also extend into this area for moving large plant and materials into the MMU. It is quite impressive that six 45ft lengths of rail can also be stored under the IC’s floor.

The MMU, which benefits from extendable sidewalls, provides an enclosed worksite that allows access to the track below – separating workers from trains and the elements. The adjustable walls allow the workspace to be increased where possible. Shutter blinds fitted in the upper section of the work unit also allow natural light and ventilation in good weather, while offering protection in poor conditions.

Mathys said that having hydraulic, electric and pneumatic power supplies on-board, which support a new range of hand operated tools, is a step-change. Additionally, the two built-in two-tonne hoists reduce the amount of manual handling.

Mobile unit at work

Network Rail add that in the safety of the work unit engineers can make repairs on a section of track or, using a slow ‘creep’ mode, are able to make rolling repairs.

“It has the potential to change the way we deliver maintenance,” said Mathys. Initially, the teams on the MMT will focus on tasks such as renewing pads and insulators, the removal and repair of track defects, baseplate replacements and general maintenance.

However, over time, it is intended that each of the MMTs will have its own specialism. For instance, the Paddock Wood MMT will be dedicated to identifying rail defects.

“We have a handful of activities we will be starting off with and will be the focus over the next couple of months. During that period, we will be looking to explore further activities as we expand the scope of activities,” Mathys told us. “We thought we’d start small to get the train introduced and the team familiar with the train operating environment and effectively test all the processes and procedures on the train to make sure everything works.”

Network Rail has forecast that each MMT should pay for itself within 10 years. Mathys added that this varies depending on the work bank of the train, but on average “we expect to save about £1m per train per year”.

Areas where cost savings have been identified are in delivering the “optimal use” of possessions, allowing adjacent line open working, and having materials and equipment transported to site and powered from the MMT. However, there are some drawbacks.

Rail welding

Not a reactive tool

“The key thing is that it requires very careful and detailed planning,” RTM was told. “Typically, maintenance activities tend to be quite reactive and the teams tend to have to be very active on quite short timescales as events arise.”

Mathys added that this is a lot more difficult – logistically speaking – with the MMT. “Not only in terms of making sure you can get the train where you want it to be, but also in terms of the logistics of the loading and unloading and servicing of the train.”

He noted that the MMTs, which have benefited from Network Rail staff input into their design, are not a “reactive tool”.

Instead, it requires “careful planning and a job bank put together in a structured manner – grouping similar tasks together in a similar location so that you can make production effective – that allows it to work optimally”.

Despite this drawback, Mathys said the MMTs will help “significantly change the way we deliver maintenance across the board”, both in terms of safety for staff and eliminating certain practices. For instance, the need for preparation and clear-up shifts will be removed and the use of road vehicles to transfer staff to sites will be significantly reduced and in most cases eliminated.

Under a three-year contract, the MMTs will be maintained by Colas Rail on site. But heavier work will be carried out at its maintenance sites in Ealing and Rugby.

Neal Lawson, Network Rail’s maintenance director, added that new trains mean frontline staff can complete a wide range of maintenance and repairs quickly and efficiently, reducing the need for costly and disruptive closures of the tracks.

“They’ll also keep our people safe, warm and dry and better able to focus on getting the job done,” said Lawson.

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