Adaptable carriage offers new revenue opportunity for TOCs

Source: RTM Jun/Jul 17

Zane van Romunde, transport sector lead at 42 Technology, explains why Adaptable Carriage could be a game changer in encouraging more online deliveries to be transported by train rather than via the UK’s increasingly congested road network.

The new flexible seating system, launched at Railtex in May, has been specifically designed as a novel but practical way for TOCs to configure specific carriages to carry either passengers or ‘low density, high value’ goods on demand. The approach could provide retailers and logistics companies with a faster, lower-cost and more reliable way of getting time-sensitive deliveries into city centres during off-peak hours, and help them to develop a more efficient way of processing the ever-increasing number of packages en route to customers or being returned back to suppliers. 

Having been named as a winner in the RSSB’s ‘Tomorrow’s Train Design Today’ competition, 42 Technology has worked closely with RSSB on the design and development of Adaptable Carriage to help the UK rail industry make better use of its existing infrastructure and secure new revenue streams for improving passenger experience. Based on DfT rail passenger statistics for the UK in 2015, we have calculated that there is the equivalent of 15,000 lorries’ worth of unused passenger capacity going into and out of all London stations combined on every weekday. And by factoring in the average industry charge per package with the capacity of standard roll cages, then the spare volume available just for London equates to a £15bn annual revenue opportunity. 

There have been two broad technical challenges in the development of Adaptable Carriage. Firstly, finding a way to add in all the necessary mechanisms to configure seats to carry passengers or allowing them to be stowed to create space for cargo, without impacting the structure or layout of the carriage and to ensure compliance with all regulatory and safety requirements. And secondly, doing it in a way that provides the required functionality without adding significant cost, weight or compromising passenger comfort. 

The system has been designed so that all its seat sliding, sensor and locking mechanisms are ‘packaged’ between the two sets of rails that are currently used to attach cantilevered seats to the walls in contemporary carriage designs. There is nothing in the floor. 

Each pair of seats is attached to a wall-mounted bogie mechanism that can slide along the carriage in a set of running rails, and allows the seats to be stowed or locked into position to carry passengers. The seat bogies behave in exactly the same way as T-nuts do in holding seats in position within conventional passenger rail carriages. 

Multiple safety features 

Adaptable Carriage has been designed as a flexible modular system, with no impact on current carriage layouts, so it can accommodate whatever number of tables or seat formats are required by TOCs. The system also has a low-cost of ownership and is not expected to require additional servicing beyond the industry’s existing routine maintenance schedules for carriages. 

The system’s multiple safety features include: the ability to integrate its control system with the train’s own safety systems; safety switches on all locking pins to ensure everything is correctly locked down; and the development of a separate, optional image-based occupancy sensor to detect if any passengers or objects are still within the carriage so they can be further investigated before the carriage is reconfigured to carry cargo or passengers. 

RSSB funded, Adaptable Carriage has been developed to help provide TOCs with a more flexible and adaptable seating system that can be used to configure specific carriages as required, and to make better use of their existing capacity rather than adding in new trains. However, the system could equally be used in one specific or smaller area of a carriage to create space as needed to accommodate wheelchair users, bicycles or extra luggage on airport routes. 

We have technically de-risked the current approach, built a demonstration unit to show the technology in action, and Adaptable Carriage is now at the stage where it can be used within its first commercial trials. We are currently talking with a number of TOCs, carriage and seat manufacturers, and potential system users including logistics providers but are also happy to broaden the approach to accommodate additional parties as required.





Jimbo   17/07/2017 at 10:22

Whilst this might be a clever and innovative solution, it is missing the point. It starts from the assumption that because of the "increasingly congested road network" the logistics industry is short of capacity, and because trains outside of rush hour are full, there is spare capacity that could be used to transport goods. Yet, if you look at the road network outside of rush hour, you will also see spare capacity as the roads are full at the same time as the railways. Adding additional capacity in the logistics industry means using another lorry, which can either be purchased for long-term additional capacity or spot-hired for short-term additional capacity. A new lorry takes a couple of weeks to buy and spot-hire can be same day - how long does it take to get this fancy new passenger/freight rail vehicle ? Also, trans-shipment costs money and the logistics industry is brutally cost effecient, so as much as possible, deliveries go from source to destination with the minimum number of transhipments. As rail stations are no longer freight equipped, this means 2 additional trans-shipments (source to station, and station to destination), which adds significant time and money and requires additional vehicles. Whilst roads may be congested at times, this is built into the routing algorithms the logistics companies use, so they will either route around regular congestion or just accept the additional time. For this proposal to work, you need to find a very regular and fixed volume freight flow that runs between two locations near to stations, and is best done during the middle of the day. There must vehicles at both ends, that are not otherwise in use, to do the trans-shipments, and the overall transit time must be less than just using a single lorry. Finally, the equipment must be in place before the contract is signed (the logistics company won't wait 2 years for the vehicles to be built and tested) and must be cheaper and more reliable than using a lorry. This is a far more complex solution to a problem that doesn't really exist.

J, Leicester   18/07/2017 at 13:10

In addition to Jimbo's point, there is the small matter of loading carriages with goods - how would the carriages be designed to optimise loading? After all, it would be madness to expect gangway-end doors to accommodate a forklift full of Amazon deliveries. Manual loading is out of the question in this day and age. The train would have to be specifically designed for the loading of both passengers and goods, which seems counter-intuitive as neither would be given optimal standards. You either compromise passenger space through adding large extra door loading areas, or lose the flexibility needed for goods loading.

Revolting Peasant   08/08/2017 at 12:28

This strikes me as a solution looking for a problem to solve. As Jimbo makes clear, there is no business case for such a thing. Others have suggested pretty much this type of 'infinitely flexible interior' - and every few years it gets a few more column inches when the next 'innovator' rediscovers it. I wonder how many of their real potential 'customers' have been asked the nature of obstacles to the success, delivery and growth of their logistics operations. Anyone who understands the beast wouldn't give this proposition a second glance.

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