Ladbroke Grove points repair

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Dec/Jan 2013

Karl Gilmore of AmeyColas explains more about a seemingly intractable points maintenance problem and how it was eventually solved – requiring some new thinking.

A troublesome set of points in west London whose height needed reducing – but for which access using traditional methods was virtually impossible – were finally tackled using a new solution.

Karl Gilmore, the project manager at AmeyColas responsible for dealing with the problem, said that various traditional approaches were explored but rejected in seeking to reduce the height of points 8057 at Ladbroke Grove by 125mm.

Access with road/rail vehicles was not an option, and the lengthy possession times that would be needed to complete the task using traditional methods on one of the country’s busiest main lines meant the set of points and its crossover were inoperable for about 18 months.

This necessitated re-writing of train paths, to the annoyance of the train operating companies. Gilmore had heard about a new way of excavating track ballast, and watched the videos of the RailVac product, before speaking to Railcare’s Steve Mugglestone to arrange a live demonstration at the Kirton Lane level crossing site in Doncaster earlier this year.

Gilmore said: “The weather was simply appalling. There was a foot of snow, freezing temperatures, in fact everything that would normally mean cancellation.

“Simply getting there proved a challenge of Arctic proportions!

“However, despite all that the Bridgeway Railcare team and the RailVac were ready and waiting to go into action as scheduled.

“I was really surprised by the Railcare team’s ‘can do’ and very positive attitude – it’s inspiring, it filled me with confidence and their enthusiasm is infectious.”

He praised the “extraordinarily high” reliability record of the equipment, and the fact that the team provides its own staff for jacking and packing, and since they were trained fitters with spares, they could deal there and then with issues like machine stoppages.

Gilmore said: “The only barrier I could envisage was the cost compared to traditional techniques, but its sheer speed makes the per hour cost significantly cheaper overall, by comparison to bringing a lot of other kinds of equipment by road but needing twice or three times the possession time, plus all the labour involved, etc.

“When you can exploit mid-week possession opportunities as well, it really makes the cost of hiring out the RailVac and its team look very good value.”

The Doncaster demo was followed up by a site visit at Micheldever, along with colleagues from AmeyColas and Crossrail, to see the machine excavating “problematic” wetbeds.

Gilmore, who had earlier been an engineer with the Army, said the speed at which old ballast was sucked up, clearing the space required to allow new ballast to be replaced was deeply impressive and that he had “seen nothing like it”.

Railcare noted that the points, affecting lines 2 and 3 one mile outside of Paddington, had become something of a maintenance ‘cause celebre’ due to an earlier engineering measuring error. But Gilmore was determined to persuade senior managers at Network Rail and Crossrail that the RailVac was the solution they’d been looking for, explaining: “Ladbroke Grove was a very high profile job due to its past, and its subsequent record. Claiming we’d found a solution – albeit one that many of those we were trying to persuade had never seen for themselves, made a lot of the decision-makers very nervous. But we pushed and pushed, and finally got the decision we wanted to go ahead with the RailVac at Ladbroke Grove.”

The team got a 27-hour weekend possession at the end of October, with the RailVac waiting at the North Pole Eurostar depot nearby, to make best use of the available time.

The switch and crossing unit (S&C) was excavated to the required depth by the RailVac, which removed 250mm, so the track could be dropped back into the correct position.

The RailVac excavated about 80 metres on line 3 and 50 metres on line 2 in six hours, under the planned 7.5hrs. The whole S&C set 8057 was restored to its correct height within the possession time, the line speed restriction was lifted and normal rail traffic operations could resume – after 18 months – as usual.

A Railcare spokesman said: “Doing things in an innovative and totally different way usually means those involved need to adapt to change. For many people, especially in a working environment where doing things the traditional way has become the accepted norm and modus operandi, change is both hard to grasp and very difficult to envisage, and involves a huge leap of faith.”

Gilmore said: “I think a lot of minds were changed that night.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at [email protected]


Boldfield   16/01/2013 at 10:14

We used a vacuum excavation system to clean out a blocked 200mm diameter borehole 60m deep with great success.

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