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Great Western HOPS piling rates lower than thought

The piling rates achieved by Network Rail’s High Output Plant System (HOPS) are still far below what its business case requires, according to figures supplied to Parliament by the company.

Rail minister Claire Perry MP said that the average number of pilings per shift achieved by Network Rail’s High Output Plant System train during:

  • October to December 2014 was 5.0 piles per shift
  • January to March 2015 was 4.6 piles per shift
  • April to 5 June 2015 was 6.8 piles per shift

These figures, given in answer to a question from shadow rail minister Lilian Greenwood MP, are lower than those given by people involved with the project.

For instance, Great Western route director Patrick Hallgate told an audience at the Railtex conference in mid-May: “I’m pleased to say that in the last three months in particular, we are starting to see production rates expanding. The business case was predicated on being able to put in 18 piles a night, over a six-hour shift…in the last couple of weeks we’ve started to hit the 18 piles.”

Noel Dolphin of Furrer & Frey, which designed the new Series 1 OLE system being used on the Great Western, said on Twitter today that the average has recently risen to 13 piles per six-hour shift. He also said:

And Ian Clarke, performance manager at Amey and project manager for Great Western electrification and delivery of the HOPS said in an award nomination last year: “In June 2014 initial HOPS production shifts had reached a maximum productivity of 7 piles, with a target of 18 piles to be achieved by November 2014.

“The initial mean piling cycle time of 46 minutes was driven down over a number of shifts, to less than 22 minutes, which resulted in a shift placing 20 piled foundations, proving the effect of the improvements. Further improvements have been identified by the operational team who have a clear continuous improvement culture focus on getting ‘better every day.’ These proposed improvements could get the cycle time to around 17 minutes, with the potential to place around 30 foundations per shift.”

Network Rail spokesman Russell Spink said there had been challenges in achieving “consistency” with the nightly outputs of the HOPS train but that performance was improving.

The £40m HOPS, built for Network Rail by Windhoff Bahn- und Anlagentechnik GmbH, is a ‘factory train’ that is 23 carriages long, has three different ‘consists’, and was designed to do at least 18 and potentially up to 30 piles per shift while working adjacent line open (ALO).

Last summer, Saleem Mohammad, programme director for Network Rail’s National Electrification Programme, told RTM: “The equipment is new to us and it’s got to go through its teething, like any new equipment. Whenever you introduce a new technology, there is a learning curve, and perhaps we didn’t factor as much of that in as we should have done in our programme plans.”

Shadow rail minister Lilian Greenwood MP, who has been keeping up the pressure on the Department for Transport over 'who knew what when' as regards the state of Network Rail's CP5 enhancement plans and the recent 'pause', told RTM: "These new figures raise serious questions over the value for money of Network Rail's £40m factory train, and also over the true state of the Great Western electrification project. People in the rail industry have told me that the programme is delayed by two years and unless productivity drastically improves there could be more disappointing news to come."


Nonsuchmike   24/07/2015 at 13:08

Clearly there are going to be teething troubles and a steep learning curve when new technology is employed in any work situation. Why should railways be any different? My guess is that the "average" will gradually move up as this Government flexes its muscles, probably to around 12 - 14 hits per shift in the winter months and 14 - 18 in the summer ones. It was all those pesky Lib Dems' fault as they slowed everything down by supporting the Not for Profit East Coast line!

Gwrmike   24/07/2015 at 14:26

That happens when you ask a leading supplier to design a state of the art System, keep them working on it for years and at the very last moment you choose a product from a `more competitive` supplier. Buy cheap-buy twice.

Justin Davey   24/07/2015 at 15:26

This article overlooks a number of critical issues. Firstly, the availability of unclouded foundation design. Secondly, the availability of materials to install. Thirdly, the allocated pile size/diameter versus the anticipated pile against which the HOPS specification was developed. To date, as a result of issues with availability of design and/or materials, HOPS has very rarely been sent to site with a full load of piles. This means that the production rates have not been reliably established: the machine typically runs out of design/piles before it runs out of time on site. The reported 4.6 to 6.8 piles installed per shift should been seen in light of a single-digit average number of available piles per shift. HOPS was designed to install piles in a high output fashion, but it is not being fed in a way that enables this! Inefficient inputs give inefficient outputs.

Kevc   24/07/2015 at 17:39

Cancel the project and reengineer the HST's to get round the emission regulations build a fleet of new carriages with sliding doors etc if the costs keep rising it's only a matter of time before the government pull the plug on the project.

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