In late January, a party of 11 Britpave members and two clients visited La Rochelle in France to see engineering giant and Britpave member Alstom's new approach to concrete slabtrack construction.
Dubbed Appitrack, the system uses the latest slipform technology developed on motorways and airport runways to lay a basically flat slab trackbed.
Appitrack was originally targeted at the light rail and tramway sector, but Alstom is hoping to extend it into inter-urban heavy rail and, ultimately, highspeed rail.
Located in the port area of La Rochelle is an experimental tramway project intended to evaluate a number of key tramway systems, such as power supply, as well as proving the trackbed and a range of noise attenuation and vibration damping alternatives. It should be in operation by late summer, after which will come three years of trials before passengers will be allowed on the trams.
During its visit the Britpave party saw the complete trackbed construction process, the main feature of which is the automatic insertion of rail baseplates into the fresh concrete by vibration.
The slipform paver uses a precision wireless guidance system for accurate placing, and joints are sawn into the trackbed at 5m intervals once the concrete has cured.