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Tailor made for track

Network Rail wants the plant sector to design a new generation of road−rail vehicles specifically for the rail industry. Steve Yianni, the organisation’s director of mechanical and electrical engineering, tells Margo Cole why.

Network Rail has issued a challenge to the plant industry: “Provide us with machines that do what we want them to do.”

The challenge is specifically aimed at the road−rail vehicles used in maintenance, which tend to be construction equipment converted for use on the rails. “I don’t think we’ve ever said to the industry ‘this is what we want’,” says Network Rail director of mechanical and electrical engineering Steve Yianni. “Road−rail equipment has developed over time, but we’ve never talked of what it is we actually need. That’s what we’re trying to do now.”

This change in tack resulted from Network Rail conducting a wholesale review of all its plant usage to determine what equipment it was using, how that equipment was being used and the safety implications of the different types of plant.

Most of the on−track equipment is hired and falls into two categories: big machines like tampers, grinders and stoneblowers; and smaller kit like the road−rail vehicles and mobile elevating work platforms. Although activity levels are split roughly 50/50 between the two categories, there is no such parity when it comes to accidents.

The study looked at all the fatalities and Riddor (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations, 1995) accidents involving plant over the last 10 years, and found a skew towards the smaller plant, particularly road−rail vehicles. Of the 1,900 accidents, 71% involved small plant, as did 13 of the 15 fatalities.


Yianni has his suspicions why this may be the case. “The larger equipment is specifically designed for the rail environment,” he says. “It’s made by dedicated manufacturers for very specialised, very specific operations, and these manufacturers service the world market.

“The road−rail vehicles tend to be derived from construction machines and converted forrail use, so they’re optimised for construction. We have a fleet of around 1,000 of these vehicles, and there are lots of different types of them. Accidents may be related to the different age profiles of the machines and the fact that there are so many different types of machine.

“Each piece of plant is hired for a job, so the operator never gets familiar with the piece of plant he’s faced with.”

He likens the situation to someone who has to drive a Mini one day and a BMW the next − but in the dark, which is when most rail maintenance work is carried out. “It must be a contributor,” he says. “We need more standardisation to allow the operator pool to be trained.”

“Rather than letting the industry provide to us what they think our solution is, we ought to be telling them what we want the equipment to do, and the industry designs a solution for that.”

Steve Yianni, Network Rail

Having discovered this disparity in the accident statistics, Network Rail has decided it’s time for the plant industry to start making road−rail vehicles that are specifically designed to meet its requirements. “We’ve got enough work that we ought to be declaring what activities we want these machines to do and asking the industry to design something that’s specific for that application,” says Yianni. “Rather than letting the industry provide to us what they think our solution is, we ought to be telling them what we want the equipment to do, and the industry designs a solution for that.”

He cites the example of wheeled excavators, which are used in the construction industry for digging, and are therefore optimised for that activity. “We don’t do a lot of digging,” says Yianni. “We mainly use them for lifting and placing. So the productive rate of digging is not as important to us, but accuracy of lifting and placing is.”

After explaining to the plant sector last June what it was planning, Network Rail is now working on output specifications for this new generation of roadrail vehicles, which it hopes to publish by the end of this year. “It will be a requirement−based specification,” says Yianni. “For example ‘it needs to lift this load at this reach and stop within this distance’. How the industry develops a solution to that is up to them. Their business is designing and developing machines − ours is running a railway.”

Ultimately the organisation wants to slash the number of different road−rail vehicles it uses from hundreds to a handful − probably a light, medium and heavy version of each machine with just a few manufacturers supplying each version. But it is not going down the route of choosing manufacturers or suppliers to come up with the goods.

“I’m interested in what the solutions are.”

Steve Yianni, Network Rail

“We want to keep the market open, so the specification will be open to everyone at the same time,” says Yianni. “I’m interested in what the solutions are.”

Network Rail is alert to potential criticism from hire companies that have recently invested in road−rail equipment that will not fit the new specification.

“We do want to bring the industry with us,” says Yianni. ” We don’t want to put anybody out of business or penalise anybody for buying new equipment, but this is the way we’re going to go.

“We’re not kidding ourselves − we know it’s going to take some years,” he says. “But we have an objective to improve safety onthe railways − as does everyone who plays a part in it.”

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