Can a massive outdoor rail plant and equipment show be a relaxed affair? Maybe not for the exhibitors. They had all the joys of setting up and making sure that all their kit arrived in time – and that it worked. But this year at Rail Live, for the visiting punters at least, yes it could be relaxing.

Maybe it was something to do with the weather. Mercifully, most of the first day was overcast, relatively cool and dry. There were no searing temperatures, and the eminently sensible decision to limit PPE to just upper body high-viz and stout footwear really paid off. For a welcome change, it was possible to walk from one end of the site to the other without losing the will to live. And repeated traverses were quite possible and necessary as there was plenty to see and plenty to visit and revisit.

Rail Live is headlined as the UK’s largest outdoor railway industry show. Hosted by the Quinton Rail Technology Centre at Long Marston, it occupies a site that is around half a mile long and has the added benefit of numerous sidings available for on-track demonstrations. It also has a connection to the mainline network. This year, it was evident that many of the nearby storage sidings were housing London Underground D78 stock (the old District line carriages which many of us will have travelled on), which had come to ‘rest’ for a while.

For many exhibitors, the show presented possibilities for holes to be dug, piles to be driven, rails to be cut, drilled, milled and everything – track, formation, soil – generally reworked. Road-rail machines went from road to rail and back again. Cranes lifted, excavators excavated. Truly rail ‘live’.

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With over 250 exhibitors, it is a challenge to decide on which ones to mention. Here is but a small selection, based mainly on what caught the eye. And what caught it immediately on arrival was the aerial display of access equipment. Indeed, this marked out the location of the site long before arrival. Access platforms extending to entrail-twisting heights were provided by VP plc who were also showing TPA’s portable roadways systems.

Road-rail

As might be expected, there was a vast array of road-rail machinery. Aquarius, which specialises in the modification of 4×4 vehicles, was offering driver-experience on a 100yd section of siding (and, as a result, made an old man very happy). Their motto, “Quick to site, rapid to work”, sums up the fundamental ethos of building these types of machine.

360° machines come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and, using the wonders of hydraulics, their size and scope is only limited by a designer’s vision. AP Webb had a machine clasping a concrete sleeper bail – a seemingly impossible load. QTS had, along with many road-rail machines, a tree-devouring unit with a 24” chipper – the largest of its type in the UK.

One of the larger road-rail machines was the Strabag milling machine, manufactured by Linsinger. Ingeniously metamorphosing from a rail machine to an HGV, this has been used on the Docklands Light Railway and has a prodigious output.

Now that we almost take road-rail for granted, it’s worth looking under many of the machines out there in the industry. Several of them carry the badge of SRS Rail System International which has been providing the rail wheel support systems for almost 30 years – the direct result of a brain wave by the Chief Civil Engineer of Swedish railways.

Electrification

Electrification was a sub-theme at the show. In contrast to previous years, it was very evident that the expansion of the electrification programme has been matched by imaginative technological solutions. It really emphasises that Rail Live is primarily a showcase for innovation.

Keltbray Aspire, which is part of Keltbray Group and provides electrification services on the rail infrastructure, has invested nearly £6 million in new rail electrification plant over the last two years. Within this investment is a new and unique, multi-million pound overhead line electrification wiring unit that will provide increased safety, efficiencies and productivity to the UK’s national electrification programme. We’ll be looking in more detail at this unit next month and interviewing Les Blake, the unit’s developer.

TMX plant had a road-railer manipulating a complete OLE mast along with a 10-metre depth soil drill.

With its wealth of experience, Balfour Beatty was there with its rail-mounted concrete batching plant that is used for the high-output installation of concrete bases.

Astra Site Services, specialists in hydraulic attachments, were exhibiting a very effective and impressive rail cropper, an implement engineered on a ‘sturdy’ scale.

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Equally sturdy were the demolition attachments on show at EP Industries’ stand. All of a sudden, rail industry components look relatively lightweight in the face of some of the kit that has migrated from other, heavier industries.

But not everything is huge. There is a place for modest or even tiny machines in a cramped railway environment. McMurtry’s equipment was eminently practical as was its radio- controlled slope mowing machine.

Sleepers

Another product to be featured next month will be the new plastic sleeper being manufactured by SICUT. New? Not really, it’s been in use in the USA and elsewhere for over 20 years. But in the UK it’s new. And, by using discarded plastic, it is a valuable way of reducing landfill.

Stanton Bonna, Europe’s largest precast concrete supplier, brought along some examples of its vibration mitigation sleepers that are being used for Crossrail. There was also a very practical solution to rail replacement access in street-running light rail systems.

Rail Live has changed over the years from just a showcase for plant to include now the whole infrastructure supply chain. This does, of course, include the more high-tech products, many of which were on show in the signalling area and in the smaller stands elsewhere. Schweizer, covered recently in Rail Engineer, was there with its low cost level crossing solution – an eminently practical product.

Datum Monitoring has developed a wide range of devices that can take and record track measurements. These can be downloaded to smart phones if needed. Often used in locations which are notoriously devoid of power, Datum monitoring has taken care to evolve equipment that has very low power demands.

Not only but also…

The Rail Alliance was present in force with its own marquee filled with members’ stands. Out in the open, the Alliance logo was also well in evidence.

Network Rail was there under three guises – product acceptance, signalling, and technical services which was displaying a poster encouraging farmers to acquire redundant concrete sleepers.

Rail Media was there, of course. The Rail Live Conference, organised by Rail Engineer, gave a chance for suppliers to hear direct from the major players about what is being procured and how. Split into four 90-minute sessions, the speakers covered HS2, Network Rail CP5/CP6, Transport for London and Network Rail Major Programmes.

The Rail Media stand,which covered all of the group’s brands, including RailStaff, Railway People, Rail Summits and Rail Exec Club, was busy throughout the show. Smartly dressed in matching high-viz jackets supplied by Arco, the team answered questions from readers and advertisers alike..

We were also out there taking photos and videoing the plant demonstrations. Have a look on our website to see Graeme Bickerdike’s video of the show.

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The bewitching hour on the first day was 16:00 – the time when attendees were meant to leave. But such was the interest in the show it was only the reminder that the last bus to the remote car park went at 16:30 that galvanised any meaningful exodus.

For an industry that is essentially outdoors, Rail Live is a logical way to showcase ideas and equipment. It gives an opportunity to see machines in context, to bring to life ideas and equipment that normally only perform under possession conditions and away from open sight. So, Rail Live was indeed relaxed, with a buzz of positive networking and banter. And, in the background, there was the impressive Wi-Fi provided by Cisco which kept everyone in touch. Here’s to the next one.