TWO RECENT conferences in London put the spotlight on the importance of effective inspection and management of infrastructure. Debate in this field continues to be dominated by the need to deal with the complex problem of rolling contact fatigue - now a serious issue in a number of European countries, including the Netherlands (p397). Several papers at Railway Engineering 2003 held in London on April 30-May 1 addressed RCF and related subjects*.

Analysis of RCF data collected in 2000 and 2001 on the UK network by TTCI and Ove Arup & Partners following the Hatfield derailment in October 2000 showed a number of trends: the phenomenon was more prevalent on curves and on sections of route with higher speeds and at higher cant deficiencies; it was present in rail of all ages, and it was unclear if any particular metallurgy was more susceptible. Experience showed that RCF was not caused solely by infrastructure features or characteristics but involved elements on both sides of the wheel-rail interface.

Rail metallurgy was addressed in a keynote presentation by Dr Jaiwsal of Corus Rail Technologies, who noted that 70% of steels in use today in other industries were developed in the last 10 years whereas ’the vast majority of the track in any country utilises steels that were invented quite some time ago’. Further study would be necessary to link the measured performance of rail steels with their basic metallurgical properties.

To assess the likelihood of crack initiation, it is possible to use a whole-life rail model developed by AEA Technology Rail and the University of Sheffield (RG 1.02 p25). A paper by AEA engineers described how this model can be used with vehicle dynamics simulations to predict rail wear and worn rail profiles.

This was useful background for a presentation by Dr Wolfgang Schoech of Speno International who discussed what is now becoming the routine use of grinding to eliminate surface cracks on the gauge corner, particularly on high rails in shallow curves. Given that there are technical and financial limits to grinding, Schoech asked where those limits were, suggesting that ’a combination of high metal rates and finely tuned results as well as short intervention cycles and limited metal removal is much more economical than other maintenance strategies.’ Still awaited is the development of tools to measure headcheck damage quantitatively.

Other subjects covered in a wide range of papers included techniques used to investigate trackbed condition. For example, there have been trials with train-mounted ground-penetrating radar in Japan, Sweden and Germany and with cone penetrometer testing in the UK.

The Railway Gazette International award for the best paper on innovation in the railway industry was won by Terry Walsh of the Overhead Line Equipment & Distribution Alliance for his paper on the introduction of high output wiring trains to the UK. Since the Windhoff-built trains were delivered in mid-2000, over 650 wire runs have been replaced on the West Coast Main Line.

Policy comparison

Stark contrasts in management and maintenance practices came to the fore on April 10 at a conference held to celebrate 10 years of exchange visits by senior managers between railways in the UK and Central Japan Railway. The complexity of management in the UK compared with vertically-integrated railways in Japan was one of several issues stimulating discussion. Dean Finch, FirstGroup’s Managing Director, Railways, felt that managers were ’too easily inhibited’ by the UK’s contractual structures and insisted that vertical separation made ’a collaborative approach essential’. However, UK rail businesses were ’guilty of focusing on short-term costs’ - in marked contrast to rail operations in Japan where long-term thinking underpins investment decisions and infrastructure management policies. Even solving the basic problems would, according to Julian Drury, Route Director of Silverlink County, create ’a halo of goodness’.

Robin Gisby of Network Rail’s Southern Zone responded to comparisons between Network Rail and JR Central’s infrastructure maintenance operation by calling for a return to stable funding of infrastructure work in the UK. He had expected funding under Network Rail to be predictable, but asserted that he did not know what his budget would be for the next financial year: ’I am still at the hand-to-mouth existence stage of all this’, he said. This drew a response from Bill Reeve of the Strategic Rail Authority who assured the conference that ’the problem is not about having enough money, it is about not spending it wisely - when we get the costs back under control, then we can get stability of future funding.’

Colin Morris of South Central Trains felt that there were lessons for all from the debate, especially in possessions and possession management. He drew attention to the costs of disruption from closing large parts of the UK network on Sundays for engineering work, both planned and otherwise, and he suggested that there was huge potential for improvement.

* For further information on the papers at Railway Engineering 2003 contact Prof M C Forde at the University of Edinburgh: