A breakthrough in rail switching technology

A breakthrough in rail switching technology

Loughborough University engineers are partnering with the rail industry to deliver a breakthrough technology that aims to improve reliability, reduce maintenance costs, and boost capacity on rail networks worldwide.

repointNew approach to an age-old problem

Railway track switches have worked the same way for over 200 years. To mitigate the risk of failure, layers of costly, complex and high-maintenance protocols have grown up around them.

In 2010, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Department for Transport and RSSB (formerly known as the Rail Safety and Strategy Board) sought collaborative university and industry projects to overcome constraints caused by track switch failure.

The Loughborough-led team drew on their aerospace and nuclear experience to create an innovative, fast-acting and failsafe switch.

REPOINT features a patented arrangement of interlocking rail ends and a lift and drop mechanism which provides a locking mechanism with virtually no friction losses. The mechanism can also move the switch many times quicker than existing designs.

This lift and drop mechanism uniquely allows for several machines to act on the same points. In the event of one failure, the remaining machines can operate the points safely. Combined with condition-based monitoring and line replaceable unit construction, the REPOINT switches are fault tolerant and do not require instant action in the event of a fault.

Tangible economic benefits, industry-wide support

REPOINT has progressed swiftly through key commercial milestones with support from the Higher Education Innovation Fund and RSSB, with industry partners including Transport for London. Its significant economic impact potential is reinforced by a number of awards in 2015, along with industry-wide recognition.

Richard Parry Jones, former Chairman of Network Rail, said of REPOINT: “This has the potential to transform the way in which railways operate and, if we can develop and manufacture it in the UK, will also be good for UK Plc, not just the railways in the UK.”

Clive Burrows, Group Engineering Director, FirstGroup plc, said: “This technology should dramatically reduce the inherent unreliability and life cycle cost of existing points and crossings. Delivering the track switching wish list behind REPOINT is urgently needed to support the goal of increased capacity, and essential to the concept of closer running.”

Neil Webster, RSSB Future Railway Programme Director, commented: “Our continued support for the REPOINT project reinforces our belief in the technology and the potential it has to deliver real, tangible benefits to the future of the rail industry. We look forward to seeing the design once implemented, improving reliability and increasing capacity on our ever-expanding rail network.”

Real-world testing

In January 2016, RSSB approved further significant funding that will enable REPOINT’s progression to the installation of a full-scale demonstrator at London Underground.

Loughborough University is also pursuing opportunities to roll out the patented technology across international rail networks, and is in discussions with companies in South Africa, Australia, China, France and Germany.

For further information visit: www.rssb.co.uk or www.repointswitch.com

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