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News from the UK Rail Industry 16th May 2019

Posted by: Warren Drobac
Industry News

Leeds to London Azuma trains up and running

The first of a new fleet of Azuma trains departed from London to Leeds yesterday morning, bringing the promise of faster, more reliable services for the East Coast line.

Rail minister Andrew Jones launched the bi-mode trains, designed to run on diesel or electric power, which he said would cut emissions as well as improve services.

Managing director of London North Eastern Railway, David Horne, said the Azumas would bring “huge benefits” and were “more reliable, stylish, environmentally friendly and accessible”, and would have about 100 more seats than trains they replace.

LNER will gradually operate more Azuma services as far as Edinburgh by the end of the year, in a phased rollout of the 65-strong fleet. By the end of 2021, with a new timetable, the trains are expected to cut regular journey times between London and Edinburgh to four hours.

As well as a gradual introduction after prolonged testing, LNER has improved the comfort of the original Hitachi seats that proved unpopular with GWR customers, adding a moquette fabric cover and leather headrests in first class.

LNER has also retained the buffet car, the absence of which on GWR has been the subject of ongoing protests by rail unions and passengers. Full story.

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Innovative engineering project makes railway safer and more reliable

A new engineering project could be set to make railway tracks safer and more reliable.

A partnership comprising the Universities of Exeter and Birmingham are working with Network Rail on the EPSRC-funded project to develop a self-powered, large-area track condition monitoring system for the railways.

Ze-Power (Zero Power, Large Area Rail Track Monitoring) draws zero power from the grid line to do the monitoring. Instead, it will harvest energy from vibration to the tracks caused by trains passing along the line to power itself up and sustain its operation, which is the main benefit of the system.

Currently, workers have to be sent out to inspect the railway tracks when there are issues. Alternatively, there are special trains equipped with monitoring technology, but problems can only be detected when they are passing over that area of track. 

A monitoring system embedded into the track itself would allow operators to detect faults that occur anywhere on the railway network and take any necessary preventive action or maintenance before the faults become a problem. Since the system does not need mains power for its power supply, it eliminates the cost of installing cables, which is not a small sum given that the UK has 20,000 miles of track.

Professor Meiling Zhu, chair of mechanical engineering and head of the Energy Harvesting Research Group (EHRG) at the University of Exeter explained: “A bespoke system will be designed to harvest locally available energy to attain an energy self-sufficient system. Since the system is tailored to the railway tracks, it would have little to no value if it were taken away from the tracks, which would deter people from attempting to steal it.”

The research teams will work with divisions from Network Rail: Track Renewals, based in Birmingham; and Infrastructure Projects and Telecom, based in Milton Keynes, to understand their specifications and requirements to develop the bespoke energy harvesting-powered wireless communication sensing technology. The project partners also include Quattro and Swiss Approval.

Once developed, the system will be tested on a stretch of track at Network Rail’s test site. Full story.

Technology & staff to work together to ensure rail accessibility

Jessie Norman, the future of mobility minister, has set out how new technologies like self-driving vehicles and the increased use of mobile apps have the potential to transform travel for those with mobility issues.

Industry experts have said that the key to ensure true accessibility for those with disabilities is to combine technology with personal customer service, highlighting that face-to-face interaction must not be lost.

RMT union general secretary Mick Cash said: “What we need are properly staffed stations and trains, and technology should be backing up those staff, not replacing them.”

Jessie Norman said that “the needs of older people, and those with visible or hidden disabilities, must be at the heart of all new modes of transport,” and that technology can be used to address problems of isolation and loneliness across the country.

The government launched its ‘Future of mobility: urban strategy’ in March, focusing on accessible transport innovations designed to empower independent travel. The urban strategy builds on £300m spent on making rail stations more accessible for disabled passengers across Britain as well as a push to make operators to meet their legal obligations to design and deliver services in an inclusive way. Full story.

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