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Developing solutions to keep trains running

Rail journeys at this time of year can be a challenge. We’ve all joked about delays being caused by the wrong sort of leaves on the line but inclement weather can still cause problems across the network. 

Contrary to what many people think, Network Rail doesn’t view this as an accepted norm and instead is always working to develop systems that can help make our railway network more robust. For instance, Points Heating pads (and the associated cables that connect to power them) were developed so that points systems wouldn’t freeze when the temperature dropped. As you’d imagine, the process of getting a product approved for use is relatively arduous – after all, you wouldn’t want something untested being used and potentially causing more delays than it resolved. Our expert technicians in The Cable Lab® and our rail industry experts are some of the people that collaborate to develop products that can be listed on the approved register and be given a PADS designation and drawing number to allow them to be installed and used.

Take the Axle Counter Cable we helped develop. Axle Counter cables are used to connect elements in the AzLM axle counter system. The system itself is designed to detect trains between two sets of points – once the train has passed through the system it can provide notification that that length of track is clear and therefore safe for another train to enter. On a network with rigorous safety regulations, it’s obvious why if this system isn’t operational between any two sets of points it can see trains grind to a halt. It’s just not worth the risk of a collision.

The problem was, the cables connecting the system are laid trackside in troughs, buried duct routes, clipped to sleepers, or in the open air on the ballast. Being exposed to the elements has its own challenges but they were also being severed when rodents gnawed them. Cue our experts getting involved. 

Our experts looked at how the cable construction could be improved to better resist this furry interference. Alternate sheathing materials were considered, steel wire braiding could be applied, yet the cable needed to retain the flexibility it already had. A layer of fibre glass tape was instead selected and a prototype developed with great success – it seemed rats would still gnaw the cable but their gums would be cut by the tape and they didn’t like the taste of this. They weren’t chewing the cable to break point and so the AzLM axle counter system continued to remain operational. The Cable Lab®, our in-house UKAS-accredited testing facility, was able to perform extensive testing to demonstrate the cable’s performance which was submitted alongside all the requisite paperwork necessary for product approval. The Axle Counter Cable with anti-rodent protection is now the Network Rail standard designated NR/L2/SIG/30060.

This is just one example of product development and cable customisation, and with our independent analysis and comprehensive documentation it makes the approvals process as smooth as possible. So, whilst we can’t do anything about the great British weather, we are doing our bit to keep trains moving as best we can.

For more information, click to learn more about the work of The Cable Lab® or see our range of rail and metro cables.