Railway Signalling Infrastucture

Maintaining the Railway Signalling Infrastucture
Roger Penny – 12th December 2006

A good audience, including a number of guests, gathered to hear this talk. Following graduation, Roger joined British Rail in 1963 as a Signals Engineer, becoming Divisional Signals Engineer for the South East Region in 1974, responsible for the maintenance engineering in that area. In 1988 he became Signals and Telecommunications Engineer for the South Western Division, and following privatisation in the early 1990s, Technical Director of AMEC Rail. In 1998, upon retirement, Roger took up his present position as Consultant with Atkins Rail, with additional interests in the maintenance of part of London Underground, Chief Engineer for the Isle of Wight Railway and work with the IET and Engineering Council.

Maintenance in the rail context was described as effort to keep the network operating safely, reliably and economically, and the restoration of operations following breakdown. Regarding safety, this is a high priority, the travelling public expecting a higher level of safety compared to the national road network.

The exposed environment associated with railway signalling and its maintenance can be severe. Weather is a significant factor, with May usually being a month of high temperature variation, affecting electronics components. Signalling equipment connected to the rail track, is subject to vibration and periodic drainage problems.

To keep the rail network operating as described above, emphasis is placed on preventative maintenance, with reliance on the experience of successful actions such as lubrication of points, cleaning of signalling surfaces to ensure visibility, measurement of gaps at points to prevent short circuits, voltage measurement of track and insulation, and the testing of circuitry by remote control. The frequency of maintenance is influenced by experience and formally set out. Maintenance records are kept either at equipment sites or in nearby records office files. Two laboratories are available in the Region for failure investigation. Rapid Response Teams are available in urgent situations.

The talk discussed the staff responsible for the maintenance of the rail system, the range of skills required, their training, assessing and licensing. Following a series of major organisation changes in the rail industry, the speaker was of the opinion that the staff again had a sense of real responsibility and an assured attitude to safety.

The afternoon concluded with a lively question and discussion session. Subjects included reversible signalling, automatic train protection and train warning systems of signalling, factors involved to increase track capacity, various types of level crossings, including the effect of certain crossings on horses!

Derek Webb proposed the vote of thanks, warmly approved by members. The RCEA looks forward to the tour of the Railway Signalling Centre at Three Bridges, arranged by Roger Penny, taking place on Wed. 9 May 2007.