Enhancing rail reliability, maintenance and capacity

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  • Award-winning technology uses safety concepts derived from the aerospace and nuclear industries
  • New track layout, combined with ‘redundant actuation’, improves reliability and reduces maintenance costs while enhancing network capacity
  • The system is being developed to be compatible with London Underground and Network Rail systems

EPSRC-supported researchers at Loughborough University have developed a new fault-tolerant points mechanism that could revolutionise the global rail industry.

Developed by the university’s Control Systems Group and supported by the UK Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), the team’s ingenious Repoint system uses safety concepts derived from the aerospace and nuclear industries in a robust and reliable locking mechanism that overrides track switch failures.

In the event of a single failure, the system enables rail traffic to continue to pass along the track while remedial maintenance is scheduled. Immediate disruption to services is avoided. This ultimately improves safety and maintenance costs while enhancing network capacity.

The technology was conceived in fundamental research funded by EPSRC/RSSB and has since progressed through key commercial milestones with support from the university’s EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account, the Higher Education Innovation Fund and RSSB.

Repoint’s innovative solution is globally significant. The UK alone has over 20,000 switch and crossing units and, despite representing only five per cent of network mileage, they account for over 15 per cent of the track maintenance budget. The Loughborough team’s longer-term aim is to work with partners around the world to develop and manufacture Repoint technology appropriate to local needs and regulation.

Project leader, Loughborough University’s Professor Roger Dixon, says: “Repoint is a robust alternative to conventional switches that breaks with 200 years of tradition to offer a change in design that is inherently fault tolerant and fit for a 21st century rail network.

“With RSSB’s continued support and with industry partners including Transport for London (TfL), we aim to deliver real, tangible benefits to the rail industry.”

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Repoint was developed in response to the UK Rail Safety and Standards Board’s call, in partnership with EPSRC, for new ways to increase network capacity.

In 2016, the project won a prestigious Innovation Award from the Institute of Engineering and Technology in recognition of its potential to improve safety, reduce maintenance and increase capacity.

The Loughborough team are currently working closely with several industrial partners, including RSSB, TfL, Network Rail, Progress Rail, DEG Signal, RC Designs and Great Central Railways on another version of Repoint, Repoint Light. The aim of this project is to progress the concept toward Technology Readiness Level 7 – i.e. close to operational deployment. The project will conclude with the demonstration of a complete switch on Great Central Railway.

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