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Transport & Logistics

Q&A: Asset rationalisation and maintenance in turnouts

12 Oct 2012, by Informa Insights

Toby Horstead, Senior Asset Planning Coordinator, RailCorp joins us to discuss the challenge of determining the asset life of turnouts. Turnouts require “much greater maintenance attention” than plain track and as someone who still believes that “nothing beats being on track”, Toby gives us a preview of the asset simplification at Ashfield Junction.

You have affectionately called turnouts “that engineered defect in the track” that allows operators to move trains around the track. What are some of the things that can go wrong with these engineered defects?
The primary concern is the potential for derailment. In a signalised system the safety risk at the points is managed to a degree and reliability becomes the concern – at the crossing there is no signal protection. A turnout is a discontinuity in ordinarily plain track. I guess without appropriate maintenance effort the ultimate risk is an incident such as Potters Bar in the UK where many people were killed due to a derailment caused by a turnout.

Defects (engineered or ‘natural’) require a plan of management and much greater maintenance attention and therefore turnouts require much greater effort and time on track.

Turnouts are a critical safety and performance aspect of the rail network. Is it good practice to unnecessarily slow your customers down for the just in case scenario?
A crossover, especially a facing crossing, can require a reduction in track speed from the mainline design speed. This is to manage potential for degradation of the steel work from impact of dynamic forces. In order to find the balance between reliability and interruption for maintenance the speed of a train on the through road needs to be controlled.

Also, why add asset complexity and reliability risk to manage a just in case scenario? It is likely that the operator will end up managing delays from failure of the turnout asset installed for the just in case.

How often do turnouts need to be renewed or replaced? And what are some of the challenges involved in this effort?
This is the magic question – when do I intervene and refurbish or renew to prevent a loss in performance and how do I avoid touching an asset before intervention is necessary. Through understanding the average asset life and population of an asset class, the averaged number of refurbishments or renewals can be predicted. The question then is which assets are critical and which are in poor condition. Having established how many and the priority, the next question is, can I deliver the ideal scope of work with consideration to track access, funding and resources? When it comes to renewal, first ask yourself, can I remove the asset?

Are there differences in turnouts issues across different networks and different states?
Obviously there are different gauges, and being from Sydney I do not see much of the complex dual gauge turnouts (talk about an engineered defect). There are also differences in rolling stock (wheel profiles, tonnage and tractive effort). However for the most part the same issues exist across networks at the same critical areas of the turnout. Points adjustment, crossing wear, check rail effectiveness, safety and reliability are all issues common across networks.

Turnouts are a specialised field of rail engineering. How did you develop your knowledge of turnouts? What are some of the skilling options available for new entrants to the industry?
Osmosis! Simply through working closely with experienced and knowledge filled staff and engineers. For me, the take on my learning has always been about asset management rather than the maintenance limits and defect management. Nothing beats being on track and touching the asset! In terms of skilling options, there’s in-house training such as RailCorp’s Rail Engineering Course which is focussed on track and civil and run by RailCorp’s Chief Engineer, Malcolm Kerr. Another learning option is the opportunities presented by the RISSB Turnouts Workshops. I have appreciated the opportunity of learning by listening to other presenters and discussing issues with maintainers and suppliers.

You have over 14 years’ engineering experience in the various NSW Government rail entities. Have you seen a trend towards installing more or less turnouts within a network?
Up until very recently every capital project installed turnouts with the view of giving the operator every option to move trains around the network and these assets were not removed when they had
become redundant. Evidence of this changing in NSW is seen in RailCorp’s increased focus on asset rationalisation through maintenance and in projects such as the North West Rail Link (NWRL). The

NWRL is delivering the minimal number of turnouts required and in the most favourable locations and track alignment. I think industry is realising that more turnouts may reduce reliability not
protect reliability.

What have been some of initial results of Ralcorp’s trial removal of 24 turnouts at Ashfield Junction?
I guess the biggest thing I can say is that the booking out of these turnouts has not impacted on time running. There was one incident – a fatality – that may have been managed easier had some of the turnouts been available. There is some ongoing concern from the operations side of the business, but initial results suggest that the network operates and can be managed perfectly well without the 24 turnouts at Ashfield.

Toby Horstead will provide an update on RailCorp’s asset simplication at Ashfield Junction project at RISSB’s National Rail Turnouts Workshop in Canberra on the 29th & 30th November. He is also presenting a paper on the benefits of determining asset life, criticality and priority for major periodic maintenance.

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