An industry insider has warned that train maintenance depot operators, both in the UK and overseas, who fail to invest in technologically advanced equipment face relegation to the also-rans. Richard Carr of Mechan, a Sheffield-based heavy-lifting and depot systems supplier, points to the new generation of traincare centres operated by the likes of Siemens and Bombardier that have set new standards that others will have to emulate if they want to survive in the long term.

“The maturing privatised rail industry has made great strides in modern vehicle design and infrastructure upgrades,” Richard Carr asserts. “Safety issues, plus the financial penalties for late-running trains, mean more emphasis has rightly been placed on the efficiency of the networks”.

“This dash for efficiency includes focusing on the speed and quality of routine daily servicing and heavier maintenance. Rail industry decision-makers need to recognise how far ahead the new generation of vehicle maintenance depot has advanced, thanks to shrewd investment in the latest depot equipment to reach the market.”

“The newest EMUs have become more efficient by distributing power and intelligence along the vehicle, and modern depot equipment is following this very successful lead. Such distributed intelligence is fundamental to the success of these depot systems, but it is not the complete answer. Having an effective means to share knowledge and pool resources is what makes the latest systems special.”

“Of course, state-of-the-art depot equipment alone cannot create an efficiently-run facility,” Richard Carr adds. “Depot managers and their teams will always be the crucial foundation stones. However, management denied up-to-date, accurate information may lay themselves open to errors and inefficiencies. Elite maintenance facilities have this information and are gaining the edge.”

Richard Carr’s assertions are borne out by reference to a scenario at one of the new generation depots of the kind operated by Siemens Transportation Systems in Northampton, Manchester and elsewhere. At its nerve centre, the depot manager’s office, one wall is dedicated to a virtual depot – a live view of the entire facility. Each vehicle is identified in a location, while inbound or outbound vehicle movements are shown in real time, along with the status of the derailer and signals controlling each movement.

All depot personnel working within the facility are logged onto specific tasks on identified vehicles. Viewing of each function area on the virtual depot shows individuals logged to that area, while viewing of a particular vehicle will report the vehicle’s in-depot movements and all work undertaken by the depot.

On the jacking road, a six-car set is shown in an elevated status undergoing a bogie change, the overhead line is shown isolated and interlocked with the SMART Depot Protection System’s laser-based vehicle location detector. The multi-purpose bogie-drop road shows the bridge locked in a safe condition and a four-car unit entering the depot, under the control of the 'designated person’, for an under-car module replacement.

A four-car unit is currently passing through the wash plant outside the main depot building and a six-car unit is under the control of a mule within the wheel-lathe building. An amber warning indicator flashes on-screen. Examination of the warning informs that the derailer being raised to protect the bogie-drop road has taken longer than expected and a non-scheduled, preventative maintenance inspection should be undertaken.

Information about equipment status is relayed back to the Mechan Depot Manager™ over a LONWorks industrial network. Mechan SMART™ Depot Personnel Protection panels, which also report on areas requiring immediate or future attention, provide unprecedented local control over vehicle movements by logging and reporting which vehicles and staff were present when and where.

Spot-on diagnosis is key to finding an efficient solution when faults develop. To ensure that diagnosis is quick and accurate, local and remote diagnostic capabilities are embedded within the installations. Remote diagnostics allow system-design engineers to evaluate the problem from head office, while liaising with local maintenance personnel to implement a solution.

Richard Carr believes that maintenance depot operators who ignore the advantages offered by the latest equipment and systems are burying their heads in the sand. They need to bite the bullet. Only by harnessing the power of technology can a depot function to the standards of safety, efficiency and quality required by today’s rail industry. Depots that are starved of investment will find it increasingly difficult to compete.