Luas tram stopped at Abbey Street, Dublin, 2012. Photo William Murphy

Quality of rail, tram and people key to Dublin’s light rail success

Brian Brennan, managing director of Transdev Ireland, says the success of Dublin’s Luas light rail system is down to the quality of the employees, vehicles, and system itself.

“The system that was built in Dublin is of a very, very high quality,” Brennan said last week at Informa’s 2015 Light Rail conference in  It’s fully accessible, [and] has got an excellent tram.

“The opportunity then was for Transdev to recruit high calibre people – experienced personnel – to allow us to develop a world class network.”

Innovation, he said, was also key to the network’s successful implementation.

“We’ve continually tried to innovate, and this was recognised by some national awards throughout the last number of years.”

Luas was opened in 2004, replacing Dublin’s old tramways network. It is operated by Transdev, the same company which operates Sydney’s existing light rail network, along with Auckland’s urban passenger trains, and other transport networks around Australia.

See the full interview with Brian Brennan below.

SNCF Train. Photo: Claude Villetaneuse

Rolling stock – what happens when it doesn’t fit?

Bob Hammer writes about one of the most under-appreciated considerations in rolling stock design: How wide can you make your train?

Bob HammerMany of us would have been somewhat amused when we read[note][/note] in May last year that the French railways had ordered trains which were too wide to fit within the dimensions of many of their older platforms. It seems that SNCF, the national rail operator, procured the rolling stock based on their own specifications and advice from the regional rail operator RFF. However, despite the cooperation between the two organisations they forgot to check with the per-way engineer. The result was that some 1300 platforms needed remedial work to trim back the platform edges at a cost of approximately 50 million Euros.

Those of us with longer memories didn’t laugh as loudly as others. In the approach to the 1995 NSW state election the then state government decided to bring a tilt train to NSW to demonstrate their proposed upgrade for the country trains. One X2000 train was leased from the Swedish Railways and duly delivered by ship to Sydney. Surely a standard gauge train from Europe can run on standard gauge track in Australia? Unfortunately not! The train was too wide to fit within the NSW structure gauge and guess what – many of the station platforms on the routes on which the train ran had to be trimmed by up to four inches to allow the train to pass.

Despite the tilt train trial the Fahey government lost the election and was replaced by Labour, with Bob Carr as Premier. The train was packed up and returned to Sweden. When the details of the trial came to light in 2002 the then Minster for Transport, Carl Scully, took great delight in reminding the opposition, in detail and at length, of the issues caused by and the $7 million wasted by what he labelled “an electioneering stunt”[note]NSW Government, Hansard, Legislative Assembly, 27 June 2002, p.4121.[/note].

The French problem appears to have been caused by not asking the right people the right questions. The NSW problem appears to have been caused by political imperatives over-riding common sense. It does not appear to have caught the NSW railway authority by surprise as their budget for the tilt train trial included an allowance of $500,000 for infrastructure modifications. Both situations are reminders of the risks of interfaces between engineering disciplines and of one group not being aware of the constraints imposed by another.

This type of problem will continue to occur when decisions are made in isolation from the full picture. Just recently I had some lively informal discussions with colleagues about dimensions for potential new passenger trains for NSW. Yes, you can have passenger cars 3.05 metres in width (as per the Tangaras) and yes, you can have passenger cars approximately 24 metres in length (as per the V-sets) but no, you can’t have passenger cars that are both 3.05 metres wide and 24 metres in length as they will not fit within the allowable transit space – although you could always cut the platform edges back again!

To hear more about how various rail disciplines can work together to achieve common goals visit for information on the 2nd Annual Inter-Disciplinary Rail Engineering Workshop.


Straight railways throw a curveball in heavy haul rail

Heavy haul rail presents many singular challenges, particularly in established markets where interoperability is a requirement that can cripple the implementation of new technologies.

Tom Hewitt is Project Manager of Rolling Stock, CANARAIL Consultants (Canada). He will be one of the international keynotes at the Heavy Haul Rail 2015 Conference in Perth, 22-23 June 2015.

Having worked on rail systems from North America to Saudi Arabia, Tom will bring a global perspective to the issue of heavy haul rail, particularly the unique challenges of long-haul desert tracks.

Tom, can you tell us a little about your professional background and the  path to your current role?
After graduating from university in Mechanical Engineering, I got a job at a small Montreal-based railway supply company where we designed and manufactured air brake and truck (bogie) equipment. Due to the small size of the company I was able to not only design components but to travel across Canada, the United States and Mexico instructing railways and car builders in their installation, eventually participating in the Brake Systems Committee meetings of the Association of American Railways (AAR). This firsthand interaction with railways and committees reignited a childhood passion for trains that I forgot I had.

Since coming to CANARAIL in 2008 I have performed engineering studies, developed technical specifications for the acquisition of rolling stock, shop equipment, and maintenance of way equipment for new railways, and I have acted as an on-site inspector in Asia, North and South America, and Europe. Additionally, working on projects in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Canadian Arctic, has given me a unique experience in understanding railroading in extreme environments. I now act as project manager for procurement-related projects and a rolling stock technical specialist for feasibility studies.

You will be speaking at Heavy Haul Rail 2015 on “designing a heavy haul desert railway: lessons learned”. In the lead up to the event, can you share any one lesson in particular?
One lesson I can share with my experience in Saudi Arabia is that a relatively straight railway with few curves can initiate greater wheel wear than a curvy railway. This conclusion may seem counterintuitive; however, the drawback of a straight railway is that the lack of curves means that the wheelsets have limited opportunity to displace laterally on the rail head, thus producing a single wheel contact band resulting in hollow wheel treads. Once hollowing of the wheel treads sets in, the wheelsets will have high conicity that can result in unstable bogies and flanging. This phenomenon is further exaggerated by the extremely high coefficient of friction between the wheel and rail in a desert environment.

Multiple rail profiles should therefore be considered for predominantly straight railways that produce different contact bands on the wheels. A minimum of two rail profiles should be engineered for the tangent portions of the railway and additional rail profiles may be required for the low and high rails in curves. These rail profiles distribute the wear across the wheel tread.

Where do you see the biggest challenges in the various international heavy haul markets you have worked in?
Countries and regions with mature heavy haul railway operations have difficulties in implementing new technologies due to interoperability requirements – electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking, positive train control (PTC)/European train control system (ETCS), and increasing axle loads immediately come to mind. For example, a freight car sitting in a yard anywhere in North America must be interoperable with the other 1.5 million freight cars in North America, and must be “repairable” in any workshop on any railway across Canada, the United States and Mexico. It is therefore considerably easier to implement new technologies on mining railways that do not need to connect with other railways (such as Northern Quebec), or in regions where entire railways are being built from scratch (Such as Saudi Arabia).

The requirement for almost universal interoperability places particular challenges on system designers, railway management and policy makers and demand solutions that are not always evident.

Don’t miss Tom’s presentation – book now for the Heavy Haul Rail Conference 2015 conference. Other featured speakers include:

  • Mark Manion, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Norfolk Southern Corporation, USA
  • Alexander Kosarev, Deputy Director General, JSCo Railway Research Institute (JSC VNIIZHT), Russia
  • Zara Fisher, General Manager Railway Operations, Rio Tint
  • Matt Dowd, General Manager Railroad Operations, BHP Billiton
  • Mike Franczak, Executive Vice President, Operations, Aurizon
  • Roger Johnston, CEO, Pilbara Ports Authority
  • Michael Roche, Chief Executive, Queensland Resources Council
  • Alan Langford, Chief Economist, Bankwest

The global push to improve rail safety | Interview with Carolyn Griffiths, RAIB

Investigating a derailment is a complex, multi-faceted task. No one knows that better than Carolyn Griffiths, who is is Chief Inspector with the Rail Accident and Investigation Branch (RAIB) in the United Kingdom.

Carolyn is a Fellow and elected trustee of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineers and a trustee of the Engineering Council. She will be travelling to Australia in April to speak at the Major Rail Occurrences Forum, a key event for the industry.

We sat down with Carolyn in the lead up to the event to talk about her experience and major challenges in her current position.

Carolyn, can you give us some background on your professional path to date?
I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering and joined British Rail’s graduate engineer training program in 1979. I decided to work on the shop floor as a technician and shift supervisor before embarking on junior management positions. By the mid 80’s I was in charge of a rail maintenance depot but left to set up the maintenance activities for the then new Singapore Mass Rapid Transit.  This was the first of a number of jobs where I had the privilege of creating a new organisation. Four years later I again set up a new organisation on my return to the UK when I became the Engineering Director in the development and running or a new light rail system.  Here I broadened my experience to other rail engineering disciplines (signalling, electrification, structures and track) and operations. My next job was working for the government in privatising the railway. This was a completely different type of role involving strategy, policy and legislation. I moved from there in the late 90’s to  join an international rail manufacturer working in both Sweden and Berlin as Senior Vice President before returning again to the UK to my current role , establishing and leading the Rail Accident Investigation Branch an independent organisation, reporting to the Secretary of State for Transport.

What are your major concerns in your current role?
The RAIB has been successful in driving significant changes in the industry to improve safety. My ‘concerns’ are that we continue to identify the investigations and recommendations that will best reduce risks to workers, passengers and the public; and that we maintain and continue to develop the professional skills of my team.  At the Major Rail Occurrences Forum, I will be talking about derailment mechanisms and what we have learned from our investigations (and with reference to those investigations) that is likely to have a broader relevance to those attending the forum.

Where do you think the industry is heading in the future?
The rail industry is expanding throughout the world; there has been huge new developments in the Far East and now in the Middle East. Even in countries which have a longstanding rail industry such as the UK there are enormous investments in the extension and improvement of the railways. In my own particular sector. With specific reference to my current role the number of organisations who have visited us and with whom we work is evidence that more and more railways wish to develop and further professionalise their investigation of accidents.

See Carolyn speak at the Major Rail Occurrences Forum, 28th – 29th April. Other key speakers include:

  • Laurie Wilson, Manager Infrastructure & Engineering, RISSB
  • Alan Gardner Bsc.Eng.Mech, CEO, ESPEE Railroad & ARHS
  • Vernon Hoey, Rail Investigator, Transport Accident Investigation Commission
  • Andrew Matthews, Principal Engineer – Rail, GHD

The Track Insider: Unexpected consequences

Sometimes the best intentioned actions by one railway discipline can have unexpected consequences for another. Bob Hammer recalls just one example from his career.

Back in the 1970s, as a young civil engineer, I was appointed as the first District Engineer for Parkeston, part of the Permanent Way branch of Commonwealth Railways / Australian National Railways. My job was to manage the maintenance of, and any new construction for, the Trans Australian Railway infrastructure from the middle of the Nullabor Plain through to Kalgoorlie.

We had a selection of earthmoving machinery and construction plant that we used for maintaining embankments, clearing access tracks, clearing waterways and any new construction works. We moved the equipment around from siding to siding via flat-top rail wagons that were picked up by the weekly “Tea and Sugar” and moved on to the next destination.

At each of the crossing loops, such as Forrest, Haig or Naretha, we had an unloading ramp / buffer stop constructed at the end of the siding road. These were generally constructed of a sleeper ‘pig-sty’ filled with compacted earth and tapered down as a ramp to allow us to load and unload the equipment.

Unfortunately, the shunting of long freight trains, in those days, was less than an exact science, and we would occasionally arrive at the siding to find that the flat-top wagon with machinery on top had been shunted through the unloading ramp, damaging it or even totally destroying it.

When I suggested to my staff that we should find a way to address the issue I was told an interesting story.

Apparently one of the Permanent Way foremen (called Roadmasters at the time) had become tired of restoring destroyed loading ramps and had decided to construct the ultimate in buffer stops. According to the story, he found a forgotten flat top wagon, took the coupling off one end and the bogie off the other end. The lower end was buried some 1.5 metres into the ground and the whole structure encased in compacted earth to form an “indestructible” unloading ramp.

All went well for about six months and the buffer stop survived several shunting incidents. Then the foreman in question received a rather terse and pointed letter from the Chief Mechanical Engineer in Port Augusta.

“Your unloading ramp is causing significant damage to my wagons when involved in shunting movements – please remove it immediately.”

So the “indestructible” buffer stop was removed and peace returned to the Trans Australian Railway.

It appears that neither of the engineering disciplines was game enough to suggest that the operations branch should take more care with their shunting operations.

To hear more about how various rail disciplines can work together to achieve common goals visit for information on the 2nd Annual Inter-Disciplinary Rail Engineering Workshop.