Exceeding the standard in hi-rail vehicles

Aries Rail have made a name for themselves by providing the Australian market with unique solutions, backed up by engineering expertise.

The professionalisation of railway engineering has come a long way in the past two decades. What was once a disparate and unregulated area with apocryphal stories of bush- mechanics has become a national field with clear standards and precise guidelines. Ewan McAllister, managing director of Aries Rail, has seen the sector move forward in leaps and bounds.

“When we first started out in this industry, there was basically no rules or regulations for hi-rail vehicles. You could just come up with a concept in your head and go and make it and put it on track,” he said.

This first began to change when contractors and customers began requiring sign off from certified engineering.

“There began to be requests for engineering,” said Ewan. “That would just involve a consulting engineer giving you a one-page report saying that he looked at something and liked it and that it was ok to go to work.”

Seeing where the industry was headed, and looking to lead when it came to higher standards for hi-rail vehicles, Aries Rail were one of the first companies to employ a mechanical engineer.

“Not long after that, we employed our second mechanical engineer and we haven’t looked back since, in terms of what we do. Once we started engineering things properly, it significantly improved the quality of work.”

The formalisation of these trends occurred in 2016, with the release of AS 7502, the Australian Standard for Road Rail Vehicles. Ewan was part of the team that developed the standard over three years, which has since been adopted by rail infrastructure managers (RIMs) around the country.

Today, on top of the requirements of AS 7502, RIMs are adding their own, stringent requirements, something that Aries Rail are only too happy to meet, due to their in-house engineering expertise, said Nathan Bender, director at Aries Rail.

“Every project we work on goes through a controlled engineering design process before releasing into manufacture and then again through various ITP, certification, compliance, and accreditation processes.”

One area that Aries Rail have specialised is in the conversion of heavy trucks for working on rail.

“Large trucks have been a specialty of ours,” said Nathan. “8x4s are large trucks with heavy payloads. As with everything in the design of railways, everything has become bigger and heavier, so the trucks have moved to reflect that.”

To ensure that these larger vehicles were fit for purpose when working in a rail environment, Aries Rail have designed and manufactured their own coil springs to match the spring rate of the parent vehicle, which enable the vehicles to reach a higher load share percentage without overloading.

Another specialty has been the development of air-bagged hi-rail suspensions which is the only safe way to convert an air-bagged truck, something not widely understood in the industry.

Ewan explained that the benefit of designing and manufacturing these kinds of specialist equipment in house means that Aries Rail vehicles can provide a superior and more efficient service.

“Without doing that,” added Nathan, “large trucks on rail payload was severely restricted.”

Meeting this requirement has enabled Aries Rail to supply vehicles that can carry greater loads, maximising their productivity and making large trucks a viable plant and equipment tool.

In addition to the larger vehicles, Aries Rail is also a supplier of light hi-rail vehicles, such as its system for Toyota LandCruisers, has been independently certified for use with driver and passenger airbags.

In-house engineering expertise is utilised on every Aries Rail system.

CERTIFICATION AND SERVICING EXPERTS
In addition to their base in Perth, Aries Rail recently expanded its footprint to Melbourne, to be able to provide 24-hour response to the east coast market.

“We made a strategic decision to base ourselves in Melbourne and move up from there,” said Nathan.

“It gives us that direct after sales support and the comfort that brings for customers making the choice to choose Aries as their fleet provider. Even if it’s Sydney, we can be there with the service truck and a set of tools within 24 hours if need be.”

Having first-hand knowledge of their own equipment allows Aries Rail to know exactly the issues facing any piece of kit.

“Particularly for our own equipment, we’re the designer, the engineer, and the certifier, so we do understand it better than somebody else who may not know the intricacies,” said Nathan.

In addition, with their experience in the design and certification process, Aries Rail can provide ongoing certification services for equipment to be used on every network.

“With our strong engineering background, we’re able to offer that certification process for every network. Then with our eastern states presence and a mobile service truck and a workshop we’re able to offer a recertification and a structured planned service program,” said Nathan.

In addition to engineering, Aries have invested in technical and trade knowledge. “We have our own team of mechanical engineers, we recently employed our own compliance engineer, we have a full time PLC programmer, and we have a full-time welding supervisor so that we comply with AS1554 Structural steel welding, which is required under AS7502,” said Ewan.

“All of our weld designs are tested and our staff are coded against them, to certify we fully conform to industry standards.”

Looking to where the industry is moving in the future, Aries Rail have partnered with Holland Co, the largest mobile flash-butt welding service provider in the world to bring the same dedicated, specialist flash-butt welding service model to Australia. Providing these unique solutions is how Aries will continue to service the Australasian rail industry, said Ewan.

“We’ll continue to evolve and deliver the solutions that the market looks for. It’s hard to see what 15 years ahead will be, but we’ve looked to add complimentary products from around the world to what we can offer the Australian market.”

The company has specialised in the conversion of large vehicles.