April the first – April Fool’s Day. The day that many companies start their financial years and also, therefore, the date that many supply contracts commence.
For Harsco Rail, it was the date that it took over the operation and maintenance contract for Network Rail’s mobile maintenance trains (MMTs). Network Rail has a fleet of eight MMTs, which are used to protect workers out maintaining track on the live railway.
In simple terms, each MMT is a three-car diesel multiple unit. Each of the three cars has a different purpose, but their overall aim it to make track maintenance more efficient and to keep workers safe.
Three cars, one purpose
The MMU car has a driver’s cab at one end, but the rest of the vehicle has no floor. The sides can move outwards to expand the area of ground that is covered and it is here that Network Rail’s track team can affect any repair they need. They are protected from the elements, from the dangers that might be presented by overhead electrified wires and from passing trains on other line that are still open to traffic.
Electric power, pneumatics and hydraulics are all available, so the most appropriate tools can be used, the area is well lit and there is an overhead hoist for lifting heavy items including complete rails or, if there is enough transverse space, sleepers. Louvres in the sidewalls and forced ventilation take care of any welding fumes.
A wide variety of work can be undertaken safely and quickly, including rail replacement, welding, stressing, localised ballast tamping, wet bed dig-outs, point motor maintenance, fastener replacement and stretcher-bar inspection and renewal.
The middle car is the workshop and storage area. It contains workbenches, cupboards and drawers, giving plenty of space to store both spare parts and a wide array of tools.
The floor of the through-gangway is made up of hatches which, when lifted, expose one long space that can be used to store complete rails. The overhead hoist links up with the track in the roof of the MMU car, so these heavy items can be moved to the workspace and the damaged components, once removed, can be put into store to be returned to the depot.
The car at the other end of the train also has a driver’s cab, as well as the diesel engine that provides motive power for the train and the generators, compressors and pumps for the electrical, pneumatic and hydraulic supplies.
There is also a crew area, where staff can sit while the train is moving, a mess room and toilet.
This arrangement also helps with Network Rail’s ambitions to get more women working on the railway. The on-board facilities overcome one of the major problems that female track workers experience – the availability of necessary facilities.
Operation of the MMT is fairly simple. Seven of them are based around the network, at Darlington, Paddock Wood, Derby, Retford, Romford, Wakefield and Horsham. The eighth is held as a spare and for use on longer-term projects.
Each of the seven MMTs covers a defined ‘patch’ of the Southern and Eastern regions. Drivers, therefore, have to have comprehensive route knowledge, as the MMT could be deployed anywhere in its patch, but only of the defined area.
Having left its depot, the MMT can travel under its own power at up to 60mph. One on site, it is protected by signallers, comes to a halt over the area where the work is required, and deploys the moveable sides so as to maximise workspace. Setting up, and tearing down at the end of the work, takes around five minutes.
The team can then undertake the work it was sent to do, using the most appropriate power tools and with all the spare parts to hand. Once the job is complete, tools are stowed, the side panels retracted and it’s off to the next site – quick, safe and efficient.
Network Rail’s contract with Harsco is for three years with the possibility of extension by one or two years. It is worth approximately £20 million.
To fulfil the requirements of having all seven MMTs available 24/7, 365 days a year, Harsco Rail has allocated a dedicated team to the programme, some of who were redeployed from previous contract holder Colas Rail under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) regulations (TUPE) while others are new recruits, creating great employment opportunities for the industry.
This approach ensures Network Rail get the continued full support of Harsco Rail’s team that is already running its switches and crossings (S&C) grinders under a separate contract.
The new MMT teams hit the ground running, with the first deployments happening on handover day itself.
Daniel Ryder, professional head of operations at Harsco Rail, is pleased with the way things are going. “Winning the MMT contract is representative of Harsco Rail’s industry-leading reputation for fleet reliability, efficiency and safety, together with our commitment with Network Rail for ‘Putting the Passenger First’,” he said.
“Over the term of this contract, our teams will work hard alongside our customer Network Rail to further improve the performance of the MMT fleet, whilst also delivering the highest level of customer service through the frontline team of train drivers and skilled maintenance and engineering staff.
“Being the supplier of choice for OTM (on-track machine) contracted services is at the heart of the Harsco Rail plan for continued success within our EMEA Contracted Services team. This award is another step further in our growth strategy.”
Harsco Rail president Jeswant Gill added: “We’re very pleased to expand our partnership with Network Rail.
“This award demonstrates Network Rail’s confidence in Harsco Rail as a valued partner capable of delivering class-leading performance.”