Technology to the rescue:
New recovery system for high-output machines

The main control unit is attached to the machine by magnets while the operator uses a remote control unit.

Network Rail’s high-output track renewal machines are enormous – a ballast cleaner is half a mile long. So, if one of these machines is stranded on site, it will block the railway and may take a long time to recover.

To counter this, Network Rail investigated what would be needed to assist in the recovery of a high-output machine. All of the company’s specialist machines are programmable logic controller (PLC)-controlled. In the highly unlikely event that these, and their back up systems, should malfunction, Network Rail realised that it would need specialist recovery equipment and procedures to recover the machines and avoid disruption. 

In developing these recovery procedures, Network Rail identified the need for equipment that could remotely apply 24V DC from the machine’s 110V AC outlets to up to six hydraulic solenoid valves, bypassing the defective on-board control system and so getting the machine moving again.

The unit is powered from the machine itself and can control up to six solenoid valves.

With a specification in place, Network Rail turned to HBC-radiomatic (UK) to develop equipment to meet this very specific requirement.

The Birmingham-based company, a fully accredited partner and sole UK & Ireland agent for German manufacturer HBC-radiomatic, provides a range of versatile, radio-controlled solutions for applications in a wide range of industries, from the factory floor to forestry.

The solution to Network Rail’s problem required a dedicated remote-control unit that was lightweight and easy to use in trackside locations, which are often tricky to access, as well as robust enough to cope with all weather conditions.  It would also have to allow the operator to remain in a position of safety.

HBC-radiomatic delivered a bespoke unit in line with Network Rail’s specification for an accessible, radio-controlled solution, which would be easy to use both on Network Rail’s ballast-cleaning service (BCS) vehicles and track-relaying system (TRS). The unit will work with most 24V DC hydraulic solenoid valves and a 110V AC or 24V DC supply. Similar radio equipment is already used for normal operations on the D75, an undercutter used within the TRS, which is already approved for use by Network Rail.

To ensure it is easy to use, the new equipment is:

  • Lightweight and portable, able to be operated by one person;
  • Highly effective in supporting the safe movement of stranded vehicles;
  • Based on tried and tested technology that is already approved by Network Rail.

As safety is paramount, the kit produced for Network Rail is light and easy to carry when walking trackside and simple for one person to lift and attach to the side of the machine, even in dark and stormy conditions. The remote-control transmitter unit is also easy to handle and utilises well-established technology that is already used in a wide range of lifting and industrial applications.

Mark Hollyhead, HBC-radiomatic.

Mark Hollyhead, technical sales manager at HBC-radiomatic (UK), explained: “The equipment allows Network Rail teams to rescue a train manually, in the event of failure, by allowing them to remotely apply 24V DC from the machine’s 110V AC outlets to up to six hydraulic solenoid valves, so that they can move the BCS and clear the track from a place of safety.”

The new recovery system, based on HBC-radiomatic’s radiobus® technology, has been customised specifically to interface with technology on the BCS.

The main unit measures 300mm x 400mm and weighs just 7.5kg. It can easily be carried trackside and connected by magnets to the outside of the machine. The unit is then manually connected to the required hydraulic solenoid valves via cables and operated by a remote control, which allows the operator to control parts of the machine from a position of safety, clear of any moving parts.

The remote control unit is simple to operate.

The remote-control transmitter weighs just 3kg and includes a range of safety and security features to ensure it can only be accessed by authorised personnel.

The new trackside recovery units will also be used to assist with future emergency recovery procedures for the D75 undercutter machines, which form part of Network Rail’s two track relaying systems.

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New recovery system for high-output machines"

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