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Embedded rail project set to reduce costs and disruption

Engineers from across the light rail sector are joining forces on a project with the potential to save tramway owners and operators hundreds of thousands of pounds in maintenance costs while improving network reliability.

Led by UK Tram, the organisation representing the country’s light rail sector, they’re investigating ways to reduce damage to embedded on-street sections of track, which are more difficult and costly to repair than rails laid on ballast.

Craig O’Brien, Engineering Manager at UK Tram, explained:“Due to portability and the complex shape of the grooved rails used, continuous aluminothermic welding is the preferred method of track joining in street areas.

“However, we’ve seen a disproportionate number of breaks in the joints of these rails than in the flat-bottomed tracks that are laid on ballast.

“This means that repairs need to be carried out much sooner than expected, a process that either requires an extended closure of the route or several nights out of service in order to replace the broken section. Both options can cause disruption and inconvenience for passengers and residents living in close proximity to the network.”

“With an approximate repair cost of around £20,000 per break, this also represents significant additional expense for the operator or owner of the infrastructure.”

Now UK Tram has established a working group that includes engineers from its membership, experts from Network Rail and the leading weld suppliers Pandrol and Thermit.

Together they are looking at developing clear guidance on managing rail breaks while investigating ways to reduce future damage by exploring improvements in the overall welding process.

“Clearly a lot of work lies ahead as there is currently no workable alternative method of track joining available, but by working together we can mitigate the risk of damage and develop best practice when it comes to repairs and replacement,” Craig said.

“We’re already making significant progress and expect to deliver a guidance document early this year, which will be published through the recently established Light Rail Safety and Standards Board. Meanwhile, our ongoing research into the issue is expected to deliver significant cost savings and less disruption as new solutions emerge.”

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