Seven-day railway. Invisible maintenance. Everyone home safe every day. Efficiency. Productivity. World class. Partnership.
Apart from my word processing software shouting at me about fragments of sentences, what have these all got in common? They are all strategies. Strategies for running an efficient modern railway. And if you are benchmarking against our European neighbours, strategies that are turning into everyday operations.
The Robel Mobile Maintenance Unit. The word processor groups it with the others – and rightly so – because it is a solution that turns those strategies into a daily reality.
It is 21.00, four degrees Celsius and we are standing on the platform with a number of other people waiting for our train. It arrives and because we are engineers, we don’t immediately climb on board and scramble for our seats, but we spend a little time admiring it, checking its tractive power and weight and remarking on its development. We climb aboard and even now there is no scrambling for the seats, but rather an appreciative inspection of the facilities – for our comfort there is a sink, microwave, coffee machine and other facilities and for those so inclined a view through the inter-connecting door of the driver at work. Yes, the signal has gone green and we have in fact already pulled off out of the station. We continue to talk until, suddenly we notice the space around us is empty. We proceed down the through corridor of the intermediate vehicle and are greeted by the sight of men already at work.Work in progress
A production line of fastenings being loosened, rail being lifted, pads being extracted and replaced and fastenings being re-secured – all without leaving the train. The workers have no hard-hats or hearing protection, but then they don’t need them, they have a roof over their heads and the electrically powered tools are silent and nearly vibration-less. The work is so silent that we completely missed its beginning.
To be fair to us, set-up of the worksite was well under five minutes – no need to take a possession, the signals that protected the train to get us here are still protecting us at work; no isolation – the overhead lines are still on, we have a roof over our heads. No COSS briefing or lookout, no placing of detonators or setting up a fence. Actually the side-walls of the machine have been deployed outward creating a fenced-in area, but that did take less than a minute so almost doesn’t count.
There is also no manual handling – no need to transport tools and equipment for the job from a difficult-to-reach access point over a number of tracks to the worksite. No need for a generator and lighting – just a flick of the switch to turn the integrated lighting on and fully illuminate the worksite.
Loosen fastening, lift rail, exchange pad, re-secure fastening. Loosen fastening, lift rail, exchange pad. Or perhaps better described: Loosen, loosen, loosen, lift, lift, lift, exchange, exchange, exchange, fasten, fasten, fasten. Whoosh, rumble, rumble, rumble, whoosh – a train rushes by on the adjacent track in our tunnel at full line-speed of 120km/h. Loosen, loosen, loosen, lift, lift, lift, exchange, exchange, exchange, fasten, fasten, fasten – the production line has continued through this without a break, while our machine is slowly, but steadily and constantly moving forward.
The supervisor stands on the platform above the bogie, looking down on the work with a complete overview on the production. In partnership with the ROBEL representative who is there for our visit he begins to discuss the minor developments he would like to see in the next machine produced that would further improve the efficiency of this already slick operation. The idea is noted, all the while the work is continuing.
Gradually the sound of some music rises from the stereo system that the work gang has mounted and I notice that no longer is there any loosening going on – in fact the un-fastening machine is being quietly and simply stowed away against the side wall of the machine. The last pads are changed and rail lowered and then all that is happening is the final fastening before within minutes all is packed away. The site, as it has been throughout this operation is left clean and tidy and everyone heads back to the seating area. By the time we get there, the driver has already engaged traction drive and we are off – not that we ever stopped moving, but now at transit speed – still protected by the signals and without having to release the possession or re-energise the overhead line.
What just happened here is a routine bit of efficient, productive, invisible maintenance supporting the seven-day railway concept with everyone going home safely. It is certainly world class, or is it just a class in how the world is now maintaining their railways – since machines have already been sold or used in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands and Norway.
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