Greater Anglia’s innovative new train braking system wins Engineering award at the Rail Industry Innovation Awards

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

An innovative new train braking system – like ABS in cars – pioneered by Greater Anglia, has won the Engineering award at the Rail Industry Innovation Awards.

Greater Anglia and project partners, Porterbrook, SNC Lavalin, KBRS and Loram UK Ltd, received the accolade at a ceremony on Friday (23rd June), for the project which will greatly improve the reliability of the Class 156 diesel trains involved, especially during the autumn, and is applicable to other similar trains across the UK.

This is the first time such a system – known in the industry as ‘Wheel Slide Protection’ (or WSP) – has been designed for Class 156 trains and it will benefit rural train services in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and parts of Cambridgeshire.

Wheel Slide Protection is a braking system like ABS on a car which uses technology installed on the train to judge whether its wheels are slowing evenly when the train brakes. When the wheels do not brake evenly this can cause damage to the wheel, known as a ‘wheel flat’. Wheel flats must be removed on a wheel lathe, which returns the train wheel to a perfect circle again. This can involve the train being out of service for up to a week.

If several trains suffer from wheel flats at the same time, which can occur in adverse weather conditions, particularly during the Autumn, this can lead to disruption to passengers through a shortage of operational trains available, meaning that some services are cancelled.

Greater Anglia believes that by installing WSP on its Class 156 trains (it is already installed on other types of train in its fleet), the number of rural services disrupted due to wheel flats will be significantly reduced.

The prototype Class 156 has been in operation since October 2016, through Autumn and adverse weather – including on the Marks Tey – Sudbury line (where, in 2015, many services were cancelled due to wheel flats caused by rails made slippery by fallen leaves - whereas service delivery in Autumn 2016 was generally very reliable, as a result of this project and a package of other improvements implemented by Greater Anglia and Network Rail).

Six months later, the train’s wheels are all still in good condition. None of its wheels have needed to visit the wheel lathe, whereas other Class 156 trains have needed to receive attention two or three times during the same period.

James Abbott, Editor of Modern Railways who organises the awards, said: “We are pleased to promote innovation in all corners of the railway and this project is a fine example of pioneering engineering to improve every day operations.”

Greater Anglia’s Norwich Depot Technical Manager, Jason Mills, said, “We are absolutely delighted to receive this recognition for an innovative solution and industry first by the teams at Norwich Crown Point, Porterbrook, KBRS, SNC-Lavalin and Loram UK Ltd, taking a class of train that some thought incompatible with WSP and creating a bespoke system that has surpassed everyone’s expectations. This investment means that these trains will be more reliable as they will not need to be taken out of service as often to visit the wheel lathe, and is a further investment to improve our passengers’ experience while we await the roll out of new trains from 2019.”

Porterbrook’s Fleet & Standards Director, Neil Foster, said, “Porterbrook was confident that WSP could be retrospectively fitted to Class 156 trains, but the performance of last Autumn’s WSP trial surpassed everyone’s expectations. It was only possible to deliver the trial in time to experience last autumn through a collaborative approach between all stakeholders. Porterbrook is really pleased to be supporting Greater Anglia in the fitment of WSP across its whole 156 fleet and ultimately we hope that WSP will be more widely adopted across the UK’s Class 150, 153, 155 &156 fleets if there is industry support for this successful approach”.