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27 Oct 2016

Revolutionary switch design could significantly reduce rail service disruption caused by points failures

Repoint is a patented ultra-high availability/maintainability track switch that could help support increased levels of day-to-day rail traffic across the network.

The design introduces the concept of using several actuators to operate the same points, meaning that in the event of a single failure the remaining actuators continue to function safely. With this additional redundancy built into each machine, rail traffic can still pass and remedial maintenance can be scheduled without causing immediate disruption to services.

Repoint also uses a unique ‘lift, hop and drop’ mechanism, a method that eliminates the friction experienced by the slide chairs used in traditional point machines. It is also much faster to operate:  Repoint can move a switch in under half a second, compared to four seconds for conventional designs – an improvement that can help support increased network capacity. 

The first full-scale Repoint will be integrated with London Underground infrastructure in early 2018.

Innovative response to set challenge of increasing network capacity

The development of Repoint originates from a request by the industry’s independent body RSSB, to explore ways to increase network capacity. Following discussions with industry stakeholders, the limitations of switch machines, and the extent of disruption caused by a single failure, was seen by the University as an area that could benefit from a fresh approach. The UK has over 20,000 switch and crossing units and, despite representing only 5% of network mileage, they account for over 15% of the track maintenance budget.

Ricardo Rail have assembled a consortium including Progress Rail, DEG Signal and MPEC Technology and will now assist with the next stage of design, build and trial of a Repoint switch.  

The contract is the result of an invitation to provide industrial development assistance publicised for official tender (OJEU) in June 2016.

Sam Bemment, of Loughborough’s Control Systems Group and Repoint’s technical lead, states:

‘This is an incredibly exciting time for us. Until now, the technology has been developed solely in our laboratory with the long-term support of RSSB. Our ambition now is to have a prototype deployed in the ballast. By partnering with the right industrial expertise we can complete this step to a much higher standard. Signing this agreement with such a well-known and highly regarded organisation is a significant milestone on the road to a successful network deployment, moving us closer to the step-change in performance that the industry tasked us with in 2010.’

Ricardo Rail will also assist in Repoint’s development beyond the prototype phase. Shakeel Meharban, Senior Commercial Manager at Ricardo Rail, commented:

‘This is an important first step in helping to bring this unique technology to the global market. Ricardo prides itself in its ‘one stop shop’ capability from expert advice through to niche production, and so we felt we were the perfect partner to support Loughborough University on such an innovative project. We are extremely proud to have this opportunity and look forward to a long and successful relationship with the team.

Neil Webster, RSSB Innovation Programme Director, stated: ‘Our continued support for Repoint reinforces our belief in the technology and its potential to deliver real, tangible benefits to the future of the rail industry.’