The creators of a new device for checking railway tracks claim that it could improve safety, increase reliability and minimise delays on our ailing railway network.
When a train runs over rails its weight causes the rails to move; compressing the ballast in the track bed. The resulting vibration can cause the point machine to fail. Rail movement is currently checked by eye, a laborious and flawed process.
However, the PointVoid meter, developed by Product Innovation Ltd and Gentech International, represents a thoughtful attempt to automate this task. The system consists of a large post driven into the ground beside the relevant sleeper. Attached to this is the unit, located above the end of the sleeper. A large spring reaches down and exerts a continual force on the sleeper. It does this so that when the sleeper moves the spring will move with it.
Attached to the base of the spring is a flexible vertical rod whose upper end is located in a long tube. At the top end of the flexible rod is a magnet.
Magnetically operated electrical switches are located along the length of the tube (but separated from the rod and magnet). As the rod moves up or down it will operate different switches, thus indicating its position. This position is then converted to a voltage output for use by a monitoring system.
Two prototype Meters, installed at a junction on the Birmingham to Bristol line in January, have reportedly already enabled engineers to identify problem points before a failure has occurred.