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Arrowvale: more than just an OTMR supplier

As developments in new technology continue to drive performance and efficiency across the railways, the headlines are regularly grabbed by the big names – the companies who manufacture the trains themselves or play a key part in their maintenance and operation.

Arrowvale shop floor
Arrowvale shop floor

Behind the scenes smaller and less well–known companies are largely unsung as they develop the new systems and pieces of equipment that enable this progress to happen.

Midlands–based Arrowvale Electronics has an impressive history within the rail industry and is one of the UK's largest suppliers of rail safety equipment, with a product range that includes on Train Monitoring Recorders (OTMR), Drivers Safety Device – vigilance units, Drivers Interface Units, Remote Condition Monitoring, Solid State Lighting, De–Icing and National Radio Network (NRN) equipment.

Arrowvale is an established electronics manufacturer, with full hardware and software design facilities and total assembly capabilities which include conventional and surface mount printed circuit boards (PCBs), wiring, harness, panel, cubicle, electromechanical and general assemblies. These are supported by design, manufacture, inspection and full test services, but as the company explains 'We do a bit more than people think, but we never get a mention because people are looking at the front end. Without the stuff behind it all that impressive kit wouldn't work.


As well as the latest, cutting edge technology Arrowvale is playing its part in keeping some of the UK's older rolling stock in active service, noting 'We actually still manufacture modules for Wheel Slip Protection which go back to 1966 and are still supplying a limited quantity. The technology and components have changed considerably but we still keep it going'.

The company is still servicing and supplying NRN radios as the introduction of the new GSM–R system falls behind schedule and recently it revamped the air conditioning units for East Coast's Mk 4 coaches, replacing two systems which were both becoming increasingly unreliable. 'We designed a new electronic, computer–controlled, solid state replacement that's an exact fit for the older replacement. It uses the same connectors so it can just be dropped into place'.

Arrowvale's design capabilities stretch Away from the 'black boxes' hidden away in equipment cabinets, having designed the cb and desk arrangement for the Alstom Class 458 and 460 EMUs and the Bombardier Turbostar and Electrostar multiple–units.

The retention of the rights to these designs means that the company ¡s heavily involved in the programme to split the Class 460 sets to create longer and additional Class 458 sets, which will require new cabs for all of the Class 458 fleet. This project will see Arrowvale supplying new OTMR equipment coupled with download hardware and software which will make the whole fleet compatible.

It is perhaps because of this work that Arrowvale has found itself pigeon–holed as just an OTMR supplier and the challenge for the company is to get the message out to the industry that it is far more than just a 'black box supplier'. The company notes 'You'd be surprised at how much kit that is being installed badged with other, maybe more well–known, names – but we designed it and specified it. We have this thing about the rail industry dealing with larger companies and in some cases they're buying all our equipment: coming direct to Arrowvale will in many instances be the most economic solution. So, we're announcing to the world we are sub– contract designers and manufacturers by trade so come direct to us!'.

Saving the day

Another example of Arrowvale's ability to step in and devise an innovative solution to a problem which could have caused serious difficulties for the rail industry came with its work on NRN radios, where the delay in switching to the new GSM–R system was announced as the manufacture of the existing NRN radios ceased production. With a number of new train fleets to be delivered before GSM–R is fully operational there was a strong possibility that these would have been unable to enter service.

Arrowvale was contacted by the two manufacturers concerned with a plea for help in finding a solution. The company was able to source around 2,000 NRN–compatible radios that had been removed from buses and the vans of other major businesses.

Around 1 ,000 were fully stripped down and refurbished, fitted with a power amplifier and reprogrammed to make them compatible with rail software. Once fitted to a metal tray these were fitted into the new trains as a short term option and, as Arrowvale notes, 'Without us we don't know what they would have done!'

Looking to the future it is clear that the result Of the McNulty report the industry as a whole will be challenged to deliver cost savings and Arrowvale is keen to point out that it is keen to assist existing, and new, customers in driving down costs, reflecting 'We've just looked at a component that sells for £450 and we reckon we could make it and sell it for around £200. There are thousands of them out there and some people are quoting horrendous prices.

'We want people to bring their problems to us and we'll work with them this invitation covers a range of projects from keeping older trains running through life extension work to make them more reliable, to the fitting of new systems to make day to day operation and maintenance more efficient. The company concludes 'There are new franchises coming along with the promise of product improvement and ROSCOs (rolling stock leasing companies) certainly want to improve train performance and reliability. We are a UK business, ready to take on any challenge the industry puts our way and we look forward to playing our part in this exciting time of growth in the UK's railways'. 

Tony Miles

Case Study: Remote Condition Monitoring

The drive for improved punctuality across the rail industry has, in turn, driven a search for ever higher levels of train reliability. The days of a driver making a note of any problems in a book left handily in his cab are reaching an end, and the ability of a depot to manage these vague notes with an equally vague 'NFF' (No Fault Found) is equally frowned upon within the industry.

Trains rolling off the production lines in recent years have come equipped with on-board systems which not only spot faults, or even potential faults, but use the on-board W-Fi to send instant messages to control rooms to ensure engineers and depots are ready to carry out repairs at the end of a day's service. Equipment on-board trains also records the data which can be downloaded at key locations.

This is not the case for many of the trains running in the UK and which may be required to stay in service for many years. Arrowvale has been at the forefront of the development of kit which can be fitted to these fleets to interface with various items of equipment and the train's OTMR (On Train Monitoring Recorder) to allow remote monitoring of the train's condition.

The Arrowvale Electronics RMD (Remote Monitoring Device) is an approved data logger which can connect to a large number of signals typically found on rail vehicles. It can also take a real time or bulk data feed from an Arrowvale or Q-Tron OTMR. The data is time and position stamped and then transmitted in real time to a fixed server via a 3G or Wi-Fi communications device. Lf communication is interrupted the data is spooled until a connection is re-established. A flexible design allows up to eight signal in put cards to be connected to the RMD and each card can monitor a range of signals including a GPS feed which is used to provide accurate time and location information to stamp every real time data packet generated.

Two additional systems developed by Arrowvale can be linked to the RMD to make the most of the data feed. The company's Analyser2 off-train data procession software allows the analysis of data downloaded from the train's OTMR and through the use of the AnaLive 'RealTime' Module, an extended version of the standard off line Analyser software, all data which is received by the OTMR, whether analogue, digital or from a serial communication source, can be displayed at the same time as it is logged to a secure memory. Not only can the software be used by engineers For fault diagnosis and vehicle maintenance purposes but it can also be used for driving assessments where an Operations Manager can effectively ride on the vehicle and view the driver's actions In real time.

In addition to the standard analysis windows available in Analyser, AnaLive incorporates a new 'Real Tìme Text Window' which can be used to display all received data, in a textual manner, as it is output by the OTMR.

Arrowvale was actually the first company in the UK to develop a Remote Condition Monitoring (RCM) system, having created a GSM-based design for the original OTMRs fitted to a number of track maintenance machines. This was developed into a Broadband Comms Processor (BCP) which was fitted to a Great North Eastern Railway Class 82 Driving Van Trailer and ran for over six months downloading the OTMR data seamlessly every journey.

After a similar trial on one of Northern Rail's Class 323 sets, Arrowvale won a contract to fit all of National Express East Anglia's Class 1 5x DMUs with RCM equipment Further contracts with South West Trains for its Class 1 58 and 455 units, with a possibility of fitment to the operator's Desiro fleet, and with on-going trials on a Class 158 which may lead to a full fleet installation, have followed with further trials and fleet fit-out planned for a significant fleet of EMUs. Perhaps the most significant contract so far has been to supply the equipment for East Coast's Project Falcon, which is seeing all of the company's 1C225 and HST fleets fitted with RCM equipment by Interfleet Technology and Nexala.

The £2million scheme, which was progressively rolled out to the East Coast fleet between autumn 2011 and spring 2012, has enabled the company to become the first train operator to have all of its electric and diesel fleets fitted with remote monitoring equipment. The system has proved invaluable in trans mining live data from the trains, which has helped in fault diagnosis and repair, and has revealed insights into the way train components behave in specific situations. With the company working hard to improve the reliability of its lC225 fleet in particular, the ability to monitor every action taken by a driver and to see details such as power controller settings and which relays are open is proving very important.

IC 125 in service at Peterborough. Inset RCM screen showing the cab controls of a DVT in service.

Once placed on a central server the data is also enabling engineers, both on depots and in control, to watch the real-time progress of trains and to review historic trends either on specific locomotives or across the whole fleet. The accuracy of the real time location data, through the on-board GPS locators, has even allowed East Coast to improve the quality of its delay attribution, particularly in the sub three- minute area where causes have been difficult to pinpoint. 'Project Falcon' is enabling East Coast to identify and assign responsibility for some of those delays One final example of the quality of data was seen with DVT vehicle which the RMD identified as having a faulty speedometer that was showing 1 25mph when the train was actually running slightly slower. Using the data from the OTMR the system was recalibrated and three minutes were subsequently cut from the Newcastle-London journey for the set in question. 

Tony Miles



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