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Arrowvale combats obsolescence problems

The demand for rail travel continues to grow but with a mixture of confusion over franchising policy, and a recession–led slowing of new train orders, much of the additional capacity that is desperately needed on the railways is being met by the continued use of rolling stock well beyond its expected withdrawal dates. Indeed it is becoming increasingly likely that we will see trains reaching their 50th birthday whilst still giving daily service to their operators.

modern rail octoberEast Coast DVT No 82212 heads an IC225 set through Harringay on a morning service bound for King's Cross on 14 March 2012. Arrowvale has improved the functioning of the air conditioning equipment on these trains.

This older rolling stock needs to be kept running reliably. Thus innovative solutions are being sought to modify or replace existing components in order to keep trains in service and fit for use for many more years. In many cases the original manufacturers of components, and sometimes even trainsets themselves, have gone out of business.

For many years Arrowvale Electronics has come to the rescue of the rail industry by providing a design and manufacturing facility that is able to redesign and supply replacements for obsolete products. In many instances this involves the use of modern electronics, which in itself brings significant improvements in both reliability and overall performance, as well as reducing purchase cost. As one example, the small number of Modernisation Plan locomotives which are still in service sees Arrowvale continuing to manufacture small quantities of modules for wheel slip protection systems which date back to 1966.

One of the most recent examples is the development and manufacture of a replacement air conditioning controller for the Mk 4 coaches in the 1C225 trainsets operated by East Coast Trains. These systems had a very high failure rate, which resulted in customer complaints and expensive constant repair costs. Arrowvale successfully re–engineered the electronics and software, doing away with cumbersome mechanical relays. No specifications or documentation were available for the equipment apart from vehicle wiring schematics.

nrmArrowvale's NRN replacement kit allows operators to keep going until GSM-R is available.

Arrowvale pieced together the operation of the unit, interviewing key maintenance staff who were familiar with fault finding on the complete system, and produced the necessary documentation. Arrowvale then designed a brand new unit using the latest technology internally, but incorporating the same interfaces. At the time of re–engineering additional features were added that allow for data logging and remote monitoring of the air conditioning equipment which will further assist in improving the overall performance of the corn plctc system. Arrowvale explains: "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 could just be dropped into place".

As the introduction of the new GSM–R radios, which are replacing the older NRN system, fell behind schedule, Arrowvale was able to step in to save the industry by devising an innovative solution to a problem which could have caused serious difficulties for the rail industry. The announcement of the switch to the GSM–R system had seen the existing suppliers ceasing production and pulling Out of the market. However with a number of new train fleets to be delivered before GSrvI–R was to be fully operational there was a strong possibility that without an NRN radio, which was mandatory equipment, these would have been unable to enter service.

Arrowvale was contacted by the two train builders 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. Over a period of 10 years around 1,000 have been fully stripped down and refurbished, fitted with a power amplifier and reprogrammed to make them compatible with rail software. This has involved the redesign of particular circuits, the writing of software and complete system testing to meet all relevant standards. Once fitted to a metal tray these could be fitted into the new trains, and as replacement units for failed radios on some existing trains, as a short term option. As Arrowvale notes, "Without us we don't know what they would have done!".

Looking ahead it is clear that further life–extension work will present more challenges for Arrowvale and the company is keen to point out that it is happy to look at any project the industry can present it with. New production techniques often mean that replacement equipment is cheaper to purchase as well as bringing improved reliability and functionality to rolling stock, something which will be good news to a range of businesses keen to implement the cost savings being encouraged following the McNulty report. As Arrowvale concludes: "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



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