Recovery of stranded railway vehicles with HBC Radiomatic

Maintenance vehicles traveling along the Network Rail track, such as ballast cleaners, can be over half a mile in length. If they break down and get stranded in place, they can cause major problems by blocking the railroad and delaying operations, delaying or canceling passenger trips and disrupting the rail network.

The machines operated by Network Rail are Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) systems which, in the event of a malfunction, would require the release of specialized equipment to rescue the stuck machines. Network Rail needed a solution that could be operated remotely to help with their recovery.

Although machine jamming, for example due to a power failure, is rare, it is important for the industry to be able to recover and move them safely. Network Rail recognized that it would be lightweight equipment that employees could easily carry, while still being rugged enough to be used in all weather conditions.

Network Rail contacted HBC Radiomatic UK to manufacture a solution to meet their remote control needs. HBC Radiomatic responded to the case by creating remote control transmitters in the form of a lightweight, portable remote control system that can retrieve stranded rail vehicles in a safe and controlled manner.

The use of HCB Radiomatic’s remote control technology will allow Network Rail to operate the equipment with most of its 24 VDC hydraulic solenoid valves and a 110 V AC or 24 V DC power supply.

Mark Hollyhead explains the main advantages of the remote control unit as well as how the technology can remotely access blocked machines.

Credit: Radiomatic.

Frankie Youd (FY): Can you tell me about the history of Radiomatic UK?

Mark Hollyhead (MH): HBC Radiomatic is a German product, it has been made in Germany for 75 years, it is a family business.

HBC Radiomatic UK are the UK agents for them, we are based in Birmingham. HBC Radiomatic UK was established in 2011. We manufacture, install, repair and service HBC Radiomatic products.

FY: Can you explain how remote control technology works?

MH: The mandate of this project was that Network Rail’s maintenance systems use PLC control; if that fails, they cannot move the trains. If the train is stopped there due to a power failure, then it will block the passenger trains.

The mandate was to design a system in collaboration with Network Rail that could manually recover these systems. We designed a radio system that was our 737 spectrum-3, and a little control panel for them. So if it breaks down, it must be very light equipment because you are asking people to physically carry it.

The receiver part of the equipment fits on the side of the train with magnets, and then there are these cables that they can physically plug into the train to move it around. Because it’s radio controlled, they can get away from the train, [away] from the danger zone, and simply control it with our remote control. The alternative they had in place before was to physically get under the train and do it manually, which is not a very safe option.

We sold it to Network Rail and demonstrated it to their employees who will then form a training package for the employees who will use it.

FY: What are the main advantages of using a remote control unit?

MH: So that the operator can work in complete safety. This is the idea of ​​any radio control system, it also increases efficiency, but the main advantage of radio control is safety.

We will use 2.4 gigahertz technology for frequency, which is an adaptive intelligent frequency system, so it will never be interrupted so that operators can work smoothly. The main unit weighs 7.5kg, this is the part that fits on the side of the train. The actual part that they hold in their hands is approximately 3 kg; it fits around the waist [so] there is no weight on the operator.

All of our radio equipment meets all applicable safety standards, machine safety is very important these days. All our radio systems meet the standards for safe use on machines.

FY: What causes grounding of railway maintenance vehicles?

MH: It’s because of the train’s electrical system; the train’s electrical system may fail. This is a very rare problem for Network Rail, but if it does happen it is a major problem for them because you have a train stuck in the track which can cause delays.

The radio kit we provided is truly the worst case scenario that could sit on the train for years and years and never be used, but it’s there just in case.

FY: Can technology like this be adapted for different uses within industry?

MH: Anything that is electrically controlled can be controlled by a radio control system. Thus, it could be adapted to all sectors of the industry. We’re always looking for new applications, it’s a very competitive market, so everyone is looking for niche markets to try to find new applications.

You usually see this technology used on cranes, hydraulic lifting machines, basically anything that is electrically controlled. Sometimes it makes sense to use it, sometimes it doesn’t.

FY: Is the company working on future projects?

MH: It’s quite normal for someone to make a request to us, and then you have to design the system around that request and run it. You could spend a lot of time developing something for a system that doesn’t make sense because the guy might say it’s a lot safer to drive it from the cab on his own.

We are very dependent on the people who approach us to tell us that we think the remote control might work for this. Then we can sit down with the app and we can design something that works for it.

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