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The first live trials of Intelligent Wheel Flange Lubrication (iWFL) on a Merseyrail 507 electric multiple unit will begin in March. The iWFL system has been developed by rail systems specialist Rowe Hankins of Bury in the United Kingdom.
The trial was prompted by a short-lived, but damaging, spate of increased wheel flange wear in 2007. This caused an increased rate of wheel reprofiling and wheel-set replacement causing a reduction in vehicle availability and temporarily disrupting services.
A joint venture between Serco and Ned Railways, Merseyrail is a very intensive urban rail network. The 75-mile system, connecting Liverpool to Southport in the north and to Chester in the south, also serves Birkenhead and the Wirral. The company operates a fleet of 59 refurbished electric multiple units leased from Angel Trains. These provide over 600 train services daily, accounting for around 30 million passenger journeys per year.
The reason for the sudden increase in wheel flange wear was identified as a reduction in the effectiveness of track based lubrication systems. This prompted the consideration of the need for on-train wheel flange lubrication to supplement the existing track-based lubricators. There are currently around 120 track lubricators located at critical points around the network. All of these are maintained manually and some are located within tunnels where access is restricted.
For the live trial, the iWFL system is to be fitted to a Class 507 multiple unit. The Rowe Hankins system combines proven lubrication distribution technology from REBS of Germany, a major supplier to European train builders and operators, with control systems from Rowe Hankins that make it especially suited to U.K. rail networks.
The control system memorizes the route and by means of speed/distance sensors and a curve detection device can pinpoint the location, severity and duration of curves. This allows pulses of lubrication to be applied to the wheel flanges as the train enters and goes through a curve. Detection of left and right hand curves allows proportionately greater lubrication to the outer wheel of a wheel set.
Increased rates of wear in 2007 had a big impact on vehicle availability and also increased rail wear. Network Rail and Merseyrail are working together to identify means of increasing the reliability and robustness of the wheel/rail interface. One aspect of the special interest is the ability of train-based lubrication to improve the carry of lubricant around the curves.
The initial trial period will last six months during which wheel and rail wear will be monitored closely. Rowe Hankins engineers will regularly inspect and top-up the systems as needed to maintain performance and establish the amount of lubricant used and service schedule.
Speaking for Rowe Hankins, iWFL product manager Eddy Wroblewski explained, "The iWFL system has had many hundreds of miles of trials on the Praxis Engineering test site at Long Marston and uses REBS components that have been extensively used for decades throughout Europe. This is the first live trial on the public U.K. network and we confidently anticipate that the initial promise of the system will be fully realized."