Steel giant confident Britain's rail industry is on the right track

By Scunthorpe Telegraph | Posted: 19 Dec 2017

THE three key forces that drive continuous innovation in Scunthorpe’s renowned rail production hub have been outlined.

With HS2 heading down the line, the industry is in fine shape when it comes to infrastructure demand and use, and both are bringing challenges that British Steel is embracing.    

Rail technologies manager Robert Lambert underlined the position of strength, and how the team is constantly striving to develop products and partnerships to ensure it remains embedded as a vital component in the sector.

Speaking after addressing Lincolnshire Iron and Steel Institute’s latest meeting, Mr Lambert said: “The rail industry has been a success in terms of passenger numbers and the amount of revenue it generates. As an industry it has seen exponential growth since the Nineties. Passenger numbers have doubled in the last 20 years, and compared to Europe it has seen 50 per cent more in the same time period. 

“The UK rail industry has been very successful, but that has brought challenges. People want to travel on a Sunday, they want to travel earlier and later, and this means there is less time to maintain the network, so therefore they need assets that last longer or an ability to maintain the network quicker.”

MORE: British Steel's key role in the future of the industry

He highlighted night tube use as part of this, cranking up the demands in some of the toughest environments. 

“Assets that last longer is a focus for us, as well as not needing to be maintained as often or inspected as often,” he said. The team’s metalogy experience also assists in development of weld technology to join the track together, collaborating with other leading organisations at a critical point in the infrastructure’s wear. 

“The other big driver is cost,” Mr Lambert said. “Network Rail, being a public organisation, is scrutinised for how much money it spends, and anything that can be done to save money and reduce maintenance is beneficial.”

Cost has undoubtedly been a feature of the HS2 debate too, but the “unparalleled venture into modern engineering” is being warmly welcomed by the team, which now boasts more than 100 different rail profiles, including recent corrosion protection with the Zinoco brand and neighbourhood-friendly SilentTrack.

“High speed rail is still in its infancy in the UK,” said Mr Lambert, who has been in his current role for the past five years, and in Scunthorpe for 11, having moved from the Midlands after graduating from university.

Comparing the 160km linking London to the Channel Tunnel to the 20,000 km on the ground in China, he said: “As an industry we need to recognise that there is a lot of expertise around, from what other people have done. We have done rail renewal on HS1, and while HS2’s delivery won’t be for a few years yet, we are trying to integrate with it. Our mill in France supplies high speed rail there, and we are asking what learnings we can take from there, what different techniques can be applied.” While that is a shorter-term vision, further horizon scanning is also well underway, with consideration being given to what autonomous transport could mean for rail, as well as potential lightweighting of rolling stock. 

MORE: New partnership will save British Steel tens of millions of pounds

Giving an example, he said: “Take the Cleethorpes to Doncaster line, with two trains an hour. Would it be more beneficial to have a pod that trundles down the railway when needed rather than a scheduled service? 

“There is work to be done around using older infrastructure and new vehicles.”

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