Rolling back to the beginning

By Yann Rageul, head of sales Europe & strategic consulting, Romax, discusses designing a problem-free fleet


A French railway operator’s recent adjustments to platform widths and the order of new rolling stock, at a cost of €50 million, should serve as a reminder that careful planning must not be overlooked and that all elements should be checked and taken into consideration during the design process.

In the UK, the Office of Rail Regulation recently revealed that train journeys have doubled in the last 20 years. Approximately 1.27 billion train journeys were taken between March 2012 and 2013 and this number continues to rise. With this in mind, any mistakes made during the initial design and planning stages have the potential to have a much greater impact. Costly penalties and their impact on revenue become an ever-increasing risk if design mistakes begin to frequently lead to a failure in service. Many railway operators have processes in place to limit issues before they arise, such as regular testing and inspection. However the most effective way to eliminate downtime is in the early design stages. We would argue that integration is one of the most important elements in the design process and has a major impact on rail operation and downtime.


To put it simply, you could have the best quality rolling stock components manufactured by the most acclaimed companies in the industry, but as soon as they are put together as a system, issues can arise. This might not occur during the testing process as a limited number of parts with specific tolerances are tested. However, it can become an issue further down the line. The fallout from this can be incredibly costly especially if designs are implemented for multiple fleets, across several networks.

Using accurate design simulation software capable of running parametric studies across a range of parameters simultaneously, such as bearing clearances and manufacturing tolerances, is essential. It is possible to pinpoint where problems could arise and mitigate the issue by making the design less sensitive and therefore avoiding potential expensive problems.


The use of design simulation technology at the initial stages of concept development gives you the opportunity to conduct parametric studies to optimize the full system under differing operating conditions that can be encountered throughout a Rail Network. Data outputs can help decipher the root cause of failure before a failure has even occurred. It’s often surprising to operators that a disruption causing countless delays can be something as small as minor misalignment issues or simply bearings settings that are slightly out of place. National railway operators risk exposing themselves to serious backlash if things aren’t running smoothly. They need to take a proactive approach by identifying and eliminating integration issues at the start.

Some railway operators, such as Irish Rail, a national provider of rail and related services in Ireland, are not only taking this proactive approach to fixing problems, but also identifying the root cause to avoid similar problems in the future. When the company started seeing an increasing number of bearing failures in a particular fleet of rolling stock, it wanted to track down the cause, so it approached Romax Technology to help.


Romax was able to provide a review of all design and service data, and perform a physical analysis of the axle box bearings, simulation and modelling using its in-house developed driveline analysis software RomaxDESIGNER. The result means Irish Rail is now in a much better position to limit the amount of failures, project operations and consequently reduce risk.
The right design simulation and analysis software offering should include exploration of the complete driveline, including gearboxes, couplings, bearings, electrical motor and supporting structures such as bogie frame, axle and wheel. This wide scope of analysis, using software designed for speed and accuracy, allows for the number of design cycles to be significantly reduced.

Component life and the overall efficiency of an entire fleet can be calculated, allowing for effective on-going system development. Stakes are high, and the consequences involved with ignoring the durability and longevity of a railway system can be serious, especially with passenger numbers continually on the increase. Something as straightforward as using a design simulation software program to replicate failures and test the durability of a system can save you a world of issues in the long term.

The cost isn’t just monetary anymore. It’s about reputations and railway operators are under more pressure than ever to provide a consistent and reliable service. Making minor adjustments to the design process for rolling stock can be the difference between a happy customer base and a €50 million bill.

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