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Network Rail RIDC Melton

Review: Stuart Smith

Date: Thursday 15th September 2016

Members of the Institution Council were privileged to be invited to the Rail Innovation & Development Centre (RIDC Melton) for a rare glimpse into the fascinating world of the former Old Dalby to Edwalton test track. The site has further history, as it is built on the ground once occupied by Asfordby Mine, which closed in 1997.

The Council met at Leicester station and transferred by an East Midlands Trains service to Melton Mowbray. The original plan had been to travel via the Corby line direct from London, but our visit coincided with a planned closure of the route, this being due to remedial works in conjunction with the re-doubling between Kettering and Manton Jct.

From Melton Mowbray we were met by our pre-booked taxis for the short transfer to RIDC Melton. Upon arrival, we were driven into the Industrial Park, and right up alongside a Virgin Trains liveried Class 800 unit. The Hitachi IEP (Intercity Express Programme), number 800101, was undergoing static testing during our visit, and although it did look very smart, it was already dirty in its base-white livery!

Right on cue, we were met by Amanda Mackie (RIDC Programme Manager) and Pete Ellis (RIDC Principal Engineer), who welcomed us to the facility. Over coffee and biscuits, we were given a safety briefing and an overview of the activities undertaken.

The facility is sited on the former Asfordby Mine, and indeed, the main service shed was formally the Coal Grading and Storage Facility up to 1997 when the mine closed. Today it houses a 4-road shed, and is 230metres long, allowing it to hold 9-car IEP’s and Class 345 units for Crossrail. During our visit, a few of London Undergrounds S-Stock units were inside, which have returned to RIDC Melton for seat and air-bag modifications, plus further testing on the 4th Rail test track. Three of the four roads have 25kv overhead electrics, and the building also houses a wheel drop facility.

Two Class 08 shunters are based on site, 08892 (Blue) and 08956 (Green) for transporting trains/vehicles as required. These are especially used to move S-Stock trains from/to the 4th Rail test section at Old Dalby. Also on site during our visit was 47714, which still wears turquoise Anglia livery – albeit very faded now.

37198 (currently undergoing repairs after sustaining collision damage whilst on loan to the Great Central Railway), is destined to be based at the second site operated by RIDC, which is at Tuxford, on the former through route from Shirebrook to High Marnham Power Station – and part of the even longer closed Great Central route to Lincoln.

Our hosts further explained the current and future work being undertaken at the facility – mainly involving Crossrail and IEP/AT300 trains – plus revealed plans to take the whole site away from direct Network Rail control; operating it as a private entity – in a similar way to a preserved railway, albeit with 125mph running capability.

The test facility is also able to offer the following ‘enhanced’ features to potential customers:

Next we were taken on a tour of the offices/control rooms, where day to day staff oversee the operations on the site, plus for signalling practices, have contact through the mainline connection at Melton Jct GF (with the signal box at Melton Mowbray station).

At 12:30pm, our group was taken by road to Old Dalby for the second part of the visit.

Once suited and booted (orange is such a fetching colour), we were escorted trackside and boarded one of London Undergrounds S-Stock trains currently undergoing electrical output trails on the section of test track fitted with 4th rail equipment.

Our train made numerous trips up and down the 2.5mile section of track, and our members could ride (in pairs) in the driving cab to see first-hand the controls and operating practices.   Although a common sight to local residents over the past few years, for us seeing a tube train running at speeds of up to 40mph through rural Leicestershire, seemed as bizarre as it gets on today’s modern railway system.  Tests on the emergency braking and overspeed sensors was also carried out during the trials.

It was explained to us at this point about the constraints of the test track, and in particular, the limitations regarding the amount of trains per hour they can actually run. This has more to do with keeping the local residents and neighbouring villages ‘on side’, rather than the limitations on pathway capacity etc,.

For example, the main section between Old Dalby and Edwalton allows between 4 and 8 passes per hour, whereas the 4th rail section allows up to 10 passes. These figures are further limited dependant on traction type (i.e. diesel hauled or AC electric operation)!

During our time on the test track, we were lucky to witness the brand-new Crossrail unit (number 345001) undergoing trials on the adjacent track. These tests also allow the RIDC staff to monitor ‘interference’ between the two trains whilst running on opposite lines.

Of note from an external view point, is that the Crossrail fleet are being built without ‘yellow warning panels’ on the cab ends. A first in the modern era for sure!

All too soon our visit was concluding, and our hosts ensured a timely passage back to Melton Mowbray station for our homeward connections. Some opted to return to Leicester, whilst others choose to complete a round-trip and head back to London via Peterborough.

Further Reading:

© Network Rail - published here by kind permission

The links below open a presentation given to the Locomotive & Carriage Institution on their visit to the Network Rail Rail Innovation and Development Centre at Melton.

Also included is a general brochure on this comprehensive specialist built test track for the testing of rolling stock, plant, on-track machines, infrastructure and equipment.

Our grateful thanks to Network Rail and in particular Amanda Mackie and Peter Ellis for arranging this visit and their hospitality during the  tour of this impressive facility.

A presentation given to the Locomotive and Carriage Institution on their visit to the RIDC Melton on 15th September 2016

A brochure on RIDC Melton and Tuxford Rail Innovation & Development Centres

The RIDC Meton and Tuxford website.

RIDC Website RIDC Melton Presentation RIDC Melton & Tuxford Brochure