Merseyrail trials intelligent lubrication for wheel flanges

Train operator Merseyrail is hoping that an intelligently-controlled lubrication system will improve its vehicle availability and reduce the number of train disruptions caused by the need to reprofile wheels and replace wheel-sets.

Developed by Bury-based rail systems specialist Rowe Hankins, the Intelligent Wheel Flange Lubrication (iWFL) system memorises the train's route. It then uses speed and distance sensors and a curve detection system to work out exactly when the wheel flanges need lubricant applied. By detecting left- and right-hand curves as such, it can add more lubricant to the outer wheels where it is most needed.

As well as reducing wear on the wheels and the need for wheel realignment, adding lubricant to the wheel flanges can improve fuel efficiency, increase rail life and help stop the wheels squealing as the train rounds a curve. Hankins added that, compared to track-based lubrication, train-based systems should improve the carry of lubricant around curves.

Merseyrail is an urban rail network which operates a fleet of 59 refurbished electric multiple units. It connects Liverpool to Southport in the north and to Chester in the south, and also serves Birkenhead and the Wirral. It runs over 600 train services daily, accounting for around 30 million passenger journeys per year.

The company realised it needed to consider on-train lubrication after a sudden increase in wheel flange wear during 2007 was traced to its 120 track-based lubrication systems losing their effectiveness. The track-based systems require manual maintenance, and some are located within tunnels where access is restricted.

Live trials of the iWFL system start this month on a Merseyrail 507 electric multiple unit and are due to run for six months. The system combines lubrication distribution technology from REBS of Germany with control systems designed specifically for use on UK rail networks.

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