Patent attorney ROSIE HARDY explains how Loughborough University’s new REPOINT switching mechanism works and how it’s protected under UK patent 2516706
At present, the UK rail network relies on a track switch design that was first protected by a patent back in 1843.
However, with demand on the railways expected to double by the 2040’s a new, patented track switch system called REPOINT has been identified as a potential solution for improving rail capacity.
The award winning REPOINT system was developed by Loughborough University, in conjunction with RSSB, after recognising the conventional track switch design is costly to maintain, slow to operate and suffers from single switch failure which causes significant service disruption.
Due to the commercial opportunities, Loughborough University has strategically protected REPOINT with a portfolio of UK patents and patent protection is also being sought around the world.
From UK Patent 2516706, we find that REPOINT is a form of stub switch with multiple pairs of static stock rails defining different routes, and a pair of switch rails movable between the stock rails according to the selected route. To improve the alignment and interlocking of the rail ends, this patent protects an arrangement where the static stock rails and movable switch rails have a mating profile that aligns each respective switch rail and stock rail and prevents relative transverse movement. The mating profile can have a V-section or U-section profile and it also allows for longitudinal movement due to thermal expansion and contraction.
According to UK Patent 2516707, REPOINT includes a lift, hop and drop mechanism that includes an actuator to raise and lower the switch rails in an arc relative to different pairs of stock rails. It also features a separate locking arrangement to prevent transverse horizontal movement of the switch rails as they move between the stock rails. The mechanism helps to reduce friction and is much faster to operate, allowing REPOINT to function in under a second compared to the standard four seconds of the conventional track switch.
To address the problems of reliability and rail disruption, UK Patent 2516707 explains how REPOINT uses several lift, hop and drop mechanisms to operate the same switch rails. With this additional redundancy, the failure of a single actuator will not cause the failure of the entire REPOINT switch system, so rail traffic will not be disrupted by an actuator failure.
With patent protection in place, a consortium led by Ricardo Rail Ltd are now developing a working prototype and planning to install REPOINT on the London Underground in 2018.
With over 35,000 track switches on the UK mainline network alone, REPOINT has the potential to transform the rail network, making substantial cost savings, boosting capacity and improving safety.