Inside RVEL

Derby is home to many established high-profile companies serving the rail industry.

Manufacturers, train operating companies and rolling stock leasing companies all have headquarters there, as do engineering, research and development companies. The city also boasts a major station, while Derby Etches Park depot serves East Midlands Trains’ main line fleet.

Housed in the former Railway Technical Centre (RTC) buildings is Railway Vehicle Engineering Ltd (RVEL). The company has grown steadily since it was formed following the collapse of FM Rail, and it now has contracts with the likes of Direct Rail Services, Great Western Railway and Network Rail - alongside several individual contracts as it seeks to expand. 

In its early years, RVEL overhauled Network Rail locomotives and various other operator’s vehicles, working mainly from RTC’s small two-road maintenance facility.

That changed in 2010 when it won a five-year maintenance deal with Network Rail for its infrastructure maintenance (IM) fleet, a deal that was renewed last year.

This enabled RVEL to grow, and soon it was expanding into more shed space at Derby, including a four-road building opposite Derby Etches Park. 

Today RVEL has more than 86,000 square feet of undercover space across three workshops. The maintenance work includes 60 locomotives, coaches and multiple units for NR (including test trains), supported by mobile crews that are dispatched nationwide.

As a result of the NR contract, RVEL doubled its staff and was subsequently able to attract more business. Its work with NR grew, and it soon began maintaining the company’s Snow and Ice Treatment Trains (SITT), which prove invaluable in keeping the former Southern Region operating. 

The SITT contract is part of re-engineering and rebuild work that the firm carries out - it has an in-house CAD design team (using 3D software) that designed the SITT vehicles, which were converted from former redundant SPA and YHA wagons and rebuilt with modular power units, ‘kilfrost’ dispersal units, snowploughs, and third rail sleet and cleaning brushes.

RVEL specialises in engineering work on railway traction and rolling stock. It wants to enter the multiple unit overhaul and refurbishment market, but accepts that those contracts cannot be large deals. Commercial Director Andy Houghton explains to RAIL that it would be foolish to bid for a contract, be successful, and then have to turn around to the client and state that it doesn’t have the capacity to carry out the work. 

Nevertheless, RVEL recognises that this is a market with opportunities. And it has some experience with diesel multiple unit refurbishments in recent months, with the Porterbrook Class 144e project that was unveiled last June (RAIL 778). 

Working with Porterbrook (which owns the train) and Northern Rail (which operates the train), RVEL rebuilt two-car 144012 to transform the Pacer. The train was gutted and re-engineered to meet disability guidelines that included fitting a new toilet. The work meant RVEL needed to carry out substation modifications below the solebar as well, and the result is a ‘144’ with a very different interior to that of the usual Northern Rail Pacer. 

It is currently in traffic as evaluation of the concept is carried out, and there is scope for more trains if the trial is a success - just because Pacers are being removed from the Northern franchise does not mean that they are not being considered for elsewhere on the national network.

RVEL also has a paintshop that is used for several contracts. Recent work includes repainting 20 Mk 3s for Great Western Railway, along with the Class 57/6s and two Class 43 High Speed Train power cars in GWR’s new green livery. It has also been contracted to repaint DRS’s Class 37/4s into British Rail large logo blue, with 37402 the first to be treated. 

Another high-profile contract has been re-engineering two Class 73s that have been substantially rebuilt. The two Ultra73 Class 73/9s have been undergoing testing, with one passed for main line testing in mid-January.

Two Cummins diesel generator sets supplied by the National Railway Equipment Corporation in America have been fitted to the locomotives, replacing the English Electric 4SKRT 600hp engines that were fitted when delivered in the mid-1960s. They have also been fitted with electronically controlled power conversion equipment and new electro-pneumatic brakes.

These improvements mean the ‘73/9’ can provide the same power operating under diesel as it does via the third rail, while being cleaner, quieter and more fuel-efficient. It also meets the requirements for electromagnetic and signalling compatibility. These modifications, first announced in 2011, have been carried out entirely by RVEL at its Derby workshops, using locomotives acquired by RVEL. 

Now that the cab layout meets NR’s approval, work can be completed in the second cab. Checks and sequence testing can then begin, before the prototype is moved to the test track in the autumn.

Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin visited RVEL’s works in June 2013 to see the progress on the project, which he described as “innovative” (RAIL 724).

The rebuilt ‘73/9s’ will use two Cummins QSK19 engines that are capable of 755hp each under both electric and diesel, providing 40% greater fuel efficiency. These are the engines that are also fitted to Class 185s, ‘220/221s’ and ‘222s’.

However, the biggest change for RVEL came in 2014, when Loram Maintenance of Way (LORAM) bought a majority stake in the firm. Based in America, LORAM is a global maintenance equipment and services provider. At the time of its investment in RVEL, the US-based company supplied on-track rail grinding to NR. 

At the start of 2016 LORAM/RVEL was successful in acquiring a safety case for operating on the main line. This will be used for its own vehicles rather than expanding into other areas, and is also limited to certain parts of the network. 

  • This feature was published in RAIL 793 on February 3 2016

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