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Network Rail develops innovative tunnel drill in collaboration with Amey

Network Rail have worked in collaboration with Amey’s rail team to create a new overhead line tunnel drill, the first of its kind, that not only improves operational delivery but the safety of the operatives working at height. 

Network Rail first noticed potential areas for improvement working with Amey on CP6 tunnel refurbishments that require two operatives working at height in full personal protective equipment, manually holding a drill to carry out maintenance works. The risk of hand arm vibration injuries, noise, inaccuracies, and dust contamination were all potential factors operatives faced using the manually held drill.  

Working with Foulstone Forge, Network Rail, and Amey, the team created a drilling rig machine for work undertaken in railway tunnels. The Overhead Line Electrification Drill (OLED) machine is mounted on a flat bed of a road rail vehicle. The machine can be operated by a member of the team who not only controls the base unit but the drilling arm via the remote control as well, removing the risk involved of operatives working at height and using rotary-percussive power tools.  The machine also has a comprehensive dust extraction system fitted to the unit to eliminate any dust from the drilling, improving the working environment for operatives.

The machine was first tested at High Marnham Test track on a section of brick tunnel works. Part of the features of the drill, is that due to the mechanical control of the arm, it has the ability to work around tunnel furnishings including cables, utilities and overhead line electrifications.

Tom Stewart, Project Manager at Network Rail, said: “Working on the CP6 tunnel the team noticed improvements that could be made to the process, not only to enhance the safety operations for the operatives but to make the process more efficient, enabling us to deliver the service more effectively for our customers.” 

Having a four head drill capacity built in, this new drill has quadrupled the outputs making the process more efficient and cost effective. Operatives could only drill one hole at a time previously, now there is the capacity to drill four holes with precision accuracy due to the inbuild laser guidance features. The machine now takes just under two minutes to drill four holes, 450mm deep into concrete using 28mm drill bits.

Andy Joy, Sector Director for Rail at Amey, said: “I’m incredibly proud of the ingenuity of the teams, to not only identify a process improvement but to work in collaboration with Network Rail and Foulstone Forge to bring the changes to fruition, which has improved operational delivery and most importantly further enhanced the safety of our rail operatives.

“I’m looking forward to seeing this new drill used across all our contracts where appropriate to help us to effectively deliver the service for our clients and customers.”

The progress and accuracy of the drill is now controlled using a remote-control unit that monitors the progression of the drill and the force applied with operatives standing away from the area. Having four drill heads has enabled the machine to be set up so that any of the individual drills can be used in isolation in any configuration, allowing differing bold patterns to be installed using the same drilling head.

Amey’s rail team have recently completed the trials, PA and EA certificates with the help of SRS. The next stage is to use the drilling rig within the Watford and Shugborough and Birmingham midlife refurbishments of the OLE within the tunnels.