In extreme circumstances the failure of a stretcher bar can lead to the derailment of a train, as occurred at Potters Bar and Lambrigg. Following these incidents and recommendations made by the investigation boards, Network Rail in collaboration with Balfour Beatty designed a new high integrity replacement bar, which for the first time use tubular components. Their next task was to find capable partners to manufacture this high precision, safety critical and complex product. Howells were chosen to be one of those partners.
We worked very closely with Network Rail to develop and manufacture this highly innovative product. There were many changes to the original design, and our in-house expertise ensured compliance through prototype build, testing and full product acceptance.
To enable the fulfilment of this contract, the company invested in a major expansion programme. This doubled the size of the facility and included the addition of a new workshop filled exclusively with Haas CNC technology. This comprises eight VF-4SS verticals, two ST-30 Y-axis lathes, two TL-3 lathes and two 5 axis machines. With the exception of the forgings – everything, including all component parts are manufactured in-house.
This bar is significantly different to the original concept, having gone through many design iterations and demanding the highest levels of quality and precision in manufacture. The new bars are said to be simpler to install, require less maintenance and are designed to withstand the rigours of the 21st-century railway. We were proud to be part of this process working in partnership with Network Rail to achieve its objectives.
The investment and expansion in this facility along with the introduction of new manufacturing capabilities has provided us with significant opportunities to grow both our product and service offering. There are few rail manufacturers that offer both manufacture of components and assembly of the finished products under the same roof. This provides many benefits, which include improved product availability and a greater control of our quality and processes.