Mechan: Traversing the UK
Is it a misnomer to call traversers a space-saving device?
There’s no denying their sheer size and scale makes them hard to miss in rail depots, ports and freight yards, but they play a vital role in reducing the length of terminals and maintenance roads.
Sheffield-based Mechan is one of the only firms in the country with the ability to design and build bespoke traversers. The depot-equipment specialist holds the record for the largest UK installation – a 90-tonne behemoth operating at the Port of Felixstowe, which measures 30 metres in length and has a capacity of 170 tonnes.
Traversers are used to move rail vehicles in a perpendicular direction to the track, allowing them to be transferred quickly, safely and efficiently between roads. Each one is designed from scratch, to meet the unique needs of the workshop and they can cater to trains of all sizes, from a single carriage up to the heaviest freight locomotives.
Mechan is currently building a 140-tonne capacity traverser for the new 29 million GBP intermodal rail freight terminal being constructed at the DIRFT logistics park in Northamptonshire.
Working closely with multidisciplinary main contractor Winvic, the firm has designed the multi-rail traverser to suit the site’s specific conditions. It spans 28 metres and comprises an access platform plus loco buffer to prevent trains overrunning.
Known as DIRFT III, the 344-hectare project comprises 9km of new lines, three new bridges and a 79,000 square metre terminal slab. Mechan’s traverser will be situated outside the terminal building and used to move Class 66 locomotives, so they can return quickly to service after loading/unloading. It has allowed the terminal length to be shorter, as a head shunt isn’t required.
“We were really pleased to secure a contract for the DIRFT III traverser after successfully completing a competitive tendering process and it is a pleasure to work with Winvic on this key project. Although the sheer size of a traverser makes each installation a challenge, they are actually a great space-saving device, allowing trains to be transferred between tracks easily and efficiently.”
Mechan is constructing the traverser at its Sheffield headquarters and it will then be dismantled for delivery to site. It is due to be installed and commissioned in April, before training is provided to end user, Prologis.
Winvic commenced construction of DIRFT III in June last year and it is expected to be completed by the summer. The intermodal rail terminal will enable 24, 775-metre trains to carry freight in and out of the logistics park, while the concrete yard will provide space for the storage of approximately 460 containers.
“As rail traversers aren’t that common in the UK, this is a particularly exciting element of an already significant and complex scheme. Mechan’s reputation is second to none and our design teams have been working very well together. We are looking forward to seeing this specialist piece of equipment – that is central to the compact nature of the terminal’s design – being installed on site.”
Mechan’s traversers incorporate the latest technology, to ensure they can adapt to the changing needs of depots and longer trains.
In 2019, the firm worked with Story Contracting to deliver a 130-tonne unit to Network Rail’s Holgate depot in York, to replace a 50-year-old traverser that was at the end of its useful life. It has the most sophisticated software the firm has used to date.
The new installation has a larger capacity than its predecessor and 145-metre travel distance, to accommodate the current fleet, whilst future-proofing it for upgrades.
Sited externally, at the entrance to the maintenance shed, the traverser is used to move carriages between workshop roads.
“Holgate is a historic rail depot, which brings its own challenges when maintaining modern rail vehicles, but following a series of overhaul schemes and investment in new equipment, it is now playing an integral role in the north’s rail services.
“We were approached about the construction of the traverser, as we are the only UK firm with a proven track record of successful installations. After viewing our work for Hitachi at its Newton Aycliffe facility, they could see we were capable of delivering such an individual project on time and on budget.”
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