DARLINGTON-BASED HENRY WILLIAMS Limited has won a major contract helping to improve safety for workers across the railway network by supplying rail switchgear.

Henry Williams will supply more than 800 of its electrically-insulated rail switchgear and power annexes to London North Western (LNW), operators of the West Coast Main Line, one of the UK’s longest routes linking London with the North-West and Scotland and the busiest mixed-use railway in Europe.

The agreement will see Henry Williams’ Class II-rated SafeBox™, a robust and durable range of electrically-insulated power distribution units, retro-fitted to signalling locations to provide safe electrical isolation and prevent the risk of serious injury, or even death, of workers.

However, the contract is encompassed within a wider national framework across the entire network, putting Henry Williams in a strong position as a supplier to maintainers for the remaining seven Network Rail routes over the next four years.

“This is a significant step-change in the scale and urgency of the rail network improvement programme,” said Henry Williams Managing Director Andy Nelson, adding that the contract, valued at circa £1million, would help secure jobs at its century-old Darlington works. “Until the award of the LNW contract, we have been supplying rail switchgear units in small lots, of about 20 here and there, but this contract takes it to a whole new level.”

The improvement work stems from an incident in March 2012 where a Network Rail contractor received an electric shock from a signal location cabinet. An Improvement Notice (I/20131119/JSM) was served on Network Rail requiring it to review all 650V signalling distribution equipment. The results of this review showed that significant numbers of cabinets in public places were not earthed or bonded, contrary to the assurances given by Network Rail.

Across the network it is estimated that there are in the region of 80,000 locations which now require retro-fitting to ensure that earthing and bonding is installed.

Mr Nelson said the LNW contract award was validation for all the hard work and engineering that saw Henry Williams develop more than 30 rail switchgear variants in response to the problem, along with an innovative electrically insulating coating applied to the metal boxes.

“The rail switchgear is being retro-fitted, but it is not a case of ‘one size fits all’ – the unit has to fit an existing footprint and each location has the potential for many variants and challenges, and we are therefore supplying a ‘ready to fit’ package including all associated feeder cables, connectors and fixings.

“We are delighted to have been chosen to help National Rail deal with the complex issues surrounding the implementation of SIN119 and look forward to a successful and productive four years,” he added.