Rail lighting procurement struggling to keep up with technology

Rapid technology development, rigid procurement practices and long periods from specification to installation mean new rail lighting schemes are still using old technology, experts told the Lighting for Rail conference today.

Lux publisher Gordon Routledge said: ‘What you’ve got is a very fast-moving technology in a very slow-moving industry.’

Paradoxically, it’s retrofit projects where the latest lighting solutions are more often used, Routledge said, while major new projects tend to use technology specified years before.

Darren Ward of manufacturer Dexeco said: ‘I think the rapid development of technology has been one of the barriers against adoption. There’s a period now where people are looking for the technology to stabilise before investments are made.’

But rail engineering consultant David Burton said the industry isn’t as risk averse as it is sometimes portrayed. ‘Innovative lighting solutions are welcomed, much more than they once were,’ he said.

Shae Gilbert, formerly of London Underground and now a consultant for Integra, said that getting LED lighting installed on the Tube was ‘a battle’.

‘Some of the resistance was for sound engineering reasons,’ Gilbert said, ‘but it was an uphill struggle to combat resistance to change. It’s a safety critical organisation.’

Ian Potter of Approval Inspection Services pointed out that the recently installed lighting scheme at the redeveloped Farringdon station in London was ‘designed in the 1990s’. As a result, he said, the products specified were no longer available, and the alternative products delivered necessitated last minute changes to the installation.

Bob Benn, stations engineering manager for London Underground, revealed that the new lighting at several stations currently being redeveloped, including  Tottenham Court Road, Bond Street and Victoria, will be all-LED, even though the lighting was designed five or six years ago with fluorescent products in mind.

‘We’ve managed to change it all to LED lighting,’ said Benn. ‘But that’s been a major challenge in London Underground in order to get that through the system. We’re basically dealing with an obsolete design. From the point of view of whole-life cost, we’re very aware of the reduced maintenance of new technology.’

Leon Smith, commercial project manager at Transport for London’s procurement department, said there’s ‘work to be done’ to make procurement of rail lighting more effective. He said: ‘Working in an organisation that’s receiving public funds, you’re risk averse. We’re looking to the industry to know what the direction of travel is, so the specifications are robust and flexible.’

Potter suggested the solution might be to ‘procure light rather than luminaires’.

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