There's a saying 'If it ain't broke don't fix it'. But what if you have to? DAC's trackside telephone expertise got there in the end.
When DAC acquired the commercial telephone business of RACAL Acoustics, the products had been in use since 1985, and while they were well-respected and reliable, due to RoHS legislation they could no longer be sold in the EU. So how do you go about making a product better without changing the inherent characteristics that have made it so successful? When faced with this dilemma DAC decided to canvas the people that know best rather than believe it had all the answers, a mindset not often taken in developing new products.
However upon approaching stakeholders in the rail business - the major users of the product, it wasn't as easy as first thought. At first it was very difficult to get hold of anyone who seemed to care that much, apathy seemed to be the key emotion. There were products that did a similar job, albeit not very well, so the interest level was low and this new approach was alien to many. Eventually DAC was directed to a company, Eastern Voice and Data, which had been repairing trackside telephones for many years for the reail industry. Eastern Voice and Data had seen thousands of phones come in for repair over the years and had an almost oracle-like sense of the common problems that plagued these type of devices.
DAC was able to establish a number of the most frequent problems seen across the broad product mix that had been deployed over the years. After all, these products were used in very harsh trackside environments, which understandably took their toll.
RA708 Telephone Range
Taking these gems of information on-board, DAC set about finding aolustions to these problems, most of which, not surprisingly were moisture related. Having tackled all the main areas of generic weakness in this type of telephone, the company found solutions to the problems without compromising the original product concept, while at the same time greatly improving the service life of the RA708 telephone range.
Next on the list was bringing the electronics up to date and compliant with RoHS regulations. Having been given the latest version of Network Rail's product requirements for trackside telephones, DAC set about developing new electronics to meet Network Rail standards, while taking time to find out what further enhancements would be desirable.
In discussion with a Network Rail engineer on requirements for the telephones, one item in the specification became a point of contention; it stated it must have a solid state hook switch. DAC had a moving hook switch, which it perceived to be better, as users, particularly the public, are used to this type of device for hanging up a call. Also, bearing in mind that these phones are to be used by the public at for example, level crossings, it seemed to be the much more easily understandable solution.
During the debate the phone was set up and calls made to test it. Suddenly, the engineer pressed down on the hook switch to make a new call and the problem was solved! So with all the mechanical enhancements made and the new electronics sorted and tested the RA708 range of telephones were duly Network Rail approved. The whole process from first being invited by Network Rail to go for approval to getting the certificate took only 12 months. All the hard work and investment had paid off: DAC had a product range that it believed was far better than current equipment supplied and it was so confident that the whole range comes with a two year warranty.
However before DAC was able to congratulate itself too much, Network Rail decided to put the claims to the test: it decided to replace 30 of the worstperforming level crossings in the UK with the RA708 telephones and do a like-forlike performance test over a 13 month period. Once the tests had been completed and all the faults recorded for both types of equipment over the 26 month test period it was crunch time: had DAC done enough to improve the product to out-perform the current established suppliers? Happily, the RA708 had outperformed the current equipment by a factor of three, which means the model is back with a vengeance - the same only better.
A winning formula
Customers, end users and stakeholders alike agreed that the formula worked and now, DAC has consulted with Network Rail to develop other products. Problems with trackside equipment through vandalism and theft are nothing new, but more has to be done to protect trackside assets and prevent train delays. For that reason, the new RA708 has been developed with an option to include a self-closing door with a lock using the Number one BR key. This ensures that the telephone handset cannot be ripped off, thus contributing to the prevention of train delays. The RA708 with lock is significantly quicker to install than placing a telephone into an anti-vandal housing and also reduces costs - key within the rail industry. Innovation seems to be a keyword of late, with new ways to use technology to improve service, reduce costs and improve safety. DAC has approached this challenge and worked with the rail industry to develop a GSM/GSM-R trackside telephone especially for use at level crossings, where there is no infrastructure to install traditional crossing telephones. Level crossings are one of, if not the most dangerous parts of the railway so they are understandably high on Network Rail’s priority list in regards to public safety. It is only in recent times that the technology has been available to operate a telephone on the GSM network that needs very little power and can operate fast enough to be useful. Harnessing this new technology has not been straightforward as it is pushing the boundaries but those boundaries must not be exceed as the product must always work when needed.
The GSM/GSM-R trackside telephone is easy to install at any location without the need for any cable infrastructure; it is battery powered with a solar panel to keep the batteries topped up, and given the UK weather this is not as straightforward as one might think without the use of a solar panel the size of a football pitch. Thankfully technology has also evolved in batteries, and by using cells designed for satellites it is possible to maintain the phone even if it only gets one hour of sunlight per day. For operational purposes the telephone works in exactly the same way as any crossing telephone, giving the user confidence tones when they lift the handset before contacting the signalman. The GSM/ GSM-R telephone has intelligence built into it and is constantly monitoring its health and battery status and reporting any faults to a central database or a user’s mobile phone, ensuring it is always available when needed. Whoever said ‘Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be’ was half right. Through innovation and consultation DAC has taken an established product and made it better. After all, why re-invent the wheel when you can simply make it better?
For further information please call DAC Limited on 01282 447000 or visit the web site www.daclimited.co.uk.