Tate and Lyle Award for Sustainable Development
ABB Transportation Ltd.
Britain's privatised railway workshops, which became ABB Transportation Ltd (ATL), have extended overseas the all-round vehicle-repair service they offer in Britain.
Previously, overseas rail-vehicle repairs tended to be done piecemeal, the original manufacturer dealing with its own equipment. Several manufacturers may contribute to a single locomotive, one, for instance, making the diesel engine, another the electric traction motor.
Since ATL's Crewe-based overseas projects section of only 12 people was set up in 1989, it has brought back to life 11 Kenyan freight locomotives built in the 1960s. It is also refurbishing 32 traction motors for Pakistan's locomotives; and 11 shunting engines and 79 coaches for Tanzania.
Refurbishment in ATL's definition involves repairing a locomotive from top to bottom and often improving it to a better specification. ATL has also trained about 200 local craftsmen to do refurbishing work and to keep the locomotives in working order.
"The fundamental thing," says Ian White, the division's manager, "is that we're not in the game of doing a project and going away. We go in to assist the local people to make sure they are capable of carrying on."
One of ATL's first overseas contracts was in the Sudan where a team of three found themselves working in temperatures reaching 43 degrees centigrade in summer and varying between five and 35 in winter. David Yoxall, the team leader, lost over a stone in weight.
The workshop was in Atbara, a desert town built by the British, where the lines from Egypt in the north and Port Sudan on the Red Sea meet. The shop was full of surplus material, some of it from the days of steam trains. No one liked to throw anything away. The Sudanese used wood to support a locomotive when it was lifted off its bogies for repair. The ATL team switched to safer steel stands.
The brake system on the Sudanese locomotives operated by vacuum and was difficult to keep leakproof and working in the desert. The team took it all out and replaced it with a more robust system using compressed air enabling safe operation even if some air should leak.
Unfortunately, after one locomotive was refurbished, the aid money for the contract from Britain's Overseas Development Administration and the World Bank came to an end.
During the overhaul of shunting locomotives in Tanzania, it became evident that the axle bearings were badly corroded and required replacement. To remove the bearings, the large counterweights needed to be removed first. This was straightforward but refitting presented major problems. This operation had not been successfully carried out during a repair before.
The alternative was purchase of new wheelset assemblies at significant cost. However, through the purchase of a suitable electric oven and with the support of a specialist engineer, a repair procedure has been successfully carried out. The equipment supplied has other uses within Tanzania Railways.
ATL is a subsidiary of the Swedish-Swiss engineering company, ABB. In refurbishing locomotives, it has also been helping to teach managers what it has itself learned since it became a commercial enterprise.
Ian White says: "Fifteen years ago we had a manager heading a multidisciplinary works that operated bureaucratically. No one was cost conscious. What we have done through ABB is create small profit-centres. Decisions are now faced in small business units. We have fewer levels of management and decision-making is clearer.
(In a reorganisation from January 1, 1995, the ATL overseas projects section became part of ABB Customer Support Ltd.)
See also Sudan Resources and Tanzania Resources