If you look at the way the UK rail industry generally protects workers on track you could be forgiven for thinking it was 1909 rather than 2009. Surely using a flag and horn to protect workers is ‘Victorian’ in its approach?

“Where a system relies heavily on people, the most likely cause of problems is human error,” comments Stefan Schürch, Business Unit Manager, Work Protection, at Schweizer Electronic. “Research in this area shows that, during periods of concentrated effort, a worker will make 1 error in every 1000 actions. Consider also that a lookout requires rest, food and breaks, and his judgement may be affected by weather, uneven terrain or poor light; this raises the error rate to above what we believe is an acceptable level.”

Schweizer Electronic focuses on automated warning systems specifically targeted at protecting people and equipment on operated rail tracks. Formed in Switzerland in 1964, Schweizer’s core technology is its MINIMEL95 system, a combination of rail-based sensors, cables, a central data processor and a series of audio and visual signalling devices, which offer highly reliable automated protection to work sites.

Forming an important part of RIMINI, ATWS is regarded as the first choice for Red zone working. The system works using sensors located on rails at a defined sighting distance from the worksite. When a train passes over a sensor, a signal is transmitted to a central unit on the site, immediately triggering an audiovisual warning signal. Once the train has passed the worksite, sensors at the far side automatically switch off the alert. The process is classified ‘failsafe’, meaning that even in the extremely unlikely event of error, warnings are given, enabling the failure to occur safely. MINIMEL95 is certified by TÜV-Eurorail to a standard called SIL-3 (safety integrity level), which means an allowable failure rate of 1 error per 10,000 years of operation, effectively never.

Located in Tamworth, the UK arm of Schweizer Electronic has been in operation for over 3 years. “Our business in the UK is all about service” comments Chris Foreman, General Manager “we project manage each ATWS site to ensure installation and operation run smoothly. Sites are surveyed before installation to take account of operating conditions, after which there are several steps in our process to ensure the integrity of the system….Currently we believe our industry is only protecting a small percentage of the worksites where ATWS, or even LOWS, could be used to provide a far greater level of safety”.