THE world's leading track engineers and suppliers will gather in the delightful northern German town of Münster at the end of this month to attend the 26th IAF track exhibition organised by the Association of German Railway Engineers (VDEI). The three-day event is set to be even larger than the last IAF show in 2009 with 15,000m2 of space in three halls, 3000m2 of outdoor exhibition stands and over 3km of track devoted to the latest maintenance and renewal machines.

Dr Peter Ramsauer, Germany's federal transport minister, will be among the speakers at the opening ceremony on May 28 together with the chairman of the board of DB Networks, and VDEI president Prof Dr-Ing Frank Lademann.

One of the innovations at this year's event is the IAF Job Market where exhibitors can post free-of-charge details of job vacancies either online or at a special stand in Hall 1. In return the IAF will be visited by groups of young railway engineers and students in the hope of meeting prospective employers or at least sparking an interest in a career in railway engineering.

Many of the leading manufacturers of track maintenance and renewal machines are taking the opportunity to unveil new equipment in Münster, and Plasser & Theurer is no exception with several of its 16 heavy-duty machines being shown for the first time. These include two new continuous-action ballast cleaners: the URM 700 for use on turnouts and the ZRM 350 for track.

The first URM 700 was built last year for testing to ensure it would be ready in time for the exhibition. Plasser says it is the first machine able to carry out non-stop ballast cleaning under a switch as it is possible to infinitely adjust the excavation width. The ballast at the side of the track is dug out to enable a blade to be inserted under the switch to start the cleaning process.

The switch is the most expensive part of the track, but because switches are highly sensitive and have many small components vulnerable to damage, the ballast under the switch is rarely cleaned. Plasser says the URM 700 now makes it possible to clean the ballast both economically and with a short possession. The machine can also be used for cleaning shoulders and short sections of track.

The ZRM 350 is able to clean ballast either with the track in place or when the track or switch has been removed, by running on crawler tracks. It has an adjustable ballast chain which can be extended up to 7m to enable the machine to clean the switch ballast easily. The ZRM 350 is designed to produce a much smoother ballast layer than the conventional method of digging the ballast out, which is slow and rather inaccurate. It is also possible to lay a geotextile during the cleaning process, and add a second layer of ballast or additional ballast as needed.

Plasser & Theurer will also show two new tampers capable of continuous-action turnout maintenance. The Unimat 09-475/4S N-Dynamic combines for the first time all the functions needed to maintain turnouts comprising ballast placement, ploughing, tamping, profiling, stabilising and sweeping. The Unimat 09-4x4/4S is a continuous-action one-sleeper tamper with three-rail lifting and four-rail tamping.

Also on show will be a PBR 500V 1600mm-gauge machine for Latin American Logistics (ALL), Brazil. Although this is a small machine it incorporates the technology used on the big track maintenance machines.

Plasser will unveil a road-rail vehicle fitted with a mobile welding robot. The APT 1500 RL can perform all types of weld and has sufficient power to carry out closure welds. It will measure and document the welding process, and align and weld the rails automatically.

Delegates will be able to try their hand at tamping on Plasser's new 09-3D mobile tamping simulator which is mounted in a container. Screens outside will show how delegates are performing.

One of the highlights of Robel's display of machines in Münster will be its innovative mobile maintenance system (MMS) which has been developed from its Mobile Maintenance Unit (MMU). The MMS train incorporates the MMU as a work vehicle which is designed to provide a fully-enclosed area for track workers to operate in complete safety while remaining within the loading gauge even with the sides extended outwards. Hydraulics and electricity are available to power tools and equipment which reduces noise levels and eliminates fumes, while two 2.5-tonne roof-mounted cranes are able to move between vehicles and around curves. Cameras are fitted to monitor and control the work being done.

The MMS has a traction and supply unit with a staff room, kitchen, toilet and a workshop with workbench, and an intermediate wagon, which can be accessed by a fork-lift truck, for transporting track materials. This enables staff to prepare for the work they are about to do while travelling at up to 100km/h to the site.

This means it only takes about 5 minutes to set-up and clear away compared with an hour at the start and finish using conventional maintenance methods. This enables possessions to be either more productive or take less time. However, introducing the MMS on a railway will require a change in maintenance strategy from reactive to preventative.

So far Robel has sold two MMS trains to Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) and one to Jernbaneverket, Norway. It is building a demonstration unit and bidding for a contract from a European infrastructure manager for six units initially, but up to 40 in the long-term.

Robel will also have its Compact MMU 69.60 on show, five of which have been supplied to ÖBB. This is designed for working in metro tunnels and has three cranes with a lifting capacity of 250kg to open the lid of a channel so that it can be flushed. The side walls can be opened to reach the safe side of the tunnel. The vehicle can also be used for working with welding teams.

The Compact MMU has two floors and the upper level is fitted with small workshop, an area for up to six staff, a kitchen and a toilet. There is a cab at one end and the unit can be driven under its own power at up to 5km/h. However, it needs to be coupled to a self-propelled track vehicle to transport it to or from work sites, and this is how the MMU will be displayed in Münster together with a channel rinsing wagon.

For the first time at the IAF Robel will show part of its system for transporting rails. The Rail Train consists of a rail manipulator with two to four jib arms, a set of wagons which can carry rails up to 500m long arranged in 10 rails per layer with up to three layers in Europe and four in Australia, and a chute wagon set consisting of a chute wagon and either an intermediate wagon for one-sided operation or two wagons for double-sided execution. A ramp wagon can also be provided depending on the number of layers and the structure gauge.

The Rail Train features automatic opening of the gates to obviate the need for staff to walk on the rails which can be very slippery when wet. The Australian version has an automatic system to clamp the rails, again to avoid people having to climb on the train. Robel recently started to deliver the first six transport units to Germany fitted with a semi-automatic clamping system. The Rail Train can also be used to transport the old rails away from the track laying site.

Finally, Robel will unveil two new battery-powered tools - a wrench and a core-hole driller - as part of a new range of modular designs. Robel is keen to offer customers a choice of using machines powered by either petrol or diesel engines or fitted with a battery which has the advantage of reducing noise and eliminating fumes. The wrench has three power levels and can do 400 cycles per charge depending on the size of the screw and how much torque is required. The battery core hole driller is much stronger than the petrol version and twice as fast and can drill between 30 and 40 holes per charge.

Several rail grinding trains will be on show in Münster. Speno will present a driving and control wagon and a self-contained grinding wagon from its latest generation train the RR 64 M. This features 64 electrically-powered grinding units designed to remove large amounts of metal and rectify the rail accurately. It has a real-time longitudinal-profile measuring system which can record long, medium, short and very short waves separately. There is also a real-time transverse profile measuring system together with an HC grinding scanner which can report the depth and density of rolling contact fatigue. Speno will also display a grinding trolley for reprofiling switches.

Loram, United States, will exhibit the first of two 60-stone RGI series grinding machines for a European customer at the IAF, while at the same demonstrating its range of track maintenance products through a series of videos.

Vossloh will display its HSG-City, a compact version of its HSG high-speed grinding train designed for use on urban railways. This will be joined outside by the company's new Flexis range of mobile machines for lateral and longitudinal machining of rails and switches to remove a wide range of defects, along with its new road-rail vehicle for flash-butt welding.

Vossloh Cogifer says it will unveil what it claims to be the world's first complete monitoring system designed to prevent cable theft. With the rising price of copper and other metals, cable theft has become a major problem for railways. In Germany last year, 17,000 trains were delayed for a total of 4000 hours due to cable theft which cost about €17m to resolve. At the heart of Vossloh Cogifer's Automatic Break Transmission in Electrical Wire (BTW) system is a sensor which can remotely locate in real-time the exact position and length of any severed cable, while at the same time alerting the police.

Clearly there will be a lot of innovative equipment on show to interest even the most experienced track engineer during the three days of the IAF, which runs from May 28 to 30.