Collaboration with Thomson Engineering Design

Project Overview:

TXM Plant recognised several issues had arisen when laying sleepers with a conventional 7-sleeper baler affecting completion of works. The level of skill and concentration needed by operators when operating the machines was extensive, leading to damages to the device, ultimately causing device failure. Fatigue management is crucial, as is the safety of all TXM operators, therefore a solution was required.

The Solution:

TXM Plant worked with Thomson Engineering Design, specialists in rail renewals and repairs, in setting several goals to eliminate and relieve:

  • Maintenance costs
  • Eliminate dropped sleepers
  • Improve reliability and work rate

TXM Plant collaborated with Babcock Rail, the stakeholder group, in adding further design goals, including eliminating working at height risks, protecting the safety of operators. 

The final design specification features aerospace aluminium materials to ensure the chassis of the baler is as lightweight as possible. The aluminium is as strong as mild steel and 10mm thick, meaning the chassis weighs significantly less than conventional steel chassis. This allows increased strength within the cross beams and legs, allowing for the use of larger hydraulic cylinders to tightly grip the sleepers, more so than conventional units.

The addition of specially designed polyurethane gripper pads ensure the grip force is spread evenly over a large area of the sleeper ends by a high friction material. This ensures the sleepers are locked into the device until the operator is ready to release them. A parachute valve system has also been fitted to avoid the operator releasing the sleepers in mid-air.

Spreading of the sleepers was achieved by opting for a unique motor and chain drive system, two powerful hydraulic motors mounted on the outer cross beams and connected in-series, forcing the baler to spread the sleepers evenly and smoothly. This system ensures re-balancing is unnecessary when the baler is swapped from machine to machine, with built-in pressure control systems.


Working closely with Thomson Engineering Design throughout the design and development stages, several iterations were trialled at TXM’s Cardiff depot and demonstrated to Babcock Rail. Final design specifications of the baler, specially adapted by Thomson Engineering Design, achieved Network Rail Product Acceptance in March 2018. The balers have been used across TXM’s fleet throughout the country, and within the initial 1-year trial, the total spare parts were nil.

Three more units have recently been added to the TXM Plant fleet with more anticipated in the coming months. This has been an extremely successful development project, fulfilling the needs of the stakeholder involved and more importantly, our customers. Collaboration is paramount and TXM Plant looks forward to working with Thomson Engineering Design in the future.

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