More commonly seen on farm, the Polaris Ranger is proving to be a hit with rail contractors, with some clever adaptation by specialist engineers. Jane Carley reports.
While ATVs and UTVs are useful tools in the agricultural world, they also find themselves deployed for other industries from forestry and landscaping to groundworks and utilities. In rail applications, the ability to carry passengers, have a cab for safety and work in all weathers and the adaptability of the cargo bay and towing hitch to suit a range of attachments makes the side-by-side vehicle an attractive prospect.
One such company making modifications to UTVs is Fitzgerald Plant Services, which has adapted the Polaris Ranger for rail use, adding technology and equipment more commonly associated with larger and more expensive plant. With their multiple personnel carrying capability, cab and useful load bay, UTVs are popular in rail maintenance, but the provider of specialist engineering services for the construction and rail industry has gone further to produce an innovative design.
Clayton Greenman, engineering manager at Fitzgerald Plant Services, explains: “The utility vehicle is highly versatile and can be used in a number of different ways. This makes them suited to working on the rails where machinery needs to be adapted to the kind of work the contractors are undertaking. It can range from transporting personnel or towing trailers with tools and equipment to weed spraying, leaf clearance and track inspections.”
End users include Network Rail, which runs, maintains and upgrades Britain’s railways and has specified the first two ‘Rail Rangers’ produced.
Supported by local Polaris dealer Usk and Wye Valley ATV, the Cwmbran-based engineers initially built a prototype using the Polaris Ranger Diesel. “From the initial brief to the delivered prototype, the diesel machine took about three years to develop,” says Mr Greenman. “Building the machine in compliance with the Network Rail standards is understandably time consuming, due to the testing and documentation required.
“Development of the prototype petrol Ranger Crew XP 1000 then took less than four months as we were able to use the experience from the previous diesel project. Now we are in series production, we can complete a full rail conversion in about three weeks.”
The switch from diesel to petrol was brought about by homologation issues which meant that a Crew diesel version is no longer in production. Crew specification seats four and can be fitted with a fully enclosed cab with doors for safety and protection from the elements.
Polaris Ranger Crew XP 1000 models are powered by a 999cc four-stroke two-cylinder engine and have a continuously variable transmission. In standard format, towing capacity is 1,134kg.
Custom Ranger vehicles are fitted with spacers to give them a wider track width, ensuring the tyres sit correctly on the railhead, as well as specially mounted rail gear, an air braking system and hydraulic systems.
As the Polaris chassis is designed to accommodate a snow plough, the same mounting points can be utilised to fit front rail equipment, but the chassis has been specially adapted for rear mounted equipment.
The hydraulic system controls the raising and lowering of the rail bogies and operation of the trailer park brake using a 12 Volt DC electro-hydraulic power pack, powered from the battery. There is also a 12 Volt DC twin air compressor which powers the air brake system - a requirement for towing trailers on the UK rail infrastructure.
“Towing capacity has been boosted to 10 tonnes by strengthening the chassis, to allow larger unbraked loads or up to 10 trailers to be towed,” comments Mr Greenman. “This necessitates the use of the air braking system and requires extensive testing to ensure its safety.”
Tools such as a demount sprayer to tackle trackside weeds can be carried in the 454kg load bay, along with additional work lamps and other equipment. In addition to its road lights, the Ranger has to comply with rail lighting standards which require white lights to be shown at the front and red lights to the rear when travelling backwards as well as forwards, so dual, switchable lights are fitted. Further lights may be added to customer specification including inspection lamps and under-chassis lighting for track inspections.
As well as the hardware, Fitzgerald Plant Services has developed specialist software and added custom displays and controllers from plant specialist IFM to manage the various rail systems. This also allows contract managers to get real time updates on machine statuses and functions, while the attachments can be operated via the user interface. And in a similar way to tractor telematics systems, password-protected menus allow service engineers to access system diagnostic information and calibration settings.
The company has since delivered four Rail Rangers across UK rail lines, with more custom builds to follow this year.