Researchers to improve UK’s rail system

Posted on Saturday, February 6th, 2010 in News| Share this article

Experts at the University of Sheffield are set to join forces with Network Rail in a bid to improve rail infrastructure and engineering, after being picked as one of the research institutes for the Rail Innovation and Technology Centre (RITC).

The research, which will be conducted in the Faculty of Engineering, will see academics work on innovative ways to create a safer, greener and faster rail system.

Work at the University has already begun on a number of key projects with sustainability as a focus, including one Polymer Centre project to create railway sleepers from recycled plastic under the supervision of Dr Alma Hodzic. These would be a more carbon-friendly option compared to concrete, would reduce plastic waste and extend the life of sleepers.

Other work being conducted at the University includes research into harnessing energy on the rail network and using alternative energy sources to reduce the reliance on wired power supplies. Researchers will also be exploring ways to reduce the wear of the overhead power-lines on the railway network and are already looking at methods of extending the life of bridges and other infrastructure. This could be done by adapting measurements and predicting problems before they arise, in order to avoid delays to train timetables, passengers and road users.

In addition, the University is already developing standard tests for assessing traction gels used to increase wheel grip on the rail when leaves are on the line – one of the main causes of commuter delays during the autumn months. Dr Roger Lewis, a Senior Lecturer from the University´s Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Polymer Centre has also produced a one-stop reference on the issue entitled the Wheel/Rail Interface Handbook.

The RITC, forms part of Network Rail´s long-term planning and strategy to invest in skills as part of its five year Delivery Plan. Network Rail will invest £1m over a 5 year period to help fund the research with the academics at the University. Then, after identifying research and development needs, academics will present Network Rail with a range of state-of-the-art engineering research outcomes.

Dr Robert Harrison, of the Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering at the University of Sheffield, said: “The University of Sheffield is thrilled at the prospect of working with such a big partner like Network Rail and applying our world-class research to some of the issues faced by the rail system.”

Steve Yianni, Engineering Director for Network Rail, said: “We have had a long and successful working relationship with the University of Sheffield on which we can now build for the benefit of our customers”.