UKRRIN: Up and running

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 2018

Eight months on from the launch of the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN), Jo Binstead from Siemens Mobility, Clive Roberts of the University of Birmingham, William Powrie of the University of Southampton, and Simon Iwnicki of the University of Huddersfield run through some of the early projects already taking root.

The £92m UKRRIN was launched in February this year by rail minister Jo Johnson. It is based around three academic Centres of Excellence – infrastructure, led by the University of Southampton; rolling stock, led by Huddersfield University; and digital, led by the University of Birmingham – plus the Centre of Excellence in Testing, led by Network Rail.

UKRRIN aims to deliver a step-change investment in innovation in order to radically increase rail productivity and performance. It will also develop new strategic relationships with the rail supply chain and the wider transport sector.

The centres are supported by industrial partners to deliver world-leading research from inception to market application for both the UK and global markets. They provide the ability to introduce new products and technology to market faster, using advanced simulation and testing facilities.

Initial work has focused around procurement of new world-class facilities to support research, including full-size vehicle test rigs at Huddersfield and Newcastle and a new building to house the digital centre of excellence at Birmingham. Early in 2019, the new National Infrastructure Laboratory will open in Southampton, providing new facilities and capacity for research into railway infrastructure.

Ongoing projects

Research projects are underway between academic and industry partners across the network and are already delivering innovative products and processes.

The cost of electrification is a major infrastructure challenge and one of several areas that UKRRIN has tackled. Problems installing mast foundations have caused major delays and cost overruns. The University of Southampton is working with Network Rail to achieve transformative efficiencies in foundation design, and a new specification for the design and installation of overhead line foundations was issued in December 2017. The high voltage labs at Southampton supported another success when a 1 Megavolt lightning impulse generator and an environmental chamber were used to verify electrical clearance to avoid the need for a bridge reconstruction in Cardiff, saving £10m. Sheffield University has also developed a new facility for fatigue life estimation of overhead contact lines, and a model for prediction of overhead line life and maintenance needs.

Automatic train regulation, the concept of making small adjustments to departure times and speeds to keep the network as a whole working to schedule, was generated from work carried out in collaboration with the University of Birmingham. One of the earliest implementations of this technology was installed by Invensys (now Siemens) on London Underground’s Central Line; this concept was later developed with the help of the university and applied to the Victoria Line and the Singapore Metro. This technology played a significant part in achieving a world-leading throughput of 36 trains per hour on the Victoria Line.

Working in partnership with Network Rail, Siemens used algorithm concepts developed by Birmingham to bring about the first ETCS ATO system on Thameslink. The ATO technology applied via the Control Centre deployed on Thameslink is able to optimise train operation, increasing capacity by 50% and reducing energy consumption by 15%.

The University of Huddersfield, with Siemens and the RSSB, has developed a method for detection of track voids and remote condition monitoring (RCM) using accelerometers fitted into the GSM-R cab radio together with software to capture and analyse data. The GSM-R cab radio is able to act as a low-cost RCM solution, accurately detecting changes in track degradation and track condition. Data is pre-processed on-board and results are transmitted over a GSM-R radio link to a ground-based system. The system is now deployed on 200 trains across the UK network, providing increased reliability, lower track maintenance costs, and reduced delay from line closures.

Siemens is also working on a scheme digitalisation and verification project with the universities of Newcastle and Birmingham to develop concepts to digitise scheme plans, control tables and to provide automatic verification, which will significantly reduce development timescales and increase the quality of scheme data.

UKRRIN is clearly up and running and is open for business. Although the early focus is on building the network and setting up the new facilities, the partners are also working together to deliver innovation to the railway.


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