Rail Industry Focus

06.09.19

Institute to strengthen industry innovation

Source: RTM August/September

The University of Leeds has announced the creation of an Institute for High Speed Rail and Systems Integration (IHSRSI). The director of the new Institute, Professor Peter Woodward, describes the capabilities of the research and testing facilities – one of the world’s most advanced.

Work will soon start on the construction of the IHSRSI test facilities and associated buildings. When fully operational, in about two years’ time, it will prompt a significant shift in the way the rail industry conducts research and development. It will foster closer collaboration between industry engineers and academics to tackle the big challenges facing the rail sector; strengthen the UK rail industry as a global brand and help deliver a key economic objective of the Leeds City Region – to create new, highly-skilled jobs in the rail industry supply chain.

So what are we doing?

The Institute will have three testing capabilities to begin with: a vehicle testing centre, an infrastructure testing rig and a centre for systems integration - allowing engineers to investigate rail systems as an integrated whole.

The Vehicle Testing Facility (VTF)

The VTF will use a system that is akin to a rolling track to investigate the performance of a vehicle or traction unit. It will allow changes in track geometry and track alignment to be simulated against the exact conditions the vehicle would experience in the real world. While it is going through the duty cycle it will be powered, which means that the vehicle’s own traction motors will be operating. It allows engineers and scientists to test the dynamics of just one bogie, or two bogies connected to the chassis, or the whole carriage itself. At each stage of development, the testing rig will help identify problems. So by the time the final, full prototype is ready to be introduced onto a commissioning line or on an operational line it will be significantly de-risked.

Currently, some problems with new technologies being introduced on the railway only emerge when they are being tested on a busy, operational network. And that can results in breakdowns and delays, with a knock-on effect on other services.

The vehicle testing system will be able to use digitised data of the track layout of any line in the world and replicate that geometry in the vehicle testing rig. In addition, by powering the vehicle in the VTF, the power drawn by that vehicle can also be measured and hence the electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) field that is generated can be replicated. It makes the VTF one of the most realistic test facilities anywhere.

Infrastructure Testing Facility (ITF)

Conventional infrastructure test facilities are normally built in laboratories, and laboratories tend to have fixed walls and limited space/capacity, making it extremely difficult to look at ground dynamics and vibration propagation. The ITF at the IHSRSI will be built in a field with a large depth of soil below it, providing a greater insight into how the track and ground beneath it will behave. As trains get faster, the question of ground stabilisation becomes more important, especially for critical velocity effects. The challenge of course is how much ground stabilization is needed for a given speed – one which the ITF aims to answer.

Centre for Systems Integration

Railways are often seen as comprising of separate systems: trains, track and ballast, and signals etc. However, in reality they are linked together and a change in one system has an impact elsewhere. Think about a train: the vehicle interacts with the track and the track then feedbacks back into the vehicle’s motion; the vehicle also interacts with its command and control system and its power supply. The EMC field generated depends on the power drawn which depends on things like the train speed, track gradient etc. The IHSRSI will examine whole system integration and the way in which various elements interact and feedback to each other.

So, if an engineer is looking at improving energy efficiency, they could ask when should the train be drawing on its power systems? When should it be coasting? When should it be braking? This will be affected by the whole system and not just the performance of a particular component. By bringing all of this together at one site, our new Institute in Leeds will be able to answer those questions.

Tests on the VTF and ITF can be digitally linked into the centre for systems integration. For example, by connecting the infrastructure facility to the vehicle testing facility, an engineer might want to investigate train performance over a track with varying track stiffness when transiting onto a bridge for example. The engineer might want to look at how the train and the track interact and how that impacts on the dynamics of the vehicle which affects things like the passenger experience. The intention is to get as close to reality as we can within a safe and controlled laboratory environment.

De-risking new technology

The Institute will work with its partners to develop and test a huge range of systems. For example, we could test a whole carriage, or just a bogie or axle or new suspension system.  Equally it could be infrastructure systems such as new sleepers, new rails or new types of slab track. This will happen throughout their development and manufacturing stages. The ability to test components and systems in a controlled laboratory environment will allow engineers and scientists to identify potential problems and de-risk those technologies before they go live.

Impact on the UK rail industry

The IHSRSI will be able to look at a completely integrated approach that mirrors the real environment and supports the move towards a more robust and faster rail system. It will enable the UK rail industry to be at the forefront of developing and testing new technologies. This will allow the commercialisation of new technologies, especially from SMEs, to be introduced into the industry in a much more cost efficient way. The location of the Institute within the new Enterprise Zone in the Leeds City Region is a clear example of our desire to spark economic development and hence job creation.

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