New centres of excellence for rail innovation

Source: RTM Jun/Jul 17

Clive Roberts, director of the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education, Simon Iwnicki, director of the University of Huddersfield’s Institute of Railway Research (IRR), and William Powrie, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Environment at the University of Southampton, outline plans for three new centres of excellence that will soon make up the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN).

In partnership with the rail industry, the UK’s leading rail research universities propose to establish the UKRRIN. This will be an internationally unique, world-class network of centres of excellence bringing together academic and industry partners to deliver new challenge-led research, accelerate technology development and deploy innovative products into the rail industry. 

Supported by government and key industry bodies, including the Rail Supply Group and the Rail Delivery Group, this multi-million pound initiative is recognised as being critical to the delivery of the rail sector’s industrial strategy for growth and long-term success, enabled through world-class science and innovation. UKRRIN will futureproof the UK rail industry through innovation and collaboration by creating opportunities that will boost the economy and drive productivity. 

Funding of £28.1m is currently being sought from the Higher Education Funding Council for England to establish three national collaborative rail research centres focusing on digital systems integration, rolling stock innovation and infrastructure innovation. The railway industry has committed £64m of support for the operation of the three centres over the first 10 years. The network of centres will transform rail technology research and innovation in the UK, placing the country as a world leader in several key areas. The expertise from the centres will be shared through the co-location of industry staff, workshops, conferences and projects enabled by joint PhD programmes and systems-level collaborative projects commissioned by industry. 

UKRRIN will, for the first time, bring together world-class research activities within our universities across the full landscape needed to deliver systems-level technology innovation into the rail industry, and co-locate this with the key UK rail industry supply chain and support companies. The network will link together: 

  1. The Digital Systems Integration Centre (led by University of Birmingham)
  2. The Rolling Stock Innovation Centre (led by University of Huddersfield, supported by Newcastle and Loughborough universities, and incorporating the recently-opened Centre for Innovation in Rail at Huddersfield)
  3. The Infrastructure Innovation Centre (led by Southampton, complementing and leveraging significant existing investments including the UKCRIC via the National Linear Infrastructure Laboratory at Southampton and the Structural Dynamics Laboratory at Sheffield)
  4. Existing national test facilities (e.g. the Network Rail Innovation and Development Centres)
  5. Existing railways-focused partners in standards, verification or research and innovation (e.g. RSSB)
  6. Other UK universities engaged in significant railway research via the Rail Research UK association
  7. A ‘Hub’, which will allow engagement of smaller supply chain companies and SMEs as well as provide a ‘one-stop shop’ for industry engagement with any part of the network and an exploitation route for outputs from the research carried out in the network 

The Digital Systems Integration Centre (DSIC) 

The University of Birmingham will establish an internationally-unique DSIC – a new purpose-built national facility that will deliver transformational change in the area of the digital, data-driven railway. Unique simulation facilities will allow the whole of the British railway network to be simulated, and hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) testing (i.e. real-time testing of control software on complex systems hardware) of signalling and control systems, communications technologies and traction systems to be carried out. 

The initial focus will prioritise four areas which were selected through an industry engagement workshop held in June 2016: 

  • Railway control and operations simulation – simulator development, traffic management, system optimisation, simulation and testing for integration, and next generation control systems
  • Data integration and cyber security – controlled access to national and international data, data modelling and architecture, integration of operations and customer-facing systems, and security for all data systems
  • Condition monitoring and sensing – next generations of smart condition monitoring integrated with other systems to produce useful operational information and knowledge
  • Technology introduction – de-risking and speeding up technology introduction through systems engineering processes, business case development, system verification and validation, supporting standards evolution

The Rolling Stock Innovation Centre (RSIC) 

The proposed RSIC combines and builds on the expertise of leading rolling stock research groups in the UK. The centre will address most aspects of rolling stock design but will initially focus on vehicle dynamics, traction, braking and transmission systems, structural integrity and crashworthiness, pantograph – overhead line interaction, passenger environment and safety and security. 

The centre will consist of three new linked and complementary facilities: 

A traction and braking facility will build on the existing full-size roller rig at Huddersfield, which has been recently opened at the IRR with regional growth funding. It will allow this to be linked with the expertise at Newcastle in drivetrain and gearbox innovation where Newcastle has a world-class reputation. The additional capability will include a full-size traction test facility and additional braking hardware and software. This will allow the effects of novel braking techniques to be investigated, including the effects on the whole vehicle system. The transmission testing capacity within the Design Unit at Newcastle will be enhanced with a state-of-the-art facility that will allow a full understanding of how rail transmission systems can be optimised for reliability. 

A new and unique full-scale pantograph dynamic test rig will be established at Huddersfield adjacent to and contiguous with the enhanced roller rig. This facility will include a wind tunnel to allow evaluation of aerodynamic forces and environmental impacts of pantographs and other rolling stock components. This is another area where the industry has specifically identified a lack of research and testing facilities and where innovation would improve the ability of the UK to remain competitive in a fast-moving area. 

A new structural integrity and crashworthiness facility will be set up at Newcastle. This will build upon existing expertise in rail vehicle technology at the Centre for Railway Research (NewRail) and powertrain design (Design Unit). The enhanced facility will allow extensive research into crashworthiness and fire performance, the latter seen as of vital importance in future designs as the industry is moving towards more lightweight materials for train construction. 

The Infrastructure Innovation Centre (IIC) 

The creation of the IIC builds on the National Linear Infrastructure Laboratory (NIL) at Southampton (part of the UK Collaboratorium for Research in Infrastructure & Cities), plus existing and planned facilities at Sheffield, Nottingham, Loughborough and Heriot-Watt. 

The key facilities at Southampton are a divisible 30m x 15m strong floor and reaction walls, a suite of geomechanics laboratories including a geotechnical centrifuge, and multi-scale materials testing apparatus. The new investment will fund hydraulic actuators and loading frames and a range of rail-specific geotechnical testing apparatus, enabling meaningful testing of components and sections of rail infrastructure systems at full and large scale. 

The research focus at Sheffield is on rail materials including new materials and friction management at the rail-wheel interface, and power supply infrastructure. The new investment will enable testing of full sized, unmodified components in real or simulated service conditions to reach readiness for deployment. 

Heriot-Watt University specialises in research on track structure (below the rail) and the supporting subgrade. Existing facilities include the large GRAFT II ballasted track test apparatus, a large triaxial test apparatus and monitoring equipment. 

The University of Loughborough has an existing capability in HIL validation. HIL has emerged from the control engineering community as a means for testing complex real-time embedded systems and will add to the ability of the IIC to test infrastructure systems. 

The University of Nottingham has internationally recognised expertise in railway infrastructure asset management, with a focus on fusing and analysing data relating to condition, maintenance and use.

“UKRRIN will, for the first time, bring together world-class research activities”




Nickk   13/07/2017 at 19:08

Can RTM explain the detail of the picture - it's not obvious in the words. This comment also applies to un-named photos - the mouse-tip-hover could be used for those interested. Thanks

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