Railway research could lead to flangeless steering

| Transport

Railway points could be replaced if self-guided vehicles used
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Researchers at the University of Huddersfield have been working on innovative rail improvement projects including the elimination of points by using flangeless guidance.

Railway researchers at the University of Huddersfield have taken part in a £16 million European project designed to find ways of boosting the capacity, reliability and cost effectiveness of Europe’s railways. The project In2Rail was part of three ‘lighthouse’ projects kick-starting the Shift2Rail joint undertaking to which the University’s Institute of Railway Research (IRR) contributed to several facets

In2Rail has now concluded, after the partners carried out research in three areas, listed as Smart Infrastructure, Intelligent Mobility Management and Power Supply and Energy Management Systems.

At the IRR in Huddersfield, Head of Research and Principal Enterprise Fellow Dr Yann Bezin and Industrial Fellow Dr Dimitrios Kostovasilis had key roles in two work packages in the Smart Infrastructure category.

They investigated a range of radical innovations to switches and crossings – the components of the railway that are most susceptible to damage and fatigue. Among the new concepts examined by the IRR researchers and their partners, headed by Network Rail, were unconventional methods for guiding rail vehicles without the need for switches, including an engineering solution known as flange-back steering.

Advanced simulation software was used to evaluate the potential of this. Despite obvious benefit of removing the weakest component of current switches, the radical solution proves to bring additional challenges, but a stepping stone has been reached in its understanding. However, the Huddersfield researchers believe that radical concepts evaluated so far would really emerge together with self-steering rail vehicles abilities, belonging to the longer-term future and that in the meantime a step-change approach – improvements to existing switches – would mean quicker benefits. The team led by Dr Bezin at Huddersfield is already actively working on this aspect in the Shift2Rail project In2Track.

For their contribution to another In2Rail work package, Dr Bezin, Ilaria Grossoni, Dr Sergio Neves and Dr Sam Hawksbee carried out a track settlement analysis of the transition zone between slab track and ballasted track. This is a point that can suffer accelerated degradation because of higher dynamic loads, and the rail engineering company Rhomberg Sersa has developed an innovative transition system.

Network Rail has begun to employ this at a number of UK locations, at transition between slab track on bridges or tunnels and ballasted track on either side. Dr Bezin and his team of researchers carried out numerical modelling that will lead to greater scientific understanding of the issues surrounding transitions zones and their remedial solutions.

Involvement in the In2Rail programme has led to greater general understanding of track behaviour and has helped to forge new partnerships between universities and industry, said Dr Bezin.

Now he, Dr Kostovasilis, Ilaria Grossoni and Dr Sam Hawksbee are preparing papers on flange-back steering, settlement analysis and on transition zones that will feature at the Fourth International Conference on Railway Technology: Research, Development and Maintenance, taking place in Barcelona at the start of September.

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