Railway switches and crossings make up the largest portion of railway maintenance costs

Track to the Future railway research project gets underway

A five-year project by British researchers aims to take railways in to the future by developing noiseless tracks and bespoke switches with extended life-spans.

The £6.5m Track to the Future project will address challenges arising from the intensification of railway transport and 24-hour operations.

In addition to developing noiseless tracks that would reduce the negative effects of living close to railways, the project will also aim to curb costs and the demands of maintenance. One of the key objectives will be to develop more wear-resistant rail crossings and switches using advanced materials and computer-aided design.

According to Professor Simon Iwnicki, the director of the Institute of Railway Research of the University of Huddersfield, repairs of crossings and switches make up 20 per cent of the total cost of track maintenance, despite accounting for less than one per cent of the route length. Some of these components currently need to be replaced approximately every three years.

“Instead of just having a simple cross-section and a standard material right the way through, we might decide to optimise the way that the material is put through the switch and the geometry of it,” Professor Iwnicki suggested.

The University of Huddersfield will build new test facilities to study and develop the new designs. Instead of developing a new generation of standardised switches, the researchers believe they could achieve major improvements by designing the devices specifically for each location, taking in to account the amount and nature of the traffic crossing the area.

“Our numerical simulation tools have already helped manufacturers understand keys issues with specific installations and helped them assess potential corrective actions before significant money is spent in the field,” explained Yann Bezin. “Likewise, they can be used earlier in the design process to achieve an optimum design from the start, thus reducing maintenance needs in the future.”

The project, a partnership between the universities of Huddersfield, Southampton, Birmingham and Nottingham, is scheduled to last for five years.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has contributed £6.5m towards realisation of the project.

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