Anti-microbial grab poles could make public transport safer

2 min read

Lightweight composite grab-poles with an embedded anti-microbial property are being developed in a collaboration that could help restore confidence in travelling safely on public transport.

Retrofittable anti-microbial grab poles could be used on London Underground trains (Image by Klaus Fedorow from Pixabay)

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people have been hesitant about taking public transport due to the perceived risk of acquiring germs from areas such as the grab-poles on trains, buses and trams, which are the principal point of contact.

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A team including researchers from WMG at the University of Warwick, product designers Transport Design International (TDI), anti-microbial additive developers BioCote and Promethean Particles and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), led by Derby-based manufacturers Composites Braiding Ltd (CBL), will produce lightweight composite grab-poles with an embedded anti-microbial property in their project AMICABLE, thanks to £480,000 from the Innovate UK Smart Grant scheme.

The retrofittable anti-microbial grab poles will be for use in modes of public transport including bus, tram, rail and underground and could be extended to numerous public-facing surfaces.

The teams, from WMG, CBL and TDI previously worked together on making the materials for the Coventry Very-Light Rail system, and using their knowledge from previous projects and concepts already developed for anti-microbial efficacy in sectors such as food packaging and healthcare, they hope to make the new grab-poles within the next 12 months.

“As we work in developing future public transport solutions such as the Coventry Very-Light Rail system, the Covid-19 pandemic opened our eyes to the importance of also making transport as clean an environment as possible for passengers,” said Dr Darren Hughes, from WMG. “It is clear that a key point of contact for passengers is the grab-poles and other similar structures. Therefore, incorporating anti-microbial grab poles into vehicles could encourage more people to opt for public transport which is generally an environmentally efficient mode of transport.”

According to WMG, the project aims to make a range of poles at costs competitive to the current steel ones. Due to their lightweight material, they will be around a third of the weight and will help with meeting decarbonisation goals by aiding fuel efficiency and manufacturing via lower carbon methods.

Steve Barbour, of Derby-based specialists in thermoplastic braiding CBL said: “Using in-mould coating impregnation and fibre commingling techniques, anti-microbial particles will be incorporated into the composite rails during the moulding process.

“Importantly, as the anti-microbial material will be applied during manufacture, it becomes a permanent part of the structure and therefore is expected to be less susceptible to wear. However, when it does reach the end of its life the thermoplastic matrix material will be inherently recyclable, making the grab-poles environmentally friendly.”