UK research could lead to more efficient freight trains

Quieter, faster freight trains that cut damage to tracks by up to a half could one day be used to transport goods throughout the EU, thanks to work by the University of Huddersfield’s Institute of Railway Research (IRR).

Sustrail, the EU-funded sustainable freight railway, combines design innovation with lightweight materials to optimise geometry, axle load and ground stabilisation for its freight vehicles so they have less impact on tracks, while also being quieter and faster than existing stock.

‘The SUSTRAIL vehicle is capable of running at up to 140km/hr with reduced track forces compared with conventional freight bogies,’ said IRR director Professor Simon Iwnicki. ‘It comprises novel running gear using components based on the widely used Y25 suspension which means that it can be maintained using established techniques, equipment and staff, alongside disk brakes and an electronic braking system to ensure safe operation at the higher operating speeds. Wheel sets with impact resistant coatings will reduce inspection costs, while on-board condition monitoring will allow longer maintenance intervals.’

The design of the SUSTRAIL freight bogie has been patented and a prototype has been manufactured and is currently being tested.

In a separate €18 million six-year EU initiative named In2Rail, the IRR will be investigating novel switches and crossings and looking at possibilities for new kinds of track system with the aim of boosting the capacity of Europe’s railway network, while increasing reliability and cutting costs. The project is part of the EU funded Shift2Rail research and improvement project aimed at developing radical new technologies such as self-correcting, maintenance-free tracks.

The IRR is one of 55 partners taking part, and will effectively be redesigning railways as if they were a completely new concept to eliminate the failure modes associated with the existing system – for instance, looking at completely avoiding switch rails used as they are presently as they are very susceptible to damage.

Their computer modelling expertise will be used to look at the potential of smart tracks embedded with sensor technology and mechatronics, enabling them to monitor for damage and self-adjust over time to compensate for normal wear and tear, removing maintenance staff from the tracks, reducing disruption and enabling 24-hour freight operation.