Leeds to house cutting-edge rail engineering facility

Funding has been agreed for the Institute for High-Speed Rail and System Integration, set to open by 2021, which is aimed to transform how transport systems work around the world

rail engineering
Artist’s impression of the IHSRSI, showing the infrastructure testing rig at the top of the picture. Credit: Atkins Architects

The IHSRSI is to be funded by £11 million from government, £40 million from Leeds University and its rail industry partners, and £13 million from the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership Growth Deal. It forms the early phase of a plan involving local authorities and businesses to position Leeds as a UK centre for rail engineering.

The role of the Institute will be to measure how train, track, power systems and signals interact as a unified system. It will be sited in the Leeds City Region Enterprise Zone, which is near junction 45 of the M1 motorway.

rail engineering
Prof Peter Woodward

According to Prof Peter Woodward, director of the IHSRSI, facilities at the Institute will include a vehicle testing rig, “the equivalent of a rolling road”, on which train carriages will be put through a simulation of their duty cycle on the rails which they will be using in service. “It’s able to model the changes in the track geometry and the track alignment that the train would see in the real world. While it’s undergoing that duty cycle it will be powered, as it is in the real world, which means that the vehicle’s own traction motors will be operating on this rolling road.” These tests could be carried out on components, such as bogies, combinations of components, such as two bogies connected on a chassis, or on the whole carriage. Woodward explained that this will allow de-risking to be carried out at each stage of the development of a prototype carriage.

One feature of this testing system will be the ability to input GPS data to program the rig so that it can simulate specific journeys on any stretch of track where a measurement train has operated. This would include setting up simulations of all the bends, climbs and descents. “The vehicle dynamics would be representative of the real in-service track. In addition to that, by powering the vehicle in the vehicle test facility the power drawn by that vehicle can also be modelled and hence the EMC (electromagnetic compatibility) field generated is realistic and can be measured. It makes the vehicle test facility one of the most realistic in-service test facilities anywhere in the world,” Woodward claimed.

The facility will be able to test trains for both conventional and high-speed networks.

The facility will also include an infrastructure testing rig, built outdoors with a large depth of soil beneath it. This will allow the Institute to set up track dynamics experiments, such as studies to determine how stretches of poor ground would need to be stabilised to stiffen the track so that high-speed trains can safely pass along it. As well as this, it would allow train manufacturers and operators to carry out part of their testing on the rig rather than on a commissioning line, which can be unrepresentative of the in-service lines where the trains will run. Measurements taken from the carriage during such tests would be more representative of real in-service performance than those taken on a fixed-geometry commissioning line.

The third aspect apart from component and infrastructure testing is system integration. This looks at how the vehicle interacts with the track and the track in turn feeds back into the vehicle motion. “The EMC field generated depends on the power draw which depends on things like the train speed, track gradient etc,” Woodward said.

System integration is not just electrical systems talking to each other, he explained, by the way in which various elements in the system interact with each other.

“So if we are looking at improving energy efficiency we could ask, when should the train be drawing power? When should it be coasting? When should it be braking? This will be affected by the whole system and not just the performance of a particular component.”

Combining both rigs also allow the Institute to determine how a passenger will experience travelling over a particular piece of track, whether they are sitting, standing or walking around in the carriage.

This facility will put the UK at the forefront of developing and testing new railway engineering technologies, such as mechatronic bogies capable of adapting to varying track geometries, Woodward said. “These new technologies will allow things like new enterprise parks to be set up, whether it’s SMEs or large corporate companies, they will be able to set up new factories close to advanced testing facilities. The location of the Institute on the Enterprise Park in the Leeds City Region is a clear example of our desire to spark economic development in and hence job creation.”

MORE FROM THE ENGINEER