BLOG: Track record of rail innovation
21 Sep 2018
Professor Simon Iwnicki, Director of the Institute of Railway Research (IRR) at the University of Huddersfield talks to us about world-class research, explaining why our region is at the heart of rail innovation and the ‘Rail Engineer’ award for ‘Most Interesting Project’ in 2015.
Why is the UK rail industry a great opportunity for UK and International businesses?
Since 1990, the rapid expansion in both passenger and freight transport by rail in the UK and increasing demands for greater reliability and efficiency has led to a renaissance. High profile projects like Crossrail and HS2 clearly show that the railway has a positive future in the UK.
What work do you do at the IRR?
Our team provides specialist research in railway engineering, safety and risk. The aim is to ensure that vehicles and track work together as safely and efficiently as possible.
The work ranges from solving front line issues for today’s railway to advising on the design of new rail projects and researching how passenger and freight transport can be improved in the future. A key part of our research is in developing cutting edge techniques using computer simulation of rail vehicle dynamics, vehicle track interaction and safety performance.
We have installed the UK’s only full scale roller rig known as HAROLD (Huddersfield Adhesion and Rolling contact Laboratory Dynamics rig). This facility, pictured above, allows railway bogies (structures underneath railway vehicles) to be tested in the laboratory at speeds of up to 225kph. It’s an important new capability for developing innovative railway vehicles and for investigating a wide range of issues associated with the interaction between wheels and rails (adhesion, braking, wear and fatigue etc).
How is the IRR different from other UK and EU research institutions and how do you work with businesses?
We work on a wide range of projects including relatively short term applied research tasks for industry as well as longer term ‘blue skies’ grant funded research projects.
Our strength is that we are adaptable. Our researchers can transfer knowledge from work on cutting edge research to development of innovative products and processes in industry.
We are developing software to predict when track requires maintenance, with Omnicom Engineering, funded by Innovate UK, and new types of suspension and traction systems with SET Ltd, funded by Future Railway.
It’s a good time to work with us as we are setting up the ‘Centre for Innovation in Rail’ (CIR) to support innovation and growth amongst SMEs in the supply chain.
SME collaborations continue and range from working with railway rubber matting manufacturers to developing state-of-the-art ultrasonic sensors and diesel emission reducing turbocharging technologies.
We will also host the Centre of Excellence in Rolling Stock within the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN). This will provide a range of world class capabilities including simulation and physical test facilities to support the GB rail industry.
The team is growing too. The clear vision set out by the University of Huddersfield to become a research-led university supported us to grow from 12 to 35 research staff plus 12 PhD students in only six years.
What companies have you undertaken research for?
We have carried out research and consultancy work for many railway companies including vehicle manufacturers and operators as well as Network Rail, London Underground, HS2 and RSSB.
We have supported most light rail operators in the UK as well as freight operators the ORR and RAIB.
Tell us about an example of your award-winning research
The IRR led the development of a novel high-speed freight vehicle as part of the EU-funded ‘SUSTRAIL’ project. A prototype of the novel vehicle was constructed by REMARUL Engineering in Romania and tested at 150kph. The project team received the ‘Rail Engineer’ award for ‘Most Interesting Project’ in 2015 for this work which is a significant achievement.
Find out more about the rail investor opportunities in Leeds City Region by contacting our Sector Manager for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Ken Brockbank, firstname.lastname@example.org.