SINCE the advent of railways in the 1800s, tracks have been laid by fixing individual rails to individual sleepers on a bed of ballast. Now, a team of University of Huddersfield researchers is to break with tradition and work on the development of modular, all-steel track sections that can be laid quickly and embedded with fibre optic technology, which provides instant safety alerts. This could lead to massive cost savings and gains in efficiency.
The Institute of Railway Research (IRR), headed byProfessor Simon Iwnicki, is based at the University and is one of the partners in a 15 million euro, four-year project funded by the European Union under itsSeventh Framework Programme. NamedCAPACITY4RAIL, the ambitious scheme aims to ensure that railways will continue to meet Europe's transport needs over the decades to come. Low maintenance infrastructure, more resilient and easily repairable points – or switches – and higher-speed freight vehicles are among the goals.
"A big problem is vertical support of the track," explained Dr Bezin. "Currently you get deterioration from one sleeper to the other or the ballast degrades and some sleepers become unsupported. A concrete sleeper is the norm, but we have studied a steel track system that uses steel beams. This gives consistency of support and better control of dynamic forces."
Dr Bezin added that the construction of modular track sections in the factory would mean that they could be pre-equipped with smart technology.
"We could make the track system intelligent. Fibre optics running along the rail would enable you to know from the signal whether or not there is an unusual deformation, an indication of fatigue cracking or some other problem".
This condition monitoring system would make maintenance a much simpler process, adding to the efficiency gains from modular track construction.
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