Track to the Future

Birmingham will take part in a new £8.5m research programme which aims to develop railway track for the future that will cost less and last longer with reduced maintenance needs and improved environmental performance, causing significantly less disruption to travellers.

The programme, known as Track to the Future (T2F), will run for five years from 1 June 2015.

T2F is collaboration between academics from the Universities of Birmingham, Southhampton, Huddersfield and Nottingham. It is funded primarily by a £5.2m Programme Grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), with the remainder coming through industry support and from the partner Universities. A comprehensive industry partnership led by Network Rail will steer the research and exploit the scientific discoveries.

Track to the Future will address some of the completely new questions being asked as we push expectations of railway infrastructure performance to the limit. Railway track is being used more intensively as the frequency and speed of trains continue to increase. The time available for maintenance is decreasing and pressure is growing to reduce cost and environmental impacts, including noise and vibration. At the same time, climate change is imposing new pressures on old infrastructure, sometimes with major impacts on exposed coastal railways and vulnerable earthworks.

T2F aims to help infrastructure operators and owners develop low-maintenance, low-noise track to underpin the continued increase in train frequencies, speeds and operating hours.

Professor Clive Roberts, Director of the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education said:

We will be focusing on the data collection, analysis, integration and management activities across the whole programme. This builds on our exciting University Strategic Partnership with Network Rail and will help enable, and draw on, the rail industries Digital Railway initiative. 

The key research challenges that T2F will address are to develop low-maintenance, long-life track systems with optimised material use; to design crossings and transitions that improve vehicle behaviour through them and reduce damage; and to design and develop low-noise, low-vibration track.

The programme will be carried out in collaboration with industry and benefit from complementary research activities, including Strategic University Partnerships between Network Rail and the universities of Southampton, Birmingham and Nottingham, and between RSSB and Huddersfield; engagement of the university partners in FutureRailway and Shift2Rail and other publicly-funded railway infrastructure research; and facilities in the new National Infrastructure Laboratory on the Southampton Boldrewood Innovation Campus, as part of the UK Collaboratorium for Research in Infrastructure and Cities (UK-CRIC).