Designing the rail track of the future

05 Jun 2015 12:35:11.030


Civil engineers from The University of Nottingham are helping to develop the railway track of the future which will be cheaper and quieter, last longer and be lower maintenance for rail network operators. 

The £8.5research programme links four universities (Nottingham, Southampton, Birmingham and Huddersfield) with industry partners including Network Rail to address the challenges of future railway infrastructure.

The programme is called Track to the Future (T2F) and will run for five years from June 1 2015. 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.

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Rail track challenges

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. 

"Exciting times"

Professor Glenn McDowell, Head of The University of Nottingham’s Department of Civil Engineering, said: “These are exciting times for the railway industry. We have a real opportunity to use advanced numerical modelling and experimental techniques to devise novel interventions that will lead to ballasted track requiring little or no maintenance. The potential financial savings are huge and ultimately the public will benefit from much improved track ride quality and a superior service.

Professor William Powrie, from the University of Southampton and lead academic on T2F, said: “We are addressing these key challenges through state-of-the-art experimental and analytical techniques, and the integration of advanced behavioural models in the areas of geomechanics, track systems, vehicle dynamics, noise and vibration.

“By extending our scientific knowledge and developing new analytical tools, we will make it possible for engineers to design railway track systems that give longer, more reliable service at much reduced cost.” 

Track to the future

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 Rail Safety & Standard Board (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).  

More detail can be found on the Track to the Future website, and you can follow on Twitter at

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with campuses in China and Malaysia modelled on a headquarters that is among the most attractive in Britain’ (Times Good University Guide 2014). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers and the winner of ‘Research Project of the Year’ at the THE Awards 2014. It is ranked in the world’s top one per cent of universities by the QS World University Rankings, and 8th in the UK by research power according to REF 2014.

The University of Nottingham in Malaysia (UNMC) is holding events throughout 2015 to celebrate 15 years as a pioneer of transnational education. Based in Semenyih, UNMC was established as the UK's first overseas campus in Malaysia and one of the first world-wide.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

Story credits

More information is available from Professor Glenn McDowell in the Department of Civil Engineering, University of Nottingham on +44 (0)115 9514603,

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