Research by the University of Sheffield
and Network Rail
— members of the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN) — is helping to embed cost-efficient electrification in the UK’s rail network.
After four years, two PhDs have been completed, both focusing on different areas of cost-efficient electrification and improved reliability.
New electrification is seen as an essential step to decarbonise rail as part of the UK government’s Net Zero 2050 decarbonisation targets. Engineers from Sheffield University, supported by Furrer+Frey and Network Rail, have conducted extensive research with the aim of improving the reliability of both current and future electrification schemes.
Their research shows how collaboration between universities and industry can play a vital role in bringing ‘innovation to Britain’s railways’.
The PhDs — undertaken by Sam Hayes and Özgün Sunar from Sheffield University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering — were jointly funded by the University of Sheffield, Furrer+Frey and the European Union under a programme to improve research with industry to improve the railway sector.
Sam Hayes examined the effects of wind, train speed and gradient, with the aim of avoiding the need for extensive bridge reconstructions in future new electrification projects.
The performance of the ‘wires’ was recorded using both large-scale wind tunnels and computational fluid dynamics to create a digital twin of the wiring geometry; this was then validated with real-world testing at Network Rail’s test track at the Melton Rail Innovation & Development Centre.
Özgün Sunar focused on improving the reliability of overhead line electrification equipment, particularly when short-circuits and arching occurs. His research used both modelling and mechanical/electrical testing to establish intervention points and to better understand when maintenance is needed prior to service-interrupting failures occurring. Innovative new conductor materials
The research also trialled innovative new conductor materials. The ultimate aim of the project was to improve the electrification performance and to enhance passenger journeys and the travel experience by preventing failures.
Noel Dolphin, a director of Furrer+Frey, said: “We are proud to be supporting decarbonisation through electrification. Research and study are among the keys to making electrification cost-efficient.
“However, as the Railway Industry Association’s Electrification Cost Challenge Report
has shown, we need to remember that implementing a rolling programme of electrification would have the biggest impact on costs. By reducing costs and improving reliability, we can make the business case for this much stronger.”
Patric Mak, senior engineer for Network Rail’s Technical Authority, said: “It is really important for Network Rail and the wider rail industry to continue to look for ways to bring innovation to Britain’s railways and at how we can address new challenges, such as the likelihood of experiencing more extreme weather in the future.
“On behalf of Network Rail, I've been delighted to support both of these PhD students with their research, which will help us to create a more modern and resilient railway, meaning fewer delays for both passengers and freight services.”