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'Radical' self-guiding trains could replace railway switches


(Credit: Shutterstock)
(Credit: Shutterstock)

“Radical” self-guiding trains could eventually replace damage-prone railway switches, new research has found.

Carried out as part of a £16m EU project aimed at boosting the capacity, reliability and cost-effectiveness of European railways, a team at the University of Huddersfield investigated innovative options for switches and crossings – the railway components that are most susceptible to damage and fatigue.

Within a group led by Network Rail, members of the university’s Institute of Railway Research examined “unconventional” methods for guiding trains without the need for switches, which guide vehicles from one track to another.

The team used advanced simulation software to evaluate alternative options including flange-back steering, but found they will only be feasible with self-steering trains in the “longer-term future”.

“Flange back steering uses the back of the wheel to steer it in position laterally, as opposed to the conical tread part used in normal contact," said lead researcher Dr Yann Bezin. "The same is currently in use in crossings and tight checked rail curves."

In the meantime, they said, improvements to existing switches will bring quicker benefits for the EU In2Rail project’s criteria. The team is already investigating this with another branch of the international work.

Involvement in the programme, which also included analysis of transitions between different types of track, “has led to greater general understanding of track behaviour and has helped to forge new partnerships between universities and industry,” said Dr Bezin.

The researchers will present papers on their work in September, at the Railway Technology: Research, Development and Maintenance conference in Barcelona.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. 

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