Full steam ahead for modernised, adaptable and reliable European railways
During its second dissemination event held in Brussels on Thursday 3 November 2016, the members of the CAPACITY4RAIL project came together to discuss their promising results on how their work is helping to build a strong, modern and reliable European railway network.
New products and technologies
Demand for rail transport across Europe is increasing for a multitude of reasons, such as environmental concerns, increased urbanisation, energy costs and road congestion. European railways though have a number of challenges they must address in order to meet this expanded demand. With overcapacity on busy urban and commuter routes and the fact that freight is being routed from only a limited number of seaports have highlighted that the railways need a comprehensive upgrade to make them more attractive and competitive. This is the task that the EU-funded CAPACITY4RAIL project is undertaking, with a focus on five key pillars: resilience, adaptability, automation, affordable and increasing capacity across the board.
New slab track designs
One of the most promising ways in which the project is hoping to achieve these ambitious aims is through the design of new slab tracks. A slab track is a modern form of track construction which has been used successfully throughout the world for high speed lines, heavy rail, light rail and tram systems. Slab tracks have been shown to offer proven higher performance in service and a longer life than traditional ballasted track.
The CAPACITY4RAIL project has pioneered the design of two new slab track concepts. Specifically, the project team has chosen a RAMS (reliability, availability, maintainability and safety)-oriented design for modular track and an LCC (life-cycle cost analysis)-oriented design for ladder tracks. Both concepts have been designed for freight or high capacity passenger services but could also be adapted to high-speed passenger service. Now that the project has successfully finalised its designs (of which a patent for both concepts is pending), the project team now plan to prototype and test the designs in March and June 2017 respectively.
Innovations for VHST
The project team has also focused on a new track design for VHST (very high-speed transit) routes and has conducted a parametric study to evaluate the predicted dynamic response of the reference railway track when equipped with specific combinations of railpads and under-sleeper pads (USPs). USPs provide a simple way of modifying the stiffness of ballasted track with an attractive cost-benefit ratio, by adding an elastic layer to the underside of the sleeper. USPs can be divided into two broad areas: track quality improvement and noise and vibration control/protection, although these are not mutually exclusive.
They found that the introduction of USPs results in a significant reduction in peak vertical displacement and acceleration levels within the track supporting layers, including the ballast layer. However, they also highlighted how these improvements are accompanied by increases in peak vertical displacement and acceleration levels on track components supported by the USPs.
Tested on the UK’s High Speed 1 route, the USPs utilised by CAPACITY4RAIL showed great promise in providing for more resilient and reliable high-speed rail routes that would then result in fewer maintenance costs.
New online tools
As well as physical infrastructure innovations, CAPACITY4RAIL has also developed a number of online tools that will help improve the capacity and reliability of European railways.
One of these is a web-based decision support tool that identifies options and innovations which deliver greater capacity using a whole systems approach (for example, types of tracks, tunnels, types of train on the network, capacity limits etc.). Users are able to enter various components of the current state of a railway into the tool, which then populates the capacity of the railway and provides a series of detailed spider representations based on the five guiding pillars of the project. Thus the tool gives a very quick assessment of possible upgrading and design options. No other tool currently exists on the market.
The project has also pioneered a simulations and model demonstrator that aims to improve timetable planning and operational planning. This would allow for the running of more trains, better capacity, improved punctuality and general improved robustness of the network. The tool can be used either online, using real time information or can be used offline as a timetable simulator.
End of the line in sight
CAPACITY4RAIL, which includes a large number of Europe’s most integral and influential railway organisations and companies, will officially finish in September 2017. The project, which received nearly EUR 10 million of EU funding and has already achieved some highly promising results, is definitely on track for providing both the technical and operational solutions that will give Europe a modernised, resilient and state-of-the-art railway network fit for the twenty-first century.