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Lead professor upbeat about new Institute for High Speed Rail and System Integration in Leeds

Peter Woodward is the Professor for High-Speed Railways at the University of Leeds and Head of the Institute for High Speed Rail and System Integration (IHSRSI).

Professor Woodward sat down with journalists to answer key questions about the aims of the High Speed Rail and System Integration.


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The images show an artist’s impression of the IHSRSI. Please note the plans are subject to detailed planning approval. Credit: Atkins, artist’s impression.

Q: What is the aim of the Institute of High-Speed Rail and System Integration?

“The Institute is designed to be able to look at a whole system integration approach to the development of new technologies and to the de-risking of those technologies to allow their general application onto the rail network. In order to achieve that, we are building some of the world’s most advanced test facilities, including an infrastructure, vehicle and a systems integration facility.”

Q: Let’s take those step-by-step. So tell me a bit about the vehicle testing facility?

“The high-speed capable vehicle test facility will allow us to test for example a full carriage on the equivalent of a rolling road  – what that means is its able to model the duty cycle of the train. So it’s able to model the changes in the track geometry and the track alignment that the train would see in the real world.”

“While it’s undergoing that duty cycle it will be powered, as it is in the real world, which means that the vehicles own traction motors will be operating on this rolling road. In addition, the vehicle test facility allows us to look at the development of those vehicles at various stages of their design and operational life.”

“For example, it allows us to test the dynamics of just one bogie, or we could test two bogies connected to the chassis, or we could test the whole carriage itself. At each stage of the prototype carriage development we can de-risk its technology to allow the final full prototype to be significantly de-risked prior to testing on a commissioning line or on an operational line.”

Q: By de-risk you mean identify problems before they surface, when they go on a live network?

“Yes, de-risking allows us to identify the problems. It could be in the way that the vehicle responds to the changing track geometry. It could be in the way that the vehicle is controlled through the signalling and the command and control systems. All of those areas potentially could give rise to glitches prior to in-service operation. By identifying as many of those glitches as possible in the test facilities, they can be de-risked, and where necessary, additional items or technologies introduced to solve that problem prior to in-service operation.”

Q: And tell me about the clever development of where you can input GPS data and you can program the rig so it can simulate specific journeys?

“Using new measurement technology located on trains, it will now be possible to measure the geometry of track anywhere in the world that have those measurement trains operating. That digitised data can then be programmed directly into the vehicle test facility so that the vehicle dynamics would be representative of the real in-service track.

“In addition to that, by powering the vehicle in the vehicle test facility the power drawn by that vehicle can also be modelled and hence the EMC field generated is realistic and can be measured. It makes the vehicle test facility one of the most realistic in-service test facilities anywhere in the world.”

The images show an artist’s impression of the IHSRSI. Please note the plans are subject to detailed planning approval. Credit: Atkins, artist’s impression.

Q: And so that could mean it would simulate the particular bends and the gradients and the descents?

“Yes. That is correct. The facility will also allow the effects of track maintenance on the vehicle dynamics to be tested and the passenger comfort level determined. The vehicle test facility, because it has programmable variable track geometry capability, is highly innovative providing a step change in current testing capability. For example it will allow the full development and testing of mechatronic bogies.”

Q: Would that allow train manufacturers and operators to clock up some of the testing miles on the rig rather than putting trains on a commissioning line or on the live network?

“Yes, so it would allow a carriage to be tested through the full range of track miles required. Conventional commissioning lines are fixed geometry so the vehicle dynamics are completely set by that particular commissioning line and its speed rating.”

“However the actual in-service line that the train operates on may be very different to what is on that commissioning line. The ability of the vehicle test facility to model the in-service track geometry is hugely beneficial because it means that the measurements we take from that carriage, in terms of the its performance, are much more representative of the real in-service performance – i.e. they are not measurements from a fixed geometry commissioning line but from a representation of the actual in-service line at the correct speed.”

Q: And the vehicle test facility is both for conventional and high-speed trains and carriages.

“Yes. The Institute for High Speed Rail and System Integration means that it is high speed rail capable, i.e. it is able to test all train speeds up to and including high-speed.”

Q: Tell me a bit about the infrastructure testing rig?

“If you look at the way infrastructure test facilities are normally built – they are setup in laboratories and laboratories tend to have fixed walls. Think of it as a bathtub, if an infrastructure test facility sits in a concrete bathtub; that makes it very difficult to look at ground dynamics and vibration propagation. The infrastructure test facility will be built in a field with a large depth of soil below it, meaning that we can develop track dynamics.”

“If you wanted to increase the speed of the train over a particular piece of poor ground then you would need to look at ground stabilization technologies in order to stiffen the ground up.
The challenge of course is how much ground stabilization would I need to do to achieve the right ground stiffness and settlement profile? What is the best way to do it? What is the best technique to do? The infrastructure test facility will allow you to do that accurately.”

Q: And the experimental facility doesn’t stop there – these two rigs play into a third component and that is system integration. What’s that?

“Yeah. Let’s think about putting the vehicle at the centre at the moment. The vehicle interacts with the track and the track then feedbacks back into the vehicle motion – the vehicle also interacts with its command and control system and its power supply. The EMC field generated depends on the power draw which depends on things like the train speed, track gradient etc. Therefore we should not just think about system integration as electrical systems talking to each other.”

“We use the term whole system integration which means the whole track system and the way in which various elements interact and feedback to each other. So if we are looking at improving energy efficiency we could ask, when should the train be drawing power? When should it be coasting? When should it be braking? This will be affected by the whole system and not just the performance of a particular component. By bringing all of this together at one site, fully integrated with the system integration centre, we are better able to model that system and hence answer those questions.”

Q:  And is that taking data from the vehicle testing rig as well as the infrastructure rig?

“Yes, that’s exactly right. It means we could, for example, connect the infrastructure test facility to the vehicle test facility. So if you’re going over track with varying track stiffness, for example a transition onto a bridge, you might want to look at how the train and the track interact as it affects the dynamics of the vehicle which affects things like the passenger experience.”

“So all of this data being collated can be integrated to provide feedback mechanisms to allow the infrastructure and vehicle test facilities, through the systems integration building, to talk to each other and hence feedback. The intention is to get as close to reality as we can within a safe and controlled laboratory environment. By using the output of that test as input into the passenger motion simulator in the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of Leeds we can then say exactly what that passenger would experience going over that piece of track, whether they were standing, walking or sitting down at their seat.”

Q: And when you look at some of the problems that develop when new trains, new rail systems are being introduced – how often is an integration problem at the heart of that?

“If we look at the way integration problems come about and again, we can look at the UK. So in many areas you have legacy systems going back many years, in some cases decades, and you think about the way that technology has developed very rapidly since that time.

“So we might have legacy systems operating on the same line as perhaps new digital systems and we can see the move towards 5G technologies on the horizon, so you can start to see the difficulties the industry faces in terms of signalling and command and control.

“This again is a real strength of the facilities that we are building because if we are looking at, for example, the problems associated with electromagnetic interference that we’ve heard so much about, being able to test that interference by putting powered carriages in the test facilities and seeing how it interacts with those signalling systems, in a control environment, is hugely beneficial.”

Q: And you mentioned this is all about de-risking the new technology – just tell me about that?

“The Institute will be able work with its partners to develop and test a huge range of systems, for example, it could be a whole carriage, or just a bogie or axle or new suspension system. We will be able to do this throughout their development and manufacturing stages, meaning that we’re in a position to be able to help our partners take those new technologies to market and hence commercial success by testing them in a realistic environment. That is what we mean by de-risking.

Equally it could be infrastructure systems such as new sleepers, new rails, new types of slab track. It could be looking at different types of electrical systems on the vehicles themselves. It could be looking at how different signalling systems communicate with each other, whichever one we are looking at, the ability to test it in a controlled laboratory environment, but as close as possible to its operational cycle, allows that significant de-risking potential to become a reality.”

Q: What does that mean for UK rail, that there is now this facility that is able to offer that service?

“There are two primary advantages. First of all it enables the UK industry to once again be at the forefront of developing and testing new railway technologies, it could for example allow the UK to take a leading position in the development of mechatronic bogies as we will now have a testing facility that’s able to simulate varying track geometry and hence allow research into the control system.”

“Secondly the de-risking element allows many different new technologies to be placed into a realistic operational environment and de-risked. This will allow the commercialisation of the new technologies, especially from SMEs, to be introduced into the industry in a much more cost efficient way.”

Q:  What does that mean in terms of the rail industry and export markets?

“In short it means less disruption to the network. It means less disruption to passengers. It means the UK once again being at the forefront of railway development, research, testing, certification and commercialization.”

“These new technologies will allow things like new enterprise parks to be set up, whether it’s SMEs or large corporate companies, they will be able to set up new factories close to advanced testing facilities. The location of the Institute on the Enterprise Park in the Leeds City Region is a clear example of our desire to spark economic development in and hence job creation.”

Q: And finally there was the date for when this all becomes operational?

“The first of the test facilities start to become operational around December 2020 with the remaining test facilities coming online afterwards. So this is happening now.”

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