Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Rail Supply Chain Partners Join Academics to Develop UK Infrastructure of the Future

Ninety Million Pound Investment in Four Centres of Excellence
Shipping News Feature
UK – As a result of a report from the Rail Supply Group (RSG) published in February 2016 'Fast Track to the Future', which recommended the establishment of a network of centres of excellence across the UK, so the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN) has now come into being to bring together the world of academia and the rail industry. The University of Birmingham led a consortium of universities, partnered by leading industry supply chain partners and major UK rail industry clients (Network Rail, HS2 Ltd, TfL) to develop a £90 million proposal to create and operate the new UKRRIN Centres of Excellence.

UKRRIN has now been established following a successful £28m bid to the Higher Education Funding Council for England to create four rail Centres of Excellence, backed by commitment from the rail industry to invest more than £60m in research, development and innovation activities at these Centres over the next ten years.

Now, following a launch at the Houses of Parliament where representatives from the industry partners and universities met Members of Parliament and officials from several Government departments, details of four Centres of Excellence have been revealed. These Centres are intended to enable the industry to deliver new products and technology to market faster using advanced purpose-built development, simulation and testing facilities. They also aim to help the UK maintain a position as a technology leader in rail on the world stage. The key objectives of UKRRIN are:

  • Support and build UK rail sector capacity and capability to develop, deliver and deploy new technologies
  • Deliver a step change investment in rail innovation through a world-leading network of UK- based research and testing centres
  • Radically increase UK rail productivity and performance by delivering transformational innovations and accelerating its uptake
  • Develop new strategic relationships with the small – medium sized enterprise supply chain, rail industry and wider transport sector

Three of the academic Centres of Excellence have been established to deliver world class research, development and innovation in partnership with the UK rail industry:

  • A Centre of Excellence in Digital Systems (led by University of Birmingham)
  • A Centre of Excellence in Infrastructure (led by University of Southampton, in partnership with University of Nottingham, University of Sheffield, Loughborough University and Heriot-Watt University)
  • A Centre of Excellence in Rolling Stock (led by University of Huddersfield, in partnership with Newcastle University and Loughborough University)
In addition, a fourth Centre of Excellence in Testing (led by Network Rail with their Rail Innovation & Development Centres, in partnership with Transport for London and Quinton Rail Technology Centre) has been incorporated into the Network to support the delivery of the UKRRIN objectives. Rail Minister Jo Johnson greeted news of the commencement of the project, saying:

“We are investing in the biggest modernisation programme of our railways since Victorian times, delivering what passengers want – more frequent trains and quicker and more comfortable journeys. In doing so, we are utilising a range of new technologies across the network and Britain is now at the cutting edge of digital signalling, high speed transport and railway infrastructure.

“New centres of excellence, bringing together experts, universities and the wider rail industry will be essential in achieving our ambition to get all diesel-only trains off the track by 2040 as well as delivering the advanced railway network that passengers deserve.”

Jo Binstead, Head of Innovation at Siemens Rail Systems and Chair of the UKRRIN Steering Group, commented that the UKRRIN launch marked a step change in industrial research investment for the industry. She said bringing together the two separate sides would ensure that developments being made through academic research can now be commercialised to deliver transformative changes across our Britain’s railway network. Professor Clive Roberts, Director of the Birmingham Centre for Rail Research and Education at the University of Birmingham, added:

“UKRRIN gives universities and rail industry partners the opportunity to shape the global future of railways. This launch is the official beginning of an innovative partnership, and we look forward to reinforcing the UK as the world-leading centre of rail innovation.”

As ever the principal target for change in this new initiative is doubtless the lucrative passenger market. Changes to rail technology and infrastructure will of course however have a major impact on the carriage of freight, particularly if this, and future governments, stick to the avowed intent to take more lorries from the country’s roads. It seems we are at an interesting point for land based freight, with hybrid and alternatively fuelled trucks rapidly gaining status due to ever tighter emission controls, whilst rail has an avowed intent to also reduce its environmental impact and simultaneously increasing efficiency on the tracks.