How does High Speed Rail differ from the conventional railway?

High-speed railways share most, if not all, characteristics of conventional mainline railways, metros and even trams: They run on rails and are usually powered by electricity, they require structures and control systems, they are subject to variability in their environment and they must satisfy ever increasing customer demands in terms of journey time, convenience and comfort. However, there are very significant differences in the way that these characteristics express themselves in high-speed railways. The operating speeds (v) of high-speed railways are between 50 and 150% greater than those of earlier types of railways, resulting in a kinetic energy level that is between 2.25 and 6.25 that of the ‘older’ systems.

What does this mean for research and education?

Research into adhesion and aerodynamics at high speeds is a priority for researchers at the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research (BCRRE), at Huddersfield’s Institute of Railway Studies (ISR) and at the University of Sheffield. While operating, the rolling stock, infrastructure and control systems of modern railways require and produce continuous streams of data that must be processed, analysed and stored. Given that high-speed trains move at up to 100 m/s, there are great challenges in communicating this data accurately and reliably between the various subsystems, with minimum latency. Sensor systems and actuators for high-speed operations must be fast, accurate, reliable and repeatable.

How is BCRRE contributing to this?

BCRRE’s new digital railway research centre, part of the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN), will specialise in the management of these systems and the associated data flows, with a focus on data analytics and data mining. BCRRE also educates railway engineers and operators to understand and make best use of the resulting information, both in its taught programmes, such as the MSc in Railway Systems Engineering and Integration, and in its research programmes, namely, the MRes in Railway System Integration and in its doctoral training.

How is BCRRE collaborating with other UK institutions?

The manufacturing and maintenance requirements of high-speed railways are exacting, since the safety of the system depends on a high integrity infrastructure, dependable rolling stock and the total absence of obstacles. Research in these areas is conducted by the Institute of Sound and Vibration at Southampton University (ISVR), within the BCRRE, by the IRS and at the University of Nottingham.

How will this benefit HS2?

 Experience and expertise gained with trams, metros and conventional mainline railways are relevant to high-speed railways like HS2. However, system standards and the level of availability have to be much more exacting, resulting in a need for high quality research, education and training by universities and other relevant bodies