Unlocking Innovation: Light Weight and Low Cost Railway - Day 3

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16 December 2020

The third day of RIA’s latest Unlocking Innovation event series covered two exciting areas for the industry, the Coventry Shuttle and the Department for Transport’s Restoring Your Railway Fund.

On the back of Nicola Small’s presentation on Nov 15th, covering the Coventry Shuttle scheme, Warwick Manufacturing Group colleague’s Dr James Meredith and Dr Christopher Micallef started the day’s event outlining some technical details of the project.

The first talk by Dr James Meredith focused on the vehicle that the team has been developing, reiterating that the majority of components have been sourced from the UK. James also highlighted that, despite the Covid-19 outbreak, the group have continued to manufacture the vehicle and they now have an exoskeleton completed.

Unlike various other light rail systems, the vehicle will be powered by a “zero-emissions battery”, which James explained will be a 750 Volt system with roughly 54 kWh of capacity. In terms of range, James revealed that one 10km route will require around 7 kWh of energy, providing a total range of around 70km. He also mentioned some of the innovative materials used in the manufacturing process. For example, the bumper has been produced by a motorsports company and is designed to be flexible, and the cab moulding is one solid piece made from a carbon/Kevlar composite.

Following on was WMG’s Dr Christopher Micallef, who spoke of the development process for a novel track form for the line. Due to the short timeline and cost restraints, one of their primary tasks was to assess where the majority of costs come from, with lots of data coming from the Edinburgh Tram project.

Christopher explained how they came up with a novel track form plan which will enable a dramatic reduction in associated secondary costs, including earthworks, utilities, risks, and project management. With a target cost of around £2million per km of single track, their strategy is for a maximum total dig depth of 300mm which will be undertaken by a standard road milling machine.

Alongside their partner Ingerop, the team have looked to overcome several critical challenges involved in laying track, including managing hidden utilities and ensuring the schemes still allows utility companies urgent access if required. The team have set themselves the challenge of ensuring parts of the track and road can still be easily removed.

The third talk came from the Department for Transport’s (DfT) Amanda Roper, who is Deputy Director for the Restoring Your Railway programme. Amanda set out how the Department is looking to reconnect communities, regenerate local economies and improve access to jobs, homes and education through reopening or developing new railway lines.

Amanda explained that the Fund, launched earlier this year to support a range of schemes at varying stages of their life cycle, is split into three main parts. First, the New Stations Fund will provide up to 75% of the cost of building new stations. On this point, Amanda stressed that it is not just focused on reversing so-called ‘Beeching cuts’ but also aims to build where stations have never been – “this not about taking everything back to the 1960s” – and that they are also looking to use new construction methods such as modular builds where appropriate.

The second is supporting Advanced Proposals, particularly to accelerate the process for lines and stations already being considered and that have existing business cases. For example, the return of passenger services on the Northumberland line between Ashington Blyth and Tyne and the reinstatement of Okehampton to Exeter.

And finally, the Ideas Fund is their newest and the most “exciting” part, according to Amanda. The Fund, which is engaging with schemes and suppliers early to ensure the specification is right and drive new approaches to projects, has received strong engagement from the industry. The DfT had 111 applications across two funding rounds in May and July and are now commencing work on 15 schemes which were announced in the National Infrastructure Strategy.

Amanda concluded by emphasising the Government’s main aim is to reconnect communities and level up, and they are focused on socioeconomic benefits to assess whether it is the right transport solution. Due to the small nature of many of the schemes, there is also a real opportunity to deliver innovative solutions, she added. Amanda stated the target in-service date for the first of these schemes is around 2 years away.

RIA also heard two elevator pitches to wrap-up the session. The first was from Noel Dolphin, Director at Furrer+Frey, who showcased how they are using their experience and technology from charging electric buses to provide overhead charging points for the light rail sector. The second pitch came from Precast Advanced Track (PCAT) Ltd, who are working to provide greener, lighter and cheaper precast track slabs to the railways. PCAT’s John Hammond provided a summary on how they are using an innovative additive called Tritonite, which uses nano science technology to increase the strength of concrete, to reduce the amount, cost and carbon impact of building materials needed.

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