Centre of Excellence in Infrastructure

Creating high performance, low maintenance railway infrastructure
through research and innovation


The Centre of Excellence in Infrastructure, led by the University of Southampton, will host collaborative research and development by academic and industry partners. It will link the primary railway infrastructure research centres, providing industry with one-stop access to leading facilities around the UK to accelerate improvements from research into practice.

The Centre will integrate the specialist centres for railway infrastructure research in the UK with the industrial base and network operators. It will provide straightforward access to leading researchers and facilities, to generate practical improvements in performance and whole-life cost.

What will the Centre do?

The Centre will focus on the Rail Technical Strategy’s vision for infrastructure. Research will be applied to develop a reliable and resilient seven-day railway with world-class asset management, increased capacity and reduced delays. The vision will be to optimise the whole-life, whole-system cost of infrastructure, considering investment, carbon and social factors such as noise and vibration.

Distributed facilities

The Centre combines and builds on the expertise of the UK’s leading universities in railway infrastructure, led by the University of Southampton. The research partner for a project or programme can be selected after considering location, expertise and capacity. The Centre is closely linked to the UK Collaboratorium for Research in Infrastructure and Cities, a consortium of 14 UK universities undertaking world-leading research.

Benefits of collaboration

The Centre presents an opportunity for:

The Centre will support UK industry in developing innovative solutions to improve the performance, efficiency and reliability of the railway network. The Centre will save industry time and effort in finding specific expertise. It will have available some of the most up to date test facilities anywhere in the world and access to a broad base of internationally recognised scientists and engineers with significant experience in the rail industry.

What will you see when you step inside and
connect with the Centre?

You will find cutting-edge laboratory and modelling facilities, where leading experts and top companies work together to apply sound science to real-world problems.

The National Infrastructure Laboratory, Southampton

The National Infrastructure Laboratory at Southampton, a new £46 million facility currently under construction, is a major national resource for research into geomechanics and soil mechanics. It will house a new 3m radius, 150 g-tonne centrifuge, and a range of existing equipment will be extended and upgraded for the new laboratory. Existing equipment includes facilities for accelerated testing of full-scale sleeper/pad/ballast/subgrade combinations, fully equipped geotechnical laboratories for advanced soil and granular materials characterisation, and advanced instrumentation and measurement techniques for use in the laboratory and on the live railway. Associated facilities at Southampton include hydraulics laboratories such as wind tunnels and a towing tank; high voltage laboratories; advanced x-ray computed tomography systems including large high energy; anechoic and reverberant chambers and full-size test track for noise and vibration research; advanced tribology; human factors laboratories; prototyping workshops including state-of-the-art 3D metal printing; and significant numerical modelling capability including one of the largest university-based supercomputers in the UK. The National Infrastructure Laboratory will provide desk and meeting space for the use of visiting researchers, and access to world-leading researchers, skilled experimentalists and technical support.

Railway Innovation and Technology Centre, Sheffield

The Railway Innovation and Technology Centre at Sheffield undertakes research into rail materials and support; new materials and friction management at the rail-wheel interface; and power supply infrastructure, primarily overhead line dynamics, design and maintenance. New investment through the UKRRIN will enable testing of full-sized, unmodified components in real or simulated service conditions in order to reach readiness for deployment. The investment will provide two new twin disc machines at different scales, a high-speed grinding rig, portable rail surface analysis kit and digital image correlation equipment. The UKRRIN investment will complement and leverage investment by EPSRC and others in Sheffield’s new Laboratory for Verification and Validation, a structural dynamics facility featuring a 90m2 test chamber with control of mechanical, temperature, humidity and wind load on structures.

Track infrastructure research centre, Edinburgh

Heriot-Watt University focuses on testing track infrastructure, using leading experimental facilities and numerical modelling. Key facilities are a multi-sleeper full-scale cyclic testing rig for accelerated testing of railway track systems, and the UK’s largest true triaxial test apparatus, capable of simulating complex 3D stress patterns in track materials.

‘Hardware-in-the- Loop’ (HiL), Loughborough

The Loughborough team brings expertise and capability in control, mechatronics and HiL that doesn’t exist as a primary skill elsewhere in the Network. A part of the UKRRIN network the aim is to establish a hardware-in-the-loop laboratory for rail that will be unique in Europe.

The facility will be focused around a ‘full system’ simulation model and bridges the Infrastructure and Rolling Stock Centres of Excellence. Among other things, it will be available to the Infrastructure Centre for mechatronic switch demonstrators.

Infrastructure research at Nottingham

Nottingham’s railway infrastructure research is carried out across several research groups including Resilience Engineering, Asset Management, Human Factors, Geospatial Engineering, Transport Engineering, Structures and Geotechnics with much of their capability addressing infrastructure asset management. Key facilities include a full-scale ballast test facility and a 50 g-tonne, 2m radius geotechnical centrifuge used to study railway embankment stability.

Expertise and facilities

The Centre presents an opportunity for:

  • Geotechnical engineering
  • Track systems
  • Metallurgy, tribology and rail/wheel interface
  • Noise and vibration
  • Asset management
  • Risk and reliability
  • Resilience engineering
  • Economic modelling
  • Hardware-in-the-loop

Our expertise

The Centre integrates the specialist centres for railway infrastructure research in the UK. They all have extensive experience of undertaking scientific research and working with the rail industry to turn new discoveries and insights into practical tools for improving the rail network.

Civil engineering infrastructure is largely addressed by the National Infrastructure Laboratory at Southampton and existing and planned facilities at Nottingham and Heriot-Watt. Rail and power infrastructure components are being addressed in the engineering laboratories at Sheffield and, as with rolling stock, hardware-in-the-loop facilities at Loughborough.

The university partners have a very wide science and engineering research base, providing a gateway for access to extensive expertise and facilities that can be explored as the need arises. Taken together with strong links into the wider UK Collaboratorium for Research in Infrastructure and Cities, the Infrastructure Centre will have unrivalled capabilities and worldwide reach

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