Centre of Excellence in Infrastructure

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


The Centre of Excellence in Infrastructure (CEI) is led by the University of Southampton and includes fellow Infrastructure experts at the University of Sheffield, Loughborough University, University of Nottingham, Heriot-Watt University and Swansea University.

The Centre hosts collaborative research and development by academic and industry partners. It links the primary railway infrastructure research centres and provides a one-stop shop for industry access to leading facilities around the UK, to accelerate innovation from research into practice. The research partner for a project or programme can be selected after considering location, expertise and capacity.

To learn more keep reading below.

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What will the Centre do?

The Centre is focused on the Rail Technical Strategy’s vision for infrastructure. Research is being applied to develop a reliable and resilient seven-day railway with world-class asset management, increased capacity and reduced delays. The vision is to optimise the whole-life, whole system cost of infrastructure, considering investment, carbon and social factors. The Centre integrates associated specialist disciplines 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 saves industry time and effort infinding specific expertise.
  • The Centre provides some of the leading and 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.
  • The Centre supports UK industry in developing innovative solutions to improve the performance, efficiency and reliability of the railway network.

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 which opened in September 2019, is a major national resource for research into geomechanics, structures, energy and soil mechanics. It houses a new 3m radius, 150 g-tonne centrifuge and a 30m by 15m strong floor on which a range of large scale, highly accurate structural tests can be performed. Its capabilities include facilities for accelerated testing of full-scale sleeper/pad/ballast/subgrade combinations, fully equipped geotechnical laboratories for advanced characterisation of soils and granular materials, materials testing and composite manufacturing laboratories, and world-leading 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, flumes and a 138m towing tank; high voltage laboratories; advanced x-ray computed tomography systems including large high energy; anechoic and reverberant acoustic 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 supported by one of the largest university-based supercomputers in the UK. The National Infrastructure Laboratory specifically offers access arrangements for third party researchers. As well as access to world-leading researchers, skilled experimentalists and technical support, it has collaborative desk and meeting spaces for the use of visitors.

Railway Innovation and Technology Centre, Sheffield

The Railway Innovation and Technology Centre at Sheffield undertakes research across a broad spectrum of areas. These include: rail materials and support, new materials and friction management at the rail-wheel interface, power supply infrastructure including overhead line dynamics, and energy storage technology, drainage, platform-train interface and station design for safety, security and enhanced capacity. New investment will enable testing of full sized, unmodified components in real or simulated service conditions in order to reach readiness for deployment. UKRRIN will support purchase of two new twin disc machines at different scales, a high-speed grinding rig, portable rail surface analysis kit and digital image correlation equipment. This 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 the largest of their kind in the UK which are a multi-sleeper full-scale cyclic testing rig for accelerated testing of railway track systems called GRAFT (Geo-pavement and Railways Accelerated Fatigue Testing) facility and a true triaxial test apparatus, capable of simulating complex 3D stress patterns in track materials. These purpose-built facilities and many other full-scale facilities are to test and characterise the short-term and longterm performance (i.e. settlement) of railway track components and infrastructure.

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

The Loughborough team brings expertise and capability in control, mechatronics and HiL that does not exist as a primary skill elsewhere in the Network. As part of UKRRIN the aim is to build upon existing capability focused around a ‘full system’ to establish a hardware-in-the-loop laboratory for rail that will be unique in Europe. The capability is 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 CEI for mechatronic switch demonstrators and other advanced vehicle-track interaction concepts.

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. Key capabilities include: infrastructure asset management, risk and reliability engineering, resilience engineering, networked system complexity, disruption management for the railways, human factors and culture change in autonomous railways, electromagnetic compatibility, wireless communications, stress analysis and mechanics of composite materials, intelligent mobility – positioning and navigation technology, railway trackbed – materials, design & maintenance.

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
  • Structural engineering and materials
  • Asset management
  • Risk and reliability
  • Resilience engineering
  • Human factors
  • Economic and railway system modelling
  • Hardware-in-the-loop
  • Fluid dynamics
  • High voltage

Our expertise

The Centre integrates the specialist centres for railway infrastructure research in the UK with the industrial base and network operators. 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 on Infrastructure and Cities, the Infrastructure Centre will have unrivalled capabilities and worldwide reach.

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