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Huddersfield’s rolling rig

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The Rail Supply Group (RSG), formed in January 2015, is a collaboration between Government (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Transport) and the UK rail industry. It aims to strengthen the capability and competitiveness of the UK rail supply chain, which employs 124,000 and makes an annual contribution of £3.8 billion to the UK economy.

The long-term vision is to both ensure that the supply chain can exceed rail industry requirements and capitalise on export opportunities with the intention of doubling rail exports by 2025. Currently, only 10 per cent of the rail supply chain’s income is from exports compared with 50 per cent for German rail companies.

RSG launched its industrial strategy, Fast Track to Growth, in February. This is divided into four principal areas: creating the right market conditions, addressing the skills gap, encouraging export growth and supporting innovation. In this respect, the strategy addresses the barriers of limited R&D investment, time- consuming product approval, risk aversion, high barriers to entry and insufficient UK testing facilities.


The University of Huddersfield officially opened its Institute of Railway Research (IRR) in April 2013. Its director, Professor Simon Iwnicki, had been at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Rail Technology Unit which specialised in vehicle dynamics and rolling contact fatigue. However, with Huddersfield’s offer of better facilities, Simon and his team moved over the Pennines in 2012 and, within a few months, the University had modified its technology building to provide space for the IRR’s laboratory and research offices.

In its first year, the IRR had engaged in undergraduate and postgraduate teaching programmes, underpinned its commercial enterprise activities and won new research contracts. It also agreed a five-year partnership with RSSB worth £1 million per annum to undertake research in railway engineering systems simulation and safety science.

The Regional Growth Fund aims to create growth and employment. In 2014, it made a £4 million grant for the creation of a Centre for Innovation in Rail (CIR) within the IRR. This requires a total investment of £20 million, building on the RSSB strategic partnership with the support of its industry partners: National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR), Unipart Rail and Omnicom Engineering.

The CIR works with its industry partners and the University’s Business School to form new relationships with innovative small and medium enterprises (SMEs) which are then offered specialist technology and support. This helps them realise the full potential of their services or products so they can be successfully delivered to the rail market. Last month, CIR opened its new £4.5 million railway research laboratory which started with a very large hole in the building’s floor.

Installing the rig

The hole concerned accommodates the frame for the bogie rolling rig and is 12 metres wide, 15 metres in length and five metres deep. It required one hundred and three 450mm-diameter piles, installed to a depth of 14 metres after hitting bedrock eight metres below ground level.


Creating such a hole in a low building was a particular challenge as the piledriver barely fitted under its roof. This was also a design constraint for the bogie rolling rig’s frame and the overhead crane that operates above it.

Commissioning of the rig required a new sub-station to be installed in the laboratory to power the 0.45MW roller drive motor and a 150 kW power pack for the hydraulic actuators. This has two 75kW electronically controlled radial piston pumps that can deliver 140l/min at 280 bar.

The rig design was conceived by the IRR working with Heinrich Georg, the company that was also commissioned to carry out the detailed design and manufacture. Heinrich Georg, historically, specialised in steel and aluminium process equipment. Today, it also provides custom-built special purpose equipment, including aircraft test rigs.

A particular design challenge was ensuring that delicate scientific instruments, in use nearby, were not affected by the rig. This was achieved by isolating the walls and the 1.1 metre thick reinforced concrete pit base from the rest of the building. In addition, the 150-tonne rig frame is supported by ten tyre-type air springs. These lift the rig by about 50mm until it contacts elastomeric strips above the frame, allowing the effective stiffness of the rig’s mounting to be changed by adjusting the air spring pressure.

Work started on site in August 2015. The rig was substantially complete by July 2016 and will be fully commissioned by the end of the year.

A unique facility

This full-scale bogie rolling contact, adhesion and braking rig combines a large rotating rail drum which can test a complete bogie assembly. Its key components are a two metre diameter drum with two circumferential rails, a bogie turntable to vary angle of attack and a loading frame with actuators to impose body and roll motions on the bogie’s secondary suspension.

Worldwide, there are perhaps a dozen full-scale rolling rigs. The large roller of the Huddersfield rig gives a more accurate representation of wheel-rail contact conditions. This specific combination of features is considered to be unique.

The drum has 90o rail segments, which had to be specially treated as they were bent to ensure their metallic properties were not affected. The segments have variable mountings to simulate varying sleeper spacing. With four different segments, it is possible to test different types of steels. The joints between the segments provide additional dynamic input, which is useful for certain tests, and the rig has a built-in lathe to apply any new or worn rail profile to the roller.

The rig can test a bogie’s lead axle at up to 200 km/h, apply an axle load up to 25 tonnes and accept a braking torque of up to 110 kNm to assess adhesion and braking performance. It can also undertake traction tests of powered bogies. In this mode, the roller’s motor acts as a regenerative brake to absorb the load. Relative to the rollers, angle of attack can be adjusted by up to 60 and lateral displacement up to 20mm. There are 128 analogue data channels, sampling at up to 10kHz, to provide three-axis wheel/rail contact force measurement and a wheel-rail creep resolution of less than 0.1 per cent.

Dr Paul Allen, the IRR’s assistant director, explained that, with these features, the rig offers a very flexible testing facility that is essential to support the diverse nature of the team’s research activities.

Not the only thing

Whilst it is undoubtedly an impressive facility, the bogie test rig is just one of a number of items in the new railway research laboratory.

The 50 tonne advanced dynamic test cell is essentially the top part of the bogie rig. It is used to apply variable forces to any object that has been secured onto the 11×4 metre test-bed using a grid array of M24 screwed holes. A likely first use of the rig will be the accelerated fatigue testing of slab track, which will be subject to variable loads to simulate the passage of trains over a 30 day period. Other possible applications are the fatigue testing of bogie frames.

A six-axis hexapod motion platform can impose vehicle body motions derived from dynamic simulations on various components. This can, for example, evaluate underframe-mounted equipment from a mechanical fatigue perspective or evaluate energy harvesting systems.

The laboratory has a high- performance computing cluster to process data in volumes not possible with desktop machines. Its use includes the development of big data for risk analysis and predictive maintenance based research. The system has 100-core Intel Xeon processors, running at 2.6GHz, with 640GB RAM, and 2.56TB of storage.

Launch event

On the 12 October, Rail Engineer was invited, along with over 100 guests, to an opening for the new railway research laboratory. As is customary at such events, there were a number of speeches. The University’s vice chancellor, Professor Bob Cryan, considered that railways are destined to be more important than ever and was proud to have the IRR at Huddersfield. He joked that construction of its new laboratory had, perhaps, created Yorkshire’s most expensive hole.


From the IRR, Professor Simon Iwnicki described the wide range of research undertaken by the institute and the partnerships that it has formed. He explained that the IRR “does a lot of research by computer modelling, but that this needs to be supported by testing and that is why what we are showing you today is so important to us”. Dr Paul Allen explained how the CIR was helping SMEs to develop innovative products.

Unipart Rail’s engineering director, Dr Steve Ingleton, was sure that the new test rig, given the lack of UK rail testing facilties, would help accelerate new products to markets. Stirling Kimkeran, Omnicom’s head of technical services, agreed and encouraged companies to use it whilst David Clarke, technical director of the Railway Industry Association, explained how the RSG was promoting innovation as part of its strategy to support the supply chain.

Other speakers were Chris Lawrence, RSSB technical director, Simon Rennie of the National Training Academy for Rail (NTAR) and Richard East, IMechE Railway Division chairman who later unveiled a plaque to open the facility. There then followed a tour of the new laboratory with an opportunity to climb down the vertical ladder into the bogie test rig pit from where it could be fully appreciated.

Huddersfield’s HAROLD

The statue outside Huddersfield’s railway station is of the town’s famous son, former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who conceived the Open University. It is no coincidence that the IRR have named their new rig HAROLD (Huddersfield Adhesion & Rolling contact Laboratory Dynamics rig).

No doubt HAROLD will help develop new products as part of the drive to make the rail supply chain more competitive. Indeed, to obtain its grant from the Regional Growth Fund, the University had to guarantee that at least 62 jobs would be created (half at the University, half in the supply chain).

It will do so as part of the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN), which David Clarke described in his presentation at the opening ceremony. UKRRIN will initially bring together existing university and industry test facilities. The universities concerned have also submitted a bid for around £40 million to fund new innovation centres for digital rail systems and rolling stock, as well as a co-ordinating hub.

HAROLD will be part of the rolling stock innovations centre which will be led by a partnership of the Universities of Huddersfield and Newcastle. The intention is to create a network that will be open to all suppliers who wish to develop innovative products, with the hub providing a single point of contact and advice.

It is over 50 years since Harold Wilson delivered his “white heat of technology” speech in which he warned that, if the country was to prosper, a “new Britain” would need to be forged in the “white heat” of a “scientific revolution”. The rail industry’s drive for innovation is an example of how this sentiment remains true today, and it’s good to know that HAROLD is part of this.

Written by David Shirres.

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