UK's biggest rail track bed testing facility at Heriot-Watt University

Rail laboratory track bed testing rig

The biggest purpose-built rail laboratory track bed testing rig in the UK is under construction at Heriot-Watt University as part of making the University a centre of excellence in track bed engineering. Work has just started on the £0.3m rig, and it will be in ready for use in research testing by late summer.

With this new rig ...    we can model the behaviour of rail tracks in real life situations and under full-scale conditions.

Professor Peter Woodward

The rig, funded by the University, builds on 15 years of track bed research at Heriot-Watt and Railway Research Group team leader  Professor Peter Woodward says that the new rig, which operates with hydraulic systems to simulate the effects of trains passing over rail tracks, will significantly enhance the capability not only of the University but also the UK in railway construction and maintenance.

Testing in real life situations

"With this new rig we will be able to simulate the effects of train wheel loads in a range of situations and a range of types of track beds. It means we can model the behaviour of rail tracks in real life situations and under full-scale conditions. This will include tracks on slopes, lateral loading and complex rail configurations. It can also be used to look at the effects of weather conditions, including flooding, and even extreme situations like rail tracks running through deserts."

The rig will also be used for the large scale testing of the effects of polymer reinforcement of ballasts, which is Professor Woodward's area of speciality and which has already been shown to have dramatic effects on the stability and maintenance of ballast rail track beds, particularly at switch and crossings and transitions.

Professor Peter Woodward

Professor Woodward will be giving a keynote speech at a major international symposium on Geotechnical Engineering for High-Speed Transportation Infrastructure, in Hangzhou, China later in the year. The symposium will promote research in and the application of geotechnical mechanics and engineering techniques in the field, and Professor Woodward will be speaking on 'The application of polyurethane geocomposites to help maintain track geometry for ballasted high-speed railway tracks'.