Major rail track test rig at Heriot-Watt

Professor Woodward at the test track bed, Edinburgh Campus

The UK's biggest purpose-built laboratory test track bed, which can predict the effects of high speed trains and simulate the effects of decades of operation on major lines, has been constructed at Heriot-Watt's Edinburgh Campus.

The test rig was constructed under the leadership of Professor Peter Woodward, Director of the Institute for Infrastructure and Environment in the School of the Built Environment and one of the world's leading experts on geo-engineering of railways. It uses hydraulic systems to simulate a combined 120 tonnes of force, and can be configured to simulate three times that, allowing researchers to look at the behaviour of rail tracks, including high speed rail tracks, in real life situations and under full-scale conditions.

Researching high-speed rail links in the UK

This means that Professor Woodward and his team can simulate the effects of a year's worth of loading on a mainline railway in a day, under laboratory conditions, or decades worth in a couple of weeks. It measures the stresses put into tracks, sleepers and ballast, and will provide a vital research tool for proposals to build high-speed rail links in Scotland and the wider UK.

Findings from our tests will be crucial to the development of any high speed link in the UK and beyond and will, in turn, see a reduction in the cost of developing such links.

Professor Peter Woodward

Plans for a European Centre of Excellence

Professor Woodward believes the new rig is a further step towards establishing a European centre of excellence for railway engineering research at Heriot-Watt. "The test track bed allows us to look at the effects of speed and weather conditions, including flooding, and even extreme situations like rail tracks running through deserts. Findings from our tests will be crucial to the development of any high speed link in the UK and beyond and will, in turn, see a reduction in the cost of developing such links.

"We have spent the last 15 years researching track beds at Heriot-Watt University so it's especially pleasing to see the rig complete and operational. A faster rail link is part of future improvement plans for Scotland and the rest of the UK, and this test rig will not only speed up the process but will also reduce the cost."

About Professor Woodward

Professor Woodward is an established international expert, having recently delivered a keynote speech at a major international symposium on Geotechnical Engineering for High-Speed Transportation Infrastructure, in Hangzhou, China, is in discussion about high-speed rail proposals in California, and is to co-host an international conference on high-speed rail with SNCF in Paris later in the year.