Heriot-Watt on track for high-speed rail centre

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Heriot-WATT University will today sign a memorandum of understanding with Britain’s biggest rail consultancy in a bid to create the world’s leading high-speed rail research centre.

The link-up with Atkins is aimed at developing the university’s expertise for use in the expected rapid growth of high speed rail, with some 15,000 miles planned globally over the next decade.

The partners plan to create a centre of excellence, initially focusing on the university’s specialism in track conditions and reinforcement techniques, with the number of academic rail staff expected to double to around 20.

The university already claims to be at the forefront of high speed rail work in the UK.

The expansion will include building the world’s largest and most advanced test rig, expected to cost some £2 million, which uses hydraulics to mimic the impact of trains on track over decades in the space of a few weeks. The university already has the UK’s largest such rig, known as the Geo-pavement and Railways Accelerated Fatigue Testing facility, or Graft 2.

Government and industry funding will be sought for the new version – Graft 3 – which would include an embankment, ballast and track.

Such research is seen as saving millions of pounds in construction costs by assessing the impact of a line on different rocks and soils. It could also help calculate the size of support structures, such as embankments, required. Heriot-Watt is already doing modelling work for HS2 – the planned line between London, the Midlands and Manchester/Leeds. The centre plans to bid for further contracts as the project progresses.

Peter Woodward, director of the university’s School of the Built Environment, who leads its railway research group, said: “The centre will create the premier place in the world for high speed rail.”