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Research project hopes to simplify rail track piling design

18 Dec 20 A partnership between a university and a UK ground engineering contractor hopes to bring forward geotechnical innovation in the rail industry.

Dr Koohyar Faizi is leading the research project
Dr Koohyar Faizi is leading the research project

Van Elle and Nottingham Trent University have entered a knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) to simplify the design process for ground engineering in the rail sector.

The aim of the three-year project, led by Dr Koohyar Faizi, is to help contractors put the right solution in first time – making lines safer, providing value engineering and reducing whole-life costs.

Dr Faizi said: “In this project we’re looking to optimise the design process for the track bed stabilisation system that is already developed by Van Elle.

“We are developing two packages. One is purely geotechnical engineering where we use numerical analysis and software to simulate the behaviour of piles based on different scenarios such as types of soils, speeds, weights and so on. Meanwhile, we’re using something called vision-based technology, which uses cameras to monitor the rail deflection and gives us information to use in our designs.

“The idea is to combine these two packages to inform better decisions about the type of engineering required, the exact type of pile needed for various points on the line and the length of the pile needed at precise points. At the end of the project we will develop some user-friendly software so that everyone can use it without any specialist knowledge.”

The study is co-funded by the government innovation agency, Innovate UK.

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John Allsop, director of rail engineering at Van Elle, said: “It’s brilliant to be working with Nottingham Trent University to enhance a product that we’re already really proud of. The work Koohyar is doing along with the team from NTU and Van Elle has a benefit for engineers all over the world potentially. It’s really exciting.

“Our track bed stabilisation system is an innovative product in itself, so this partnership is further evidence of the importance we put on new techniques that can drive the industry forward.”

Van Elle’s track bed stabilisation system enables refurbishment of degraded track bed by installing smart-piles through the ballast layer of the track and into more competent soil beneath, strengthening ground that has become soft or can no longer support the load above. The piles go through the track and between the sleepers, with most work completed during off-peak hours to minimise disruption to rail services.

Dr Faizi is working across NTU and Van Elle to develop the technology from small scale laboratory conditions through to real world scenarios over the course of the project.

He said: “At Nottingham Trent University we have access to a geotechnical and civil lab where we can set up some small-scale loads and do some testing with the vision-based technology. In the next stage I will repeat the process with Van Elle’s test track facility and play with a larger scale and see what difference it makes in different scenarios and see what results we get.

“Finally, once we have this information we will go to sites and re-do all these experiments in a real-life scenario based on different loads, speeds. We’ll repeat this until we have a good package to show everyone.”

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