Innovating trackbed testing
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RSSB / RIA innovation prize winner 2013: Trackbed stiffness tester by URS

We work closely with the Railway Industry Association (RIA) to run an annual innovation competition.

Entrants pitch for funding in a ‘Dragons’ Den’ style format in front of a panel of rail industry experts, to support the development and introduction of an innovative product or service.

In 2013, the prize fund was £300,000 and the winners were:

  • Interfleet Technology for their Driver's Companion concept, looking at how tablet computer technology could be used to eliminate the huge quantity of timetables, safety notices and special instructions that train drivers have to carry with them
  • URS for the Rail Trackbed Stiffness Tester, a system for assessing the condition of the ground beneath railway tracks, adapted from equipment used for airport runways.

Image of the winning trackbed stiffness tester 

The need to improve current trackbed stiffness measurement techniques is recognised by Network Rail in its strategic business plan for 2014-2019 and in the Rail Technical Strategy, which sets out a long-term vision for the country’s rail network.

International research also shows that without the right level of stiffness, the track can become uneven, leading to bumpy train journeys and long delays if repairs are needed. In extreme cases it can cause derailments.

In response to these challenges, URS developed the Rail Trackbed Stiffness Tester (RTST) which, when compared to previous industry methods, delivers safety, operational and productivity improvements. The RTST also provides an improved layer stiffness measurement, which allows for better assessment of the causes of trackbed failure.

URS benefited from winning a £200k share of the 2013 prize fund as winners of the joint competition, and the development is seen as a major step forward for surveying different trackbeds for railways in Britain and potentially, beyond.

In October 2014, URS demonstrated the Rail Trackbed Stiffness Tester in action (see picture above).

Do you have an innovation waiting in the wings?  Why not enter one of our competitons!

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