Research and Innovation in Action

The value of research is in implementing its findings in the real world, where the benefits can be realised. These examples highlight the unlockable value in our research solutions. If you would like advice on implementing a solution or have any questions, then contact us.

Innovative Solutions to ‘Leaves on the Line’

New approaches to low adhesion are in use across the network this autumn.

RSSB carries out RSSB carries out research on behalf of industry to improve scientific understanding of low adhesion between wheel and rail, and develop new solutions to the problem, which is severe in autumn. This year, three of the new solutions that RSSB research and innovation programmes helped to develop are being piloted on the railway.

Providing drivers with information to drive safely and confidently in low adhesion

Following extensive consultation with drivers, RSSB has developed a toolkit to help trainers and managers. Its aim, to make sure low-adhesion information is accurate and usable. And supports driving that is proportionate to the conditions. The toolkit is packed with useful tips and techniques. These help operators understand the information that is most useful for drivers, and when and how to deliver it. Northern has been an early adopter of the toolkit in its autumn preparation.

Predictable and short braking can be achieved by optimised sanders

Previous full-scale testing of double variable rate sanders (DVRS), showed a marked improvement in trains’ braking and predictability compared with current fixed-rate sanders. Now West Midlands Trains has fitted two Class 323s passenger trains on the Birmingham Cross-City line with DVRS. RSSB is supporting the trial by collecting data to inform wider industry roll out, and particularly to inform the case for retrofitting.

"Double variable rate sanders halve train stopping distances in low adhesion compared to current sander configurations. With the help of RSSB, West Midland Trains working together with Network Rail are pioneering this technology, which I believe can radically improve the service we can deliver to our customers in autumn."

Neil Bamford
Engineering Director, West Midlands Trains

Better cleaning of contaminated railhead using dry ice

Network Rail is trialling cryogenic pellets on several of its Road Rail Vehicles as an alternative method of cleaning the railhead. Cryogenic pellets are produced from liquid CO2 and a pelletiser, then applied to the railhead to remove the contaminated coating. The technology builds on RSSB-funded research and innovation, and has attracted considerable interest across the rail industry. Trials are planned on five Network Rail routes, starting with the West Highlands. 

For more information and to discuss taking up these solutions in your organisation, contact Ben Altman, Senior research Analyst.


New Toolkit to Tackle Cognitive Underload

An accessible guide created by drivers for drivers, packed with practical tips and techniques.

The rail industry has known for many years that high mental or physical workload (overload) can cause people to make mistakes. But there has been little recognition of the effect on performance at times when workload is low (underload).

RSSB research shows that most drivers of passenger and freight trains experience cognitive underload on a regular basis. Underload contributes to feelings of tiredness or boredom; and may lead to loss of concentration. Drivers report using a wide range of techniques to self-manage workload levels, from cab drills to changing posture, to singing.

Findings from the research were used to create the Underload Toolbox, which was tested on drivers from South Western Railway and London North Eastern Railway. The toolbox received positive feedback from drivers at both companies. They reported that they picked up new ways to help manage their alertness levels.

Since the toolbox was published, a number of operating companies have started to use it. As well as the trial companies, these include West Midlands Trains, Great Western Railway, Network Rail (freight), Volker Rail and GB Railfreight.

Next steps

The toolbox and accompanying video are freely available for use at driver safety days. We also encourage everyone in the industry, from directors to the front line, to make themselves aware of the importance of managing underload.

The Underload Toolbox has helped me feel better equipped to manage underload day to day, I think about underload more now… I think the toolbox is good – clear, concise and easy to read.’

Train Driver
London North Eastern Railway

Download the Underload Toolbox and watch the video below.

The full report (T1133) is available in the RSSB research catalogue.

For more information, contact Sam Waters, Senior Human Factors Specialist.


Implementation feedback is vital to our Research and Innovation programmes. It improves the selection and delivery of new research, shares best practice, and maintains our strong case for future funding. If you have implemented knowledge and solutions from our programmes, please get in touch and share your experience.


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Haven’t found what you’re looking for?
Get in touch with our Research and Innovation Account Manager for further information.
Robert Staunton
Tel: 020 3142 5585
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