How did a single student from the UK and the USA end up in a joint project to design the world’s first high-speed rail train?
A joint project between the University of Warwick and University of Maryland has found a new way to improve the lives of millions of people.
The project, called Railways:The Next Generation, uses a range of technology to connect the US and UK’s most congested areas, and is funded by the UK’s Department for Transport and the US Department of Transportation.
But its biggest hurdle may have been the idea of a single person designing the project, which has been a source of controversy in the US.
“We knew we wanted a single-person project, but there were two major hurdles we had to overcome: how would we be able to do the project with enough people?” said lead researcher Dr Alex Green, a professor of engineering and computer science at Warwick.
“The second was how would you scale up this project to the level where it was scalable, so you could take a whole team and build it.”
Dr Green, along with his colleague, Dr Nicky Ritchie, an engineering professor, created a simulation that showed the project could be scaled up to the scale needed.
“If we had a single individual designing the system, we would have to build it on a scale of a million people and then build it at a scale where it could actually be used,” said Dr Green.
The team then created a prototype train with four cars and the equivalent of four people each.
The first two cars are a conventional train, while the third car is a prototype with two cars and two people each, the first stage of a project called ‘robo-train’.
The train is connected via a series of tunnels.
A number of different components, such as the track, suspension and braking systems, are connected.
A train’s power is supplied by four diesel engines that run in parallel.
Each diesel engine produces six horsepower and two pound-feet of torque.
The system can travel up to 300 kilometres per hour.
Dr Green said the team realised that the most cost-effective way to build the train was to use “low-cost” materials and techniques that allowed them to build a prototype without the need for complex building blocks.
“To build the prototype you’d need to do a lot of work, like build a lot more track, build more cars and then then build the whole thing from scratch,” he said.
The prototype train uses four electric motors to power it.
Each car carries eight people, and a total of 32 cars, making the project’s total mass 10 million tonnes.
The teams’ next step is to make a prototype to see if they can build it with more cars.
“When you’ve got a train with 10 million cars, there’s a certain amount of complexity that goes into it, so it’s a bit like building a house,” said lead designer and engineer Professor Daniel Lees.
“So, to get it up and running in a very short time, we wanted to get a prototype up and going that’s as low-cost as possible, but also as low as we could get it to be without sacrificing the safety of the whole train.”
The prototype is the first step towards the eventual goal of building the first high speed train between the US East Coast and Europe.
The researchers hope to get the first prototype to the test track in 2018.
The research is being presented at the Association for Advanced Concepts (AAAC) annual conference in New York.
“What this is really all about is making sure the next generation of rail transport is secure, reliable and flexible,” said Lees, who added that the technology is not new, having been developed for use on aircraft and cars.
The aim is to create a high speed rail network that can operate in both the US west coast and in the east, which is about 30 minutes by air.
The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says the prototype’s speed is sufficient to get from the US West Coast to Europe in under an hour, and that the train is safe and reliable.
“This is not a new technology; it’s been around for decades,” said Robert Zentner, a senior project manager with the NTSB.
“It’s not as new as the idea that trains could move at higher speeds, but it’s actually very similar.
It’s a pretty basic technology, and it has proven very useful for some projects around the world.”
A full range of different vehicles will be used in the future.
“There are going to be a lot different vehicles used, but the goal is to have a system that can do a range from high-performance vehicles that can move quickly, to heavy vehicles that are very fast and efficient,” said Zentter.
The next generation “robo train” could be built with electric cars, or by using a combination of two or three diesel engines.
Dr Lees said the ultimate aim is for the train to be