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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/M017494/1
Title: Resilient rail infrastructure: dissipation driven fracture analysis of concrete support systems
Principal Investigator: Coombs, Professor WM
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Engineering
Organisation: Durham, University of
Scheme: Standard Research - NR1
Starts: 01 May 2015 Ends: 31 December 2017 Value (£): 188,326
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Civil Engineering Materials
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Construction Transport Systems and Vehicles
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
18 Jun 2014 Bright IDEAS Awards:The Big Pitch: Civ Eng: Outline Panel Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
The UK's rail infrastructure currently supports 1.3 billion passenger journeys and 100 million tonnes of freight each year. The freight transport alone contributes £870 million to the UK economy. The sector has seen 40% and 60% increases in passengers and freight over the last 10 years, respectively, and it is expected that passenger numbers will double and freight increase by 140% over the next 30 years. As the network has developed the magnitude and frequency of loads applied to the rail support systems have increased significantly, even over the last 10 years. It is estimated that between 2009 and 2014, the UK's rail operator, Network Rail (NR), will invest £3.75bn in track to maintain the network. The vast majority of this 32,000km of rail infrastructure is supported by pre-stressed concrete sleepers (PCSs) and crossing bearers (CBs). These concrete members provide lateral restraint and vertical support to the running steel rails. The PCSs and CBs are in turn supported on three sides by track ballast; crushed stone 30-50mm in diameter. Since their introduction in the 1950s, PCSs have superseded traditional wooden sleepers in new track and NR replaces approximately 200,000 timber sleepers each year with PCSs. However, despite the reliance of the UK's rail network on these concrete structures, and the simplicity of their geometry, surprisingly their structural behaviour is poorly understood. NR's CP5 delivery plan estimated that the used life of the sleepers supporting the network for the 2013/14 period is 60.9% and that 5,918 track failures would occur during the same timeframe. There are concerns that the development of fractures in concrete supporting members is undermining the rail network. In order to maintain a safe, reliable and resilient rail network it is essential to understand how the concrete support systems can be designed to future proof them against ever increasing structural demands.

The proposed research is concerned with three-dimensional dynamic analysis to assess the structural robustness of PCSs and CBs using a novel computational mechanics framework and associated numerical analysis technique. If successful, this research will provide a transformative, complete and consistent framework for modelling fracture in a variety of engineering materials. The creativity of this proposal lies in the application of up-to-the-minute ideas in constitutive modelling, fracture mechanics and numerical analysis techniques to a poorly understood yet critical component of the UK's rail infrastructure. It will provide a framework within which to develop new resilient rail-support system fastening methods.
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