12 Nov 2020

British Steel enhancing rail products in R&D partnership with University of Sheffield

British Steel is enhancing its range of world-class rail products and services by embarking on a multi-million-pound research and development (R&D) programme with engineers from the University of Sheffield.

Our company, which supplies the majority of the track laid in the UK and exports to major networks across the globe, is working with the university to ensure British manufacturers remain at the forefront of rail technology and innovation.

 The partnership will see us harness new state-of-the-art equipment, alongside the University of Sheffield’s world-renowned metallurgy and mechanical engineering expertise.

Installed across 2 sites at the University’s Faculty of Engineering and our R&D facility at the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, the equipment will test steel that can be used to build new and improved railway infrastructures.

Rails produced as part of the collaboration will be used to further improve the UK’s own infrastructure as part of the UK Railway Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN). The network is aligned with the government’s Industrial Strategy and aims to supply the UK’s rail industry with world-leading new technologies for trains, railway systems and infrastructure for a more reliable and efficient railway. The rails will also be sold across the globe as British Steel continues to grow into new markets and territories.

British Steel CEO Ron Deelen said: “This partnership will help ensure British Steel continues to lead the way in developing and building the railways of the future. In a hugely competitive market, we’re committed to enhancing our product range so we can keep meeting and exceeding the high standards operators and travellers rightly demand.

“Product development, integrity and innovation have never been as important, with major rail infrastructure programmes around the world, including HS2, requiring the high-quality products synonymous with the British Steel name. We’re well-placed to supply significant quantities of rail, and constructional steel, into major projects like these and deliver cost-effective solutions to the challenges our customers face.”

The University of Sheffield is the only university in the UK to have this range of equipment in one place and it’s been developed thanks to funding from Research England’s Research Partnership Investment Fund, which offers a match-funding approach for co-investment with industry partners. British Steel is contributing £1.6 million including significant staff time and materials, matched on a 2:1 basis with Research England funds.

The investments include machinery that will be able to simulate the contact between wheels and railway rails under a variety of different conditions, giving British Steel and the rail industry the ability to test new rails and sleepers more rapidly than could be achieved by trial installations on the network. Grinding maintenance machinery will also be available to British Steel and the rail industry via the University of Sheffield.

Engineers from the university have built state-of-the-art grinding equipment using high-speed machining techniques from the aerospace industry that can be used to prepare rails before they are installed - ensuring the very highest quality finish to rails installed on the transport network. The equipment is being further developed to maintain existing lines even more efficiently.

Using 3D laser technology, the equipment can help rail engineers monitor new or recently refurbished tracks and help them design new maintenance programmes that require less frequent line closures in order to carry out engineering works - something that could help reduce the amount of delays and rail replacement services that cost money for the industry and frustrate passengers.

Professor David Fletcher, Professor of Railway Engineering at the University of Sheffield, added: “The investment in new equipment with British Steel is opening up research directions, and partnering with them is a fantastic route for the knowledge gained to achieve impact. Besides research, we’re also running undergraduate projects with British Steel input so the next generation of engineers can benefit from the investments as they enter industry. Research England’s co-investment with industry into Sheffield has enabled us to take these steps.”