Tribology and Rail

The Tribology & Rail research area covers a broad range of activity across the discipline. A unifying theme is the application of core science to solve real industrial problems.


Work in the Leonardo Centre for Tribology focuses on building experimental tools for industrial friction, wear, and lubrication problems with applications across all industrial sectors. This theme also incorporates our research for the railway sector within the Rail Innovation and Technology Centre, which studies maintenance, durability, and lifecycle issues for railway infrastructure. Its activity in Mechanical Engineering has a focus on interfaces between wheels and rails, at the pantograph to overhead line contact, and in modelling energy use for railway systems.

Our wind turbine transmissions group is developing new tools and techniques for improving reliability and understanding maintenance requirements for the offshore wind industry.

The sports engineering group work closely with manufacturers and governing bodies on the design and development of sports equipment and surfaces.

Research centres

The Leonardo Centre for Tribology

The Leonardo Centre specialises in research and development in tribology and surface engineering. The key aim of the centre is to carry out world-leading research in tribology to support industry and society.

Visit the Leonardo Centre website

Rail Innovation and Technology Centre (RITC)

The Rail Innovation and Technology draws on disciplinary specialists from across the university applying expertise to address the challenges of infrastructure, vehicle systems, energy supply, and station operation.

Visit the Rail Innovation and Technology Centre

Our experts


The work is based around several well-equipped laboratories.

The Leonardo Lab has many items of standard and bespoke test apparatus for studying friction, lubrication, and wear. The surface metrology lab has state of the art equipment for the analysis and measurement of engineering surfaces. The Swift Lab has a strong wall and floor for loading large-scale test pieces and three sophisticated multi-purpose test cells. The Human Interactions Lab has a range of equipment for studying the interaction of humans with surfaces, devices, and products.

Sheffield’s rail activity is part of the UK Rail Research Innovation Network (UKRRIN) through which recent investment has provided world leading lab facilities in Sheffield for rail-wheel interface, pantograph to overhead line, and metallurgical investigation. Our suite of experimental facilities provides a unique environment to progress research in these areas from small-scale experiments to full-scale testing using actual wheels and rail specimens. We have a wide range of measurement tools suitable for characterising rail conditions in the field. Sheffield also owns its own mainline registered rail vehicles for on-track work and technology demonstration, located in easy travelling distance from the University.

Centres of excellence

The University's cross-faculty research centres harness our interdisciplinary expertise to solve the world's most pressing challenges.