Developing onboard monitoring of rail-wheel adhesion levels

Sheffield is partnering with Loughborough University, Perpetuum, and Network Rail to develop detection technology for monitoring of rail-wheel conditions needed for reliable braking and traction, especially for maintaining safety

Rail line surrounded by trees

Low adhesion is caused by the contamination of railways lines by biological, chemical and physical factors, some of which cannot be easily monitored or controlled. The estimated overall cost of low adhesion to the UK railway industry is estimated at £350 million each year (RSSB).

A minimum level of adhesion is essential for reliable braking and traction performance, especially for maintaining safety and limiting delays. Changes in adhesion can be very localised, unpredictable and transient, and poor adhesion experienced by one train may not affect following trains at the same location.

University of Sheffield is working with Loughborough University and Perpetuum to develop a new method to detect low adhesion hot spots in real time. This research is funded by Network Rail building on earlier laboratory research to characterise rail-wheel adhesion under a range of slip conditions. Test track trials of the new system will be undertaken in mid-2022. Sheffield is contributing particularly through on-track rail-wheel friction measurement to provide validation data for the new system. This uses rail surface analysis hardware bought with British Steel through the UK Rail Research Innovation Network collaboration and investment process.


Professor David Fletcher 

Professor Roger Lewis 

Dr Ben White

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