• Why light-weighting matters for the future of UK rail

    Rail industry

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    • The UK government is preparing to embark on the construction of one of the most ambitious rail infrastructure projects in living memory, with the delivery of the High Speed 2 (HS2) network, linking London with the Midlands and later to the north of England.

      Annual rail passenger journey numbers in the UK have more than doubled during the past 20 years to 3.2 billion in 2016. What's more, the government predicts this figure will double again within the next 30 years. However, rising to the challenge of delivering an advanced rail network fit for travellers in the 21st century will not be easy.

      Engineers and planners are having to draw on the latest technologies and materials to ensure all aspects of the rollout, from essential infrastructure to the development of new rolling stock, now attain the highest standards of design efficiency.

      This will require the utilisation of cutting-edge technologies and components that mean trains in the coming years will be both lighter and safer when travelling at high speed. Composite materials that provide high levels of strength but at a fraction of the weight of traditional building materials will be integral to this.

      By ensuring the trains of tomorrow are as efficient as possible, while having the least environmental impact, the effect of this massive rise in journey numbers will be more effectively offset.

    • Rail industry technology

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      A reduction in the weight of all new rolling stock will not only serve to deliver enhanced efficiency for operators and travellers - the impact of lighter rail cars will also help in driving forward the UK's ongoing push towards a greener future.

      Exacting carbon reduction targets remain in place for the UK, with a commitment to deliver a 57 per cent cut in overall CO2 production from all industry, transport and the nation in general against levels witnessed in 1990 by 2030. The UK therefore requires the uptake of innovative new means to tackle carbon emissions, and the light-weighting of vehicles is one of the most effective ways of achieving this.

      Indeed, lightweight structural materials will hold the key to reducing the weight of trains, with every pound shed in the pursuit of efficiency another step towards a greener future. The use of lightweight materials is predicted to deliver weight savings of up to 30 per cent for all rolling stock in the years ahead.

      A focus on innovative and efficient manufacturing and assembly techniques, new technologies and lighter-weight designs will therefore be crucial to achieving the industry's target of a long-term fleet volume increase of up to 89 per cent over the next three decades. In addition, the Rolling Stock Strategy Steering Group predicts a number of major changes in the UK rail fleet:

      • Proportion of electric vehicles (including bi-modes) to rise to over 85 per cent by 2034
      • Between 11,000 and 16,000 new electric vehicles required over the 30 years to 2046
      • A further 800 to 2,300 new vehicles capable of running off the electrified network
      • Percentage of national fleet that is pure electric to rise from 71 per cent in 2016 to 78 per cent by 2046

    • High speed train

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      Developing the trains of tomorrow will therefore require not only ambition and a drive to embrace new methods of construction, the integration of cutting-edge technology will also be essential to ensuring the long-term attractiveness of this form of transport to the general public.

      Integration of the Internet of Things into the very fabric of new rolling stock will mean trains become far more interconnected in the years to come. This will enable trains to communicate with each other, thereby reducing the likelihood of costly signal errors or other failures.

      Improved diagnostic systems will also enable engineers to more effectively monitor the state of repair of individual carriages and onboard systems, further helping to reduce fleet downtime.

      Moreover, at 3M, we are continuing to develop a range of cutting-edge products to streamline and ensure the quality of future rolling stock delivery. Our products range from the very latest in industrial adhesive tapes and structural adhesives for the application of sensors, panels and for bonding composite materials, through to abrasives and personal protection equipment that will ensure the manufacture of future rolling stock can be carried out in the safest possible manner.

      Rolling out the next generation of trains to meet the needs of HS2 and beyond will therefore be no mean feat, but it is with a focus on creating a greener, better future for the whole of the UK that manufacturers and designers are now embracing new materials and technologies to make this ambitious push towards progress a reality.