Press Release

Major new research project will slash train delays and improve passenger experience

10th November 2020
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Press Release

A new research project aimed at improving railway navigation technology in an effort to reduce train delays and increase passenger experience has been launched at the University of Birmingham.

The project aims to tackle one of the rail sector’s biggest challenges: how to pinpoint the accurate location of a moving train. Overcoming this challenge is key to ensuring fewer train delays and increased passenger safety.

The University of Birmingham-led UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing and the University of Birmingham’s Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) are joining forces to solve this problem.

Experts from both centres will collaborate to develop a system for quantum-enabled navigation, which is a standalone system capable of capturing highly accurate measurements without reliance on Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), which will help engineers ensure the health of the railway track and passenger ride comfort.

People walking in St Pancras station, London, near the Eurostar terminal

“The system we are developing will have gravity map-matching capabilities, allowing engineers to understand what is happening underneath the track as well as the train’s movement,” explains Professor Clive Roberts, Director of BCRRE at the University of Birmingham, and Co-Investigator for the Navigation work package at the Quantum Technology Hub.  “The quantum sensors will provide highly accurate measurements that will help to detect the rate of change of the track, and subsequently, any deteriorations which might lead to faults.”

Professor Costas Constantinou, Chair of Communication Electrodynamics and Director of Research and Knowledge Transfer at the University of Birmingham’s College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, said: “Our dependence on GPS can leave navigation systems vulnerable to spoofing or, more frequently, loss of positioning due to weak network signals – a particular challenge when trains are moving through tunnels, for example.

“Our standalone navigation system does not rely on satellite signals and is therefore not exposed to the same external risks experienced by GNSS.

As part of the project, field tests will take place on the test track at Long Marston, in Warwickshire early next year, where sensors will be installed on a purpose-built stabilisation platform in a train.

Industry collaboration is central to the Quantum Technology Hub’s goal of translating science into real-world applications, and Hub academics are working with Network Rail and other international railway organisations to bring precise navigation to the rail sector.

The UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing, which partners with the Universities of Glasgow, Strathclyde, Southampton, Nottingham, Sussex, Imperial College London, NPL and the British Geological Survey, is also actively developing quantum inertial navigation systems for use on ships and cars. The Hub’s aim is to create robust systems to support the services which make up the UK’s critical national infrastructure, including transport, civil engineering and communications.

Notes to editor:

For media enquiries please contact: Beck Lockwood, Press Office, University of Birmingham, tel: +44 (0)781 3343348.

About the University of Birmingham
The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.

About the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing
The UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing (led by the University of Birmingham) brings together experts from Physics and Engineering from the Universities of Birmingham, Glasgow, Imperial, Nottingham, Southampton, Strathclyde and Sussex, NPL, the British Geological Survey and over 70 industry partners. The Hub has over 100 projects, valued at approximately £100 million, and has 17 patent applications.

The UK National Quantum Technologies Programme is delivered by UK Research and Innovation, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), National Physical Laboratory (NPL), Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

About the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education
BCRRE, is Europe’s largest academic-based group delivering railway science and education. With over 145 academics, researchers and professional support staff, BCRRE provides world class research and thought leadership within railways, and offers an expanding portfolio of high-quality education programmes, including Rail and Rail Systems Level 6 and 7 degree apprenticeships. In 2018 BCRRE became lead partner in the £92m UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN) and in 2019 it absorbed the activities of the Rail Alliance into its offering, increasing its breadth of support for innovation and growth in the rail industry. Contact BCRRE.