Stay on Track:

Efficient Rail Systems for the future

Contact person for inquiries
Dr. Filip Kitanoski, Head of Department Rail Systems
Author: Dr. Martin Rosenberger
Safe, environmentally friendly, and cost-efficient railway vehicles, along with sustainable and reliable rail infrastructure: for over ten years the experts at the VIRTUAL VEHICLE Research Center have focused on extensive research in the area of rail system. They are supporting the industry as it improves the „whole rail system.“ The research centre collaborates with a strong network of industrial and research partners, while simultaneously helping to promote Graz as an international hub for railway research.

By 2030 the European route network for high-speed trains will triple in size. In 2050 all central airports will be connected via a high-speed rail network. The number of conventional cars with internal combustion engines in cities will be cut in half by 2030, and by 2050 they will disappear altogether. The train is becoming the most important means of freight transport in an integrated and networked Europe… What sounds like a utopian vision for the far future is in reality a clear plan of the European Union, one that already has a great influence on the Graz VIRTUAL VEHICLE Research Center.

New solutions for „Efficient Rail Systems“

The European goals for transportation are clearly defined: development should progress in the direction of intelligent, long-term, holistic growth. Trains will be an important part of this progress. In fact, according to experts at the European Rail Industry Association (Unife), the safe and environmentally friendly train is the means of transport of the future.

The VIRTUAL VEHICLE Research Center in Graz has been researching new technologies in the railway field for over 10 years. As the EU is now specifically promoting the expansion of the railway network and the development of new rail solutions for Europe, the rail experts are intensifying their research and innovation activities, together with industrial and scientific partners.

The focus of VIRTUAL VEHICLE researchers is primarily on the holistic treatment of the rail system, in order to cover analysis and simulations across all technical and process-oriented fields. With near-reality, computer-aided modelling, the experts are able to support the design of new technologies and products in a very early phase.

The research activities of the „Efficient Rail Systems“ group at VIRTUAL VEHICLE are concentrated in three subject matter areas:

  1. Safe, green and cost-efficient vehicles
  2. Sustainable and reliable infrastructure
  3. Vehicle-track-environment interaction and whole-rail-system assessment

Safe, green and cost-efficient vehicles

How can air-conditioning systems on trains save more energy and be more environmentally friendly? How can railway wheelsets be optimized efficiently to completely prevent derailing and serious accidents? How can locomotive drive systems be controlled in order to preserve tracks while still moving long, heavy freight trains safely and quickly? And how can the functional safety of railway vehicles (meaning the ability of an electrical or electronic system to ensure safe conditions if systematic or random errors occur) be improved? These are just a few examples of the multifaceted research questions and activities that VIRTUAL VEHICLE is pursuing in order to provide future passengers with safe, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective railway vehicles.

Sustainable and reliable infrastructure

Operational and environmentally relevant influences cause substantial impairment of track quality over time, and different vehicles react differently to the same existing rail geometries. For this reason, the rail experts at VIRTUAL VEHICLE are developing new solutions for computing and predicting the interaction between vehicles and tracks. The goal is a methodical analysis that predicts whether a railway vehicle has a problem with a specific track geometry and what needs to be done in order to ensure safe transportation.

The topic of wear and damage (crack initiation and growth) is also a focus of VIRTUAL VEHICLE. In order to understand the complex interactions of vehicles and tracks, and to be able to take effective optimization measures for the rail system, physical effects are modelled to the necessary level of precision. The subject of material modelling plays a substantial role here—particularly when it comes to representing large plastic deformations at the surface of the rails, as this has enormous significance to the topic of wear and damage.

Vehicle-track-environment interaction and whole-rail-system assessmentTo an even greater extent than in the automotive industry, energy efficiency and costs are the true drivers of innovation in the railway field. Technical superlatives—such as maximum speed—are relegated to the background. It is much more important that vehicles become lighter, quieter, and cheaper, while safety and  performance must be maintained at least at the same level. For this reason, VIRTUAL VEHICLE places great importance on analysing the rail system as a whole, especially examining the interaction between vehicles, rails, and the environment.

Previous models for classical contact mechanics have reached their practical limits, and do not sufficiently address tribological effects. This is precisely where VIRTUAL VEHICLE has placed its emphasis in recent years and has developed far-reaching expertise in order to be able to take a new approach toward describing and predicting the forces transmitted between the wheel and rail under all possible
environmental conditions.

An economical description of the total rail system is also being worked on. The EU project Roll2Rail is intended to develop a verifi ed cost analysis method that is accepted by all relevant stakeholders of the European railway system, allowing quantitative analysis of the infl uence of new, innovative suspension technologies, for example, on the overall costs of the rail system.

Strong industry and research network

Over the last ten years, VIRTUAL VEHICLE has built up a stable, international network of industry and research. The partners include railway vehicle manufacturers (e.g. Siemens, Alstom, or Stadler), infrastructure operators (e.g., ÖBB, SBB, DB, or Wiener Linien), as well as vendors and component suppliers (e.g., voestalpine rails or LB Foster). Through close cooperation with the industry and participation in numerous committees in the rail community (such as the Austrian Association for Transportation Studies, ÖVG), the research centre has far-reaching insight into the
trends and needs of the sector.

One of its most important scientifi c partners is the Graz University of Technology. There have been very close, long-term cooperative activities with the institutes for structural mechanics, lightweight design, controls engineering, and mechanics, for example.

Graz is a „hot spot“ for railway research

The numerous industrial companies in the Styria region and the Graz University of Technology, along with research centres such as VIRTUAL VEHICLE, contribute substantially to the development of the city of Graz and the region of Styria as an international hub for railway research. This was demonstrated at the 24th International Symposium on Dynamics of Vehicles on Roads and Tracks of the IAVSD, which was hosted by VIRTUAL VEHICLE in August 2015. The premier global conference on the topic of vehicle dynamics was held in Austria again after 38 years, and in Graz for the very fi rst time. Around 350 experts from fi ve continents participated and were made aware of Graz as an important location for industry and research.