High-speed rail research institute in Leeds receives £13m backing

Plans for a new high-speed rail research institute at the University of Leeds received a boost following a major grant from the Local Growth Fund.

The University of Leeds' rail testing facility would be the largest facility of its kind in the world when opened – image courtesy of Depositphotos.
The University of Leeds’ rail testing facility will be the largest facility of its kind in the world when opened – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Yorkshire’s reputation for high-speed rail research and development has grown after major funding was granted for a planned high speed rail institute.

The University of Leeds hopes the investment will turn the wider region into a hub for high-speed rail and development and attract more business to the city. When built, the institute would host the largest rail test facility of its kind in the world.

Professor Peter Woodward, chair in High Speed Rail Engineering at the University said the project will be carried out in three phases over a number of years, with the first phase being the creation of the new test facility.

The facility would reportedly cost £26m overall and will be situated on a new University of Leeds development within the Leeds Gateway 45 Enterprise Zone; one site would test tracks while the other would test trains and will be the first of their kind in the world to have programmable track geometry.

It is hoped that the sites will be built by December 2019.

Woodward told The Manufacturer how the institute would benefit the Leeds area: “We believe our testing, research and development facilities will be world-leading; locating them in the Leeds City Region is a major boost for the area’s reputation, driving high-value and skilled jobs for residents, further investment from the private sector and placing the spotlight on this area as a home of innovative thinking and practice.”

The announcement came on the same day the government announced a Rail Sector Deal. The deal aims to improve rail services by boosting productivity, and increasing the use of digital technology in the rail sector.

Among its proposals include a commitment to invest £48bn in railways over the next five years, lower the cost of digital signalling, and establish a common data-sharing platform available to train manufacturers, those running the network and those providing services.

Yorkshire is a major hub of rail research. National College for High Speed Rail opens in Doncaster and Huddersfield hosts an Institute of Rail Research - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Yorkshire is a major hub of rail research; the National College for High Speed Rail is in Doncaster and the University of Huddersfield hosts an Institute of Rail Research – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Will Roberts, director of High Speed Rail Industry Leaders (HSRIL), said his organisation welcomed the sector deal, saying: “From doubling exports to driving up the skills base, HS2 is the catalyst for wider industry change. The Sector Deal also calls for increased investment in R&D, which mega-projects such as this can produce.”

Final confirmation of the £13m investment is expected in January. Woodward said the investment should encourage other businesses to relocate to Leeds:

“Our presence at the Leeds Gateway 45 Enterprise Zone is likely to generate growth and encourage other significant organisations to consider the zone for their business growth. It will also drive regeneration and make this area of Leeds an active contributor to the wider region, potentially creating a hub of logistics and manufacturing businesses.”

Yorkshire is a hub of railway technology and research. The University of Leeds teaches a number of MSc rail courses. Their Railway Engineering with Project Management course involves combining core railway knowledge with project management. South of the university is the National College for High Speed Rail in Doncaster.

To the north is the Network Rail Campus in York. And to the south-west, the University of Huddersfield hosts an Institute of Railway Research.

The National College for High Speed Rail was set up to focus on solving the skills shortage for the HS2 project. It is the largest of five new national colleges created by the government to help British workers learn world-class high speed rail skills.

A few months earlier, the University of Huddersfield received money from the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF) to be the lead hub focused on high value rolling stock systems. Collaborating with them on the project are the University of Newcastle and Loughborough University. The project will also focus on whole life asset optimisation and through-life management.

Though some students might go straight from studying a course at Leeds to working at the institute, Prof. Woodward says the skills his students learn could help them to work in all kinds of industry: He says his students “will be trained and supported to secure practical experience, making them ideally placed to join the rail industry, the wider design and build sectors as engineers, project managers and consultants.

In addition, suitable roles could be found in government bodies, in technical design roles as well as in academia and teaching. Previous graduates from our wide range of Engineering courses have been employed at TATA Steel, Network Rail and China State Railways.”


Reporting by Harry Wise