Trevor Morgan, Ashley Stower, and Richard Wheldon all of Frazer-Nash Consultancy, explain how innovation can help industry deliver the railway of the future

National and trade media regularly highlights where the rail sector could make improvements to transport systems in this country. It’s clear there is a need for more dependable services that offer increased value for money, provide better customer service, and that play their part in decarbonising transport – be that of the travelling public or freight.

Rising to meet these challenges requires innovation, which means not only taking the best approaches from the rail sector, but adopting technological advances and good practice from other sectors. This is particularly true in areas such as digitisation, the circular economy, and developments in design engineering.

In this article, three rail business managers from international engineering consultancy, Frazer-Nash, highlight the current challenges facing the industry, and how innovation and learning from experience outside of rail can help the sector deliver success.

How data can help make better informed decisions – Richard Wheldon
Richard is the Business Manager responsible for Frazer-Nash’s work with Network Rail, the myriad of suppliers that support it, and universities. He has repeatedly been involved in introducing new technology and new procedures in the railway sector. In his own words: ‘What really gets me excited is innovation. It’s almost impossible to go to a rail event without hearing mention of the importance of digitisation and innovation; particularly related to how we use data in the industry.’

Frazer-Nash works with many organisations in long-life asset sectors with comparable challenges to rail, helping them harness data to make better-informed decisions. There is considerable scope to apply these techniques to assist the rail sector.

Train delays, army logistics, and artificial intelligence all have something in common – the 2020 RIA RISE Innovation Award-winning train delay prediction model. Frazer-Nash took the Artificial Intelligence (AI) model they had developed to predict the resupply requirements of army troops, and repurposed it to predict how train delays would develop to provide a network-wide train delay prediction tool. This tool is useful to assist Network Rail, train operators, and others develop better plans in the face of disruption.

The team is now working with eviFile, an SME, developing a tool to optimise the work that can be delivered in railway possessions. The benefits of this were recognised by the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI), who is funding its development, with a demonstration planned for March this year. Techniques stemming from more digital domains, such as enterprise architecture, are also being applied to help provide better understanding of problems as diverse as determining the core functions of a major new rail organisation, to helping understand the relationships between users and suppliers of hydrogen in a major transport region in this country.

Richard also sees considerable opportunity for digital twins and other modelling techniques to help create better-informed decisions. The rail sector has started embracing these opportunities, but there are many more areas where they can help, including in:

  • The basis of business cases – by frequently providing better understanding of usage or demand, and the often complex relationship to cost.
  • Programme cost and how it is affected by uncertainty and risk in major investment programmes.
  • Work planning and optimisation – such as our industry leading depot model.
  • Enabling the move to condition-based or predictive maintenance.

‘The management of structural integrity in rail vehicles and the importance of innovative technical excellence is a key service offering which we focus on, supporting many clients with our approach.’

Rail Networks and Government – Ashley Stower
Ashley is the Business Manager for the Rail Networks and Government sector of Frazer-Nash; a diverse portfolio that covers central and local government, a collection of independent networks, and rail freight/ plant.

A career rail professional, Ashley joined Frazer-Nash four years ago after 35 years working in core railway organisations including British Rail, Railtrack, Network Rail, EWS, and GB Railfreight.

One of the innovative services that Ashley sees as key to the future of the rail sector is working towards an economy that will become more circular. Inevitably, as resources and supply chains become more critical, organisations will need to extract greater value from what they already have. Whether that’s making assets last longer, or redesigning assets to achieve higher
performance while requiring less natural resources to achieve this. Adopting circular economy principles is a route towards resilience and sustainability, and offsets carbon impact at the same time.

Frazer-Nash’s leading expert, Carl Waring, is spearheading the EPSRC Circular Economy Network in Transport Systems (CENTS) research, and will be producing the ‘Rail as a Circular Economy Enabler’ white paper, due to be published in May 2023. This will capture rail-related circular economy concepts that promote rail as having a stronger, more viable and dynamic future, by mitigating climate change and growing the economy through a more diverse supply chain. This is particularly important with the UK now having a legally binding net zero target to reach by 2050, along with new interim targets to reduce emissions by 78 per cent by 2035. Enabling transport policy and industry incentives to maximise the switch of transport to rail is one of the most effective measures the UK government and industry could take in meeting those targets.

This and wider economic recovery could be accelerated if the switch to rail services was made as an enabler to grow the economy. Rail is a low-carbon transport mode, and accounts for only 1.4 per cent of overall UK transport CO2 emissions. Changes in rail policy and the adoption of systems thinking would encourage the implementation of circular economy principles, encouraging changes in industry thinking and behaviour, and create new types of businesses. For example, making our railway assets last longer, developing businesses in the remanufacturing sector, and so on. Part of the solution is already there – freight moved by rail results in 76 per cent less carbon generation than freight transferred by road. However, only nine per cent of freight is moved by rail in the UK currently.

Structural integrity in rail vehicles – Trevor Morgan
Trevor is the Business Manager for Rail Rolling Stock at Frazer-Nash, servicing a diverse portfolio that covers many clients. Trevor is a career rail professional who joined Frazer-Nash four years ago, after 30 years working in various railway organisations, including AEA Technology, Delta Rail, Lloyds Register Rail and Ricardo Rail.

Trevor says: ‘The management of structural integrity in rail vehicles and the importance of innovative technical excellence is a key service offering which we focus on, supporting many clients with our approach.’

There is much industry focus on the structural integrity of safety-critical train components whose failure can lead to an increased likelihood of an incident, such as wheelsets, axles and centre pivots. Focus on such components continues throughout the life of rail assets. What often receives less attention are those bodyshell structures which can influence the performance of a vehicle during a collision, impacting energy absorption capacity and survival space within the vehicles. It is these structures which can ultimately have significant impact on the consequences of a collision.

The findings of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) report following the derailment at Carmont in 2020 highlighted the presence of corrosion in safety critical areas, and considered the consequences this may have had on the incident and resultant fatalities.

Maintaining the structural integrity of rail vehicles through-life is of critical importance not only for safety, but ultimately, timely intervention minimises cost and maximises the future life of the vehicle. For many older rail vehicles, sources of original design information related to structural integrity can be limited when compared to newer vehicles. Equally, the standards and the availability of toolsets to support structural design activities will have developed over the life of the rail vehicle.

An evidence-based approach to the management of vehicle asset integrity drives down risk and cost, and maximises vehicle availability. This journey starts with gaining a good understanding of the areas of the vehicle which are important from a structural integrity perspective, through the use of modern analysis techniques. Many areas of the bodyshell structure are not readily accessible; requiring significant vehicle strip-out, so the insight provided from Frazer-Nash’s use of modelling is an advanced technique which allows the identification of structures which should be inspected on a routine interval, enabling timely maintenance intervention. The strategic use of more non-destructive testing techniques often associated with safety critical structures can ultimately reduce through-life cost through early identification of any potential issues.

If you have a problem that needs solving, get in touch with the experts at Frazer-Nash to discuss your requirements, at