At first sight, train drivers' cabs and Formula 1 cars may not seem to have much in common. But a research project funded by the European Commission has led to a potential breakthrough for the rail industry - by adapting technology most commonly found in high performance racing cars. The results promise to provide the rail industry with trains that are more environmentally-friendly, easier and cheaper to produce, and less costly for rail companies in terms of track maintenance. An all round win-win situation.
© Fotolia, 2012
The rail industry's needs are clear: lightweight
materials for trains in order to increase energy
efficiency and reduce the damage to tracks,
and reduced costs. All, of course, without
The problem is that conventional train cabs,
made from welded steel units, can weigh up
to one tonne each. With a cab at each end of
the train, the potential for weight reduction is
clear. On top of that, traditional cab designs
tend to be very complex, incorporating a large
number of parts, all made from different
materials. That is because they need to
meet a range of physical demands, including
strength, crashworthiness, aerodynamics and
insulation. As a result, assembly costs are
Formula 1 cars use extremely strong, lightweight
materials known as carbon composites
to help achieve the high performance they
need. But such materials are highly specialised
and uneconomic for extensive use in trains.
The answer for the rail industry
came through a multiyear
project funded under the
European DE-LIGHT project,
which was aimed at developing
improved lightweight materials
for use in a wide range of
After three years of research, a team from
Newcastle University in the UK, working in
collaboration with Bombardier Transportation
and Portuguese manufacturing firm AP&M,
succeeded in producing a prototype lightweight
train cab which reduces the weight of the
traditional cab by a remarkable 40 %.
The breakthrough technology behind the new
cab takes the form of a "sandwich" construction,
in which an aluminium honeycomb structure
and a polymer foam core are enclosed in outer
layers of special glass-reinforced plastic.
The effect is similar to the composites used in
Formula 1 - but at much lower unit cost.
Crucially, the inherent strength of the new
construction eliminates the need for steel elements.
This reduces not only the weight, but
also the number of separate parts required.
In addition to the 40 % weight reduction, the
new cab reduces the number of separate
component parts by up to 75 %. And this in
turn reduces overall costs by up to 20 %, as
assembly and outfitting are far simpler than
All of this is achieved while still meeting
stringent crashworthiness requirements.
"It's great to finally see the cab in real life,"
says lead designer Conor O'Neill of Newcastle
University's rail research centre. "I've been
staring at a virtual model on my computer
screen for the last three years, and it's very
satisfying to see the real thing."
It is intended that the cab will first go into
commercial use in Bombardier's Spacium
trains on suburban services in Paris.