General Engineering

General engineering

Novel Methods For Detecting Concealed Weapons And Explosives In Stand-Off Security Screening

Summary of the impact

The Sensing & Imaging Group at Manchester Metropolitan has developed novel, effective non-imaging radar methods for the stand-off screening of people for concealed threat items. Some of this technology is at a high Technology Readiness Level (TRL) and has undergone rigorous independent trials. The results of these trials and of other published work by the group has informed UK Government strategy in effective methods of people screening at standoff distances, created a product which is entering production, and data which are used in the design of effective simulants for testing threat scenarios.  This will save lives, deter and stop gun crime and prevent damage to key infrastructure when deployed in sensitive areas likely to be targeted by terrorist action.

Underpinning research

Crime is generally reducing in the UK, however, the threat of attacks from Person Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (PBIED) and other bag carried weapons of mass destruction is increasing, so the need for the type of technology that can detect concealed threats, preferably from a safe distance, increases also.

Currently, screening of persons for concealed threat items at stand-off ranges of greater than a few metres is carried out with millimetre or sub-millimetre wave imaging cameras. Such cameras are very expensive, bulky (hence non-portable) and have limited range and generally do not work outdoors. Other techniques, such as metal detection portals are inflexible as they are installed in a fixed position and have a limited range and ability to detect threats. In the current global climate where terrorist groups seek to target, not only military assets and personnel, but civilians and state infrastructure, enhanced security screening is a key strand in protecting people and buildings.

A technique for remotely detecting handguns and layers of plastic explosives, which can operate at useable standoff ranges (e.g. 10 metres) , is inexpensive, handheld, safe and effective was proposed to the EPSRC by Professor Nicholas Bowring in 2005, with research commencing around that time. Prof Bowring, who joined MMU in 2004 and was awarded a Chair in Electrical Engineering in 2007, established a sizeable group to undertake the research, consisting of post-doctoral fellows, research associates and PhD students. In the last decade they have undertaken the following investigations:

  • The development of an entirely novel, W-band frequency millimetre wave polarimetric radar system to illuminate and remotely screen for threats on a person or people covertly, at a safe distance. The researchers found that by ultra wide band (UWB) illumination very effective threat detection was possible using inexpensive direct detection receivers, thus enabling high resolution time domain reflectometry to be performed and greatly enhancing the screening capability of the radar system [1]. The techniques invented and developed are now the subject of world-wide patents.
  • An investigation into the transmission at millimetre wavelengths through commonly worn fabrics for clothing and bags [2]. The group devised an inventive free space method of measuring the transmission and reflection of microwaves/millimetre waves through/off clothing.  The research informed the choice of millimetre wavelengths at which detection technologies can realistically be based for concealed threat detection at a distance.
  • Detecting layers of plastic explosives strapped to the body that do not contain fragmentation, at a distance. An investigation into the millimetre wave dielectric properties of explosives and their simulants found that layers of dielectric type plastic explosives concealed on the body could be detected by ultra wide band radar and an original paper was published on this work [3]. A free space method was developed to determine their properties, together with that of simulants that could be used in the extensive trials that take place when testing out security screening equipment.
  • The bulk of this initial work was funded by an EPSRC/Home Office/MPS partnership, with MMU as the PI, with 4 other UK Universities (Manchester, QMUL, Newcastle, Leeds Metropolitan).

At this stage, the performance of the devices warranted patent protection being sought and patents were applied for covering a variety of related techniques and over a wide range of territories. This has so far resulted in patents being granted in the UK, USA and other territories [4].
The system has attracted the interest of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) for security screening operations as it met their requirement for a compact, portable and effective screening solution.

The research group secured funding by the MPS, CPNI and other government bodies of over £1M under restricted contracts to improve the device with end user requirements being clearly established. The device has been developed to a high Technology Readiness Level (TRL) and tested in two variants, one for handheld shorter range screening and the other for longer range, checkpoint screening. The techniques and results have been published in a variety of conferences and journals [5].

A further technique for classifying the nature of concealed objects, relying on the late time response of concealed objects at microwave frequencies, for a walk through portal scenario was also developed [6].

Two variants of the technology are now entering production via a UK company (Anglo Scientific) with first sales expected Q2, 2014, and are being evaluated by the US Navy.

References to the research

  1. A Review of Nonimaging Stand-Off Concealed Threat Detection with Millimeter-wave Radar,
    Stuart William Harmer, Nicholas Bowring, David Andrews and Nacer Rezgui, Jan/Feb - 2012, IEEE Microwave Magazine. DOI: 10.1109/MMM.2011.2174125
  2. Determination of the complex permittivity of textiles and leather in the 14-40 mm wave band using a free-wave transmittance only method. Harmer, S.; Rezgui, N.; Bowring, N.; Luklinska, XZ.; Ren, G. IET Microwaves, Antennas and Propagation, Vol. 2, No. 6, 2008, p. 606-614.
    DOI: 10.1049/iet-map:20070235
  3. A sensor for the detection and measurement of thin dielectric layers using reflection of frequency scanned millimetric waves, Nicholas J. Bowring, John G. Baker, Nacer D. Rezgui and John F. Alder Meas. Sci. Technol. 19 (2008) 024004 (7pp). DOI: 10.1088/0957-0233/19/2/024004
  4. Nicholas Bowring, David Andrews, Nacer Ddine Rezgui and Stuart Harmer. Remote Detection and Measurement of Objects. Filed March 18 2008 and granted January 24 2012. US patent number: US 8,103,604. Available online at Google Patents -
  5. On body concealed weapon detection using a phased antenna array, Stuart William Harmer, S. E. Cole, Nick Bowring, N. D. Rezgui, D. Andrews, Progress In Electromagnetics Research, Vol. 124, 187-210, 2012, Available online at DOI: 10.2528/PIER11112105
  6. Detection of Handguns by their Complex Natural Resonant Frequencies,  Stuart Harmer, David Andrews, Nacer Rezgui and Nicholas Bowring, IET Microwaves, Antennas & Propagation 2010.
    Available online at DOI: 10.1049/iet-map.2009.0382

Indicators of Research Quality

The work at MMU was funded under grant EP/D079195/1 (Deployable sensors for concealed gun detection at a standoff distances; £130k), with Bowring as PI, running from 2006 to 2008.  Thereafter, the work was funded under a restricted series of grants from the Home Office, Metropolitan Police, CPNI with a value of £1m (approximately) running from 2008 to 2013. The latest of these is a Home Office grant of value £60,000 code named SPUR which finishes in December 2013.

Details of the impact

The research conducted by The Sensing & Imaging Group has had impact in categories including ‘prevention of harm’, ‘economic’ and ‘commercial’, with the chief beneficiaries being the Home Office, Metropolitan Police Service and our industrial partners, Anglo Scientific. Specifically, our impact has been in:

  • The invention and development of new techniques for screening at a distance that are both portable and which can be rapidly deployed.
  • The selection of suitable “bands” or wavelengths and operating modalities of sensors operating in the electromagnetic spectrum where concealed threats can be effectively detected at standoff distances.
  • The measurement and calibration of materials that can form threats or simulate hazardous threat items.

The Sensing and Imaging Group are regularly consulted by Senior Scientists from the Home Office Applied Science Division.  For example, in 2013 alone they have had several visits from the Home Office Chief Scientist, have undertaken four weeks of joint trials and tests with the same scientists, given at least 5 demonstrations in MMU labs to visiting senior scientists and capability advisors, been invited to successfully tender for closed bids.  In 2012, a live demonstration of the technology was given to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe and two of his deputies.

In addition to supplying vital data and know-how to the Home Office, through its extensive research programme with the Metropolitan Police Service and other government bodies, the group has developed a range of deployable sensor technology for the screening of threats that are effective at significant distances.  The Metropolitan Police Service have corroborated the impact of this work with them in the following statement received in June 2013 [A]:

The group at MMU have developed the concept of using polarimetric active radar to detect threats at a standoff distance, rather than imaging, because these systems are more portable and effective at a distance and therefore informed UK Government thinking on its approach to the detection of concealed threats at standoff distances”

In an example of impact from this earlier work, the Home Office has commissioned a research programme (in March 2013, the details of this work are confidential) to characterise a range of materials that are of interest to them.  The results of this research will further inform the Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology of the way forward for its comprehensive programme of testing and validating technology for people and baggage screening technology. The following statement by the Home Office in July 2013 [B] corroborates this impact:

The group at MMU have undertaken work with CAST that directly informs Government thinking in gaining enhanced capability in the important area of standoff threat detection. The work undertaken by Prof Bowring’s group will provide higher performing, lower cost alternatives for law enforcement agencies. The programme of work into materials characterisation also informs the important aviation security area, which is vitally important to the UK economy. “

Currently the threat detection technology and associated IPR are in the process of being licensed to a UK company and prototype devices exist and have been demonstrated commercially.  Commercially produced devices are expected to be taken up by police forces, security forces and other law enforcement bodies. The first production versions are now being built (October 2013).  The impact of the technology is expected to increase and provide improved security products which are relatively inexpensive when compared to currently available products. The Chairman of Anglo Scientific Ltd who has licensed the technology from the university is able to corroborate this impact.   Below is an extract from a statement he has provided (October 2013);

“The Sensing and Imaging Group at Manchester Metropolitan University has invented and developed novel techniques for the remote detection of threat items and contraband that are portable, effective, unique, and which are well covered by protective patents.  We are in the process of investing into the group and also are producing these devices for manufacture, with company having expended £100,000 on productisation in 2013, with an expected £500,000 committed for 2014” [C]

The group has had expressions of interest from the US Department of Defence, having given a live demonstration in London in 2011, and has had a recent (October 2013) enquiry from US Army Laboratories, where the technology will be demonstrated early in 2014, and from the US Navy (November 2013)

There has been considerable interest from the media (BBC 2006, 2009, 2013, ITV 2013).  Because of the sensitive nature of the technology, most of these approaches have been refused, but these articles were produced by the BBC: and  Also, professor Bowring was interviewed by Radio Manchester in 2006.

Sources to corroborate the impact

Statements that corroborate the impact of the research described here have been received from the following individuals on behalf of their organisations in support of the research, development and commercialisation work undertaken by the Sensing and Imaging group:

  1. By the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) Project Manager, Detective Inspector SC&O25 (Serious and Organised Crime) on behalf of a Deputy Assistant Commissioner.  The technology has recently been given a live demonstration to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service.
  2. By the Home Office Chief Scientist and Senior Scientist at the Home office Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST).  The Home Office Chief Scientist and several of his senior scientists are regular visitors to the Sensing and Imaging Group at Manchester Metropolitan University.
  3. By the Chairman and founder of Anglo Scientific ltd, who have licensed the Intellectual Property surrounding this technology and who are investing commercially in the production of the devices described in this impact statement, and who are funding further research and development work for the group.

Biomechanics Support for Great Britain Para-S wimming and the International Paralympic Committee

Summary of the impact

Research into the biomechanics of elite swimmers with a disability undertaken by Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) has contributed directly to the development of Para-swimming both nationally and internationally. Firstly, it has made a significant and sustained contribution to the development of British Para-swimmers and their coaches, leading to outstanding performances by British swimmers at major International competitions including, most notably, the Beijing 2008 Paralympics, the IPC World Swimming Championships, 2010 and the London 2012 Paralympics .

Secondly, In 2009 the IPC mandated the development of new, evidence-based classification systems for Paralympic sports and, in 2010, announced its intention to use the research findings from MMU to help devise a new classification system for Para-swimming.

Underpinning research

Para-swimming is the most highly-funded and successful Paralympic sport in Britain. Following a successful Beijing Paralympics, at which swimmers won 43% of Britain’s medals, UK Sport significantly increased funding to Para-swimming. This was to ensure that the sport could access world class coaching and cutting edge medical and scientific support, in the run-up to London 2012. The biomechanics research undertaken at MMU formed an important part of that support.
The research undertaken by the MMU research team (details below) from Jan 2008 to July 2013 encompasses the areas of computational fluid dynamics, three-dimensional motion (video) analysis and the measurement of hydrodynamic drag and propulsive forces. Studies in these areas have added to the body of knowledge in swimming biomechanics and provided swimming coaches, teachers, scientists and classifiers with an enhanced understanding of the factors that limit the performances of swimmers with a physical impairment.  Specifically, the research has helped explain:

  1. How swimmers with a single arm amputation can increase the propulsion.  Two ground breaking studies by Lecrevain et al. [4 and 6] used unsteady Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) to quantify how much propulsion a swimmer’s partially amputated arm could generate and the factors that influence the magnitude of this propulsion. No previous study had looked at the contribution made by the upper arm to propulsion. The studies demonstrated that, for any given swimming speed, there is a minimum speed at which the upper arm must be rotated to generate effective propulsion. Below this, the upper arm will experience a net resistive drag force which adversely affects swimming performance.
  2. How physical impairment can affect force production and fatigue in swimming. A number of studies funded by UK Sport [2] used tethered and semi-tethered force analysis and electromyography to measure indices of fatigue in physically impaired swimmers. The hypothesis that fatigue is associated with the level of physical impairment was rejected. No previous study has reported fatigue rates in trained swimmers with a disability. The study by Lee et al. [2] found that those Para-swimmers who have to rely predominantly on one arm for propulsion are able to sustain propulsive forces when sprinting, as effectively as those who have two arms for propulsion.
  3. How physical impairment affects the amount of hydrodynamic drag (resistance) produced by a swimmer. A large scale study [1] has established the hydrodynamic drag of swimmers with a wide range of physical impairments. The hypothesis that there would be an inverse relationship between level of physical impairment and hydrodynamic drag was accepted. The study found that in the physical impairment classes 3-6, some athletes had a substantial advantage over others with regard to passive drag, which in turn may translate to a significant performance advantage.
  4. How a single limb loss affects a swimmer’s coordination and movement patterns in the water. Two studies by Osborough et al. [3 and 5] have quantified how swimming speed influences the underwater motion of swimmers with a single arm amputation. The relationships found between swimming speed, coordination and movement patterns for the physically impaired swimmers were different to those for able-bodied swimmers. Unlike able-bodied swimmers, arm amputees maintained a stable inter-arm coordination pattern, regardless of the speed they swam at.

Key Researchers

Dr. Carl Payton. Senior Enterprise Fellow in Biomechanics, MMU Cheshire, Dept. Exercise & Sport Science. (e mployed by MMU from Sept 1989 to present).
Dr. Conor Osborough. Senior Lecturer in Biomechanics, MMU Cheshire, Dept. Exercise & Sport Science. (employed by MMU from Sept 2009 to present).
Dr. Ian Kennedy.  Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, MMU, School of Engineering. (employed by MMU from Jan 1998 to present).

References to the research

  1. Oh, Y-T., Burkett, B., Osborough, C., Formosa, D. &. Payton, C.J. (2013). London 2012 Paralympic swimming: passive drag and the classification system. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 47, 1-6. DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2013-092192 (Included in REF2)
  2. Lee, C.J., Sanders, R.H. & Payton, C.J. (2013) Changes in force production and stroke parameters of trained female able-bodied and unilateral arm amputee swimmers during a 30 s tethered front crawl swim . Journal of Sports Sciences.
  3. Osborough, C., Payton, C.J. & Daly, D. (2010). Influence of swimming speed on inter-arm coordination in competitive unilateral arm amputee front crawl swimmers. Journal of Human Movement Science, 29, 921-931. DOI: 10.1016/j.humov.2010.05.009
  4. Lecrivain, G., Payton, C.J., Slaouti, A. & Kennedy, I. (2010). Effect of body roll amplitude and arm rotation speed on propulsion of arm amputee swimmers. Journal of Biomechanics, 43(6), 1111-11 17. DOI: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2009.12.014
  5. Osborough, C., Payton, C.J. & Daly, D. (2009). Relationships between the front crawl stroke parameters of competitive unilateral arm amputee swimmers, with selected anthropometric characteristics. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 25(4), 304-312. (Included in REF2)
  6. Lecrivain, G.M., Slaouti, A., Payton, C.J. & Kennedy, I. (2008). Using Reverse Engineering and Computational Fluid Dynamics to Investigate a Lower Arm Amputee Swimmer's Performance. Journal of Biomechanics, 41, 2855-2859. DOI: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2008.06.036 (Included in REF2)

Relevant Grants to indicate research quality

UK Sport Graduate Innovation Project: Development of a Swimming Specific Test of Anaerobic Power using an Isokinetic Ergometer (October 2007-September 2010). Amount £74,000. Awarded to Dr. Carl Payton.
British Disability Swimming, High Performance Swimming Ltd (HPS Ltd): Biomechanics Support for British Para-swimming (April 2000 – June 2013). Amount £290,000. Awarded to Dr. Carl Payton.

Details of the impact

The research has helped enhance the performances of British Para-swimmers at major competitions and improved coaching practice in Britain; it has impacted on the international system for classifying Para-swimmers and has also helped promote the sport to the wider public.   

  1. Biomechanics Support for Great Britain Para-swimming
    The first impact of the research was its significant and sustained contribution to the development of British Para-swimmers and their coaches, leading to outstanding performances by British swimmers at International competitions including, most notably, the Beijing 2008 Paralympics, the IPC World Swimming Championships, 2010 and the London 2012 Paralympics. The new knowledge gained through the research has been used to educate and inform Britain’s leading coaches and elite swimmers such as multi world champions Ellie Simmonds and Amy Marren, helping them to identify strategies for optimising their performances. 
    Direct application of the knowledge generated by the research was achieved through Dr. Carl Payton in his role as Biomechanics Lead for the British Para-swimming squad [A]. As a member of the High Performance Science and Medicine Team throughout the impact assessment period, Dr. Payton was responsible for the delivery of biomechanics support services to elite athletes on the British Para-swimming World Class Programme [E, F]. The primary aim of the support was to provide swimmers with evidence-based advice on how to improve technical aspects of their performance, e.g. turning technique, arm coordination, streamlining. A number of research tools were developed to monitor the progress of Programme athletes, e.g. velocity meter, semi-tethered ergometer [B]. Dr. Payton worked directly with British Para-swimming coaches and swimmers at the High Performance Centres in Swansea and Manchester, at UK and overseas training camps, and at international competitions (including the last four Paralympic Games).
    The impact of the research on the performances of British Para-swimmers is difficult to quantify directly. However, British Para-swimming clearly believes that the work is having a significant impact as they continue to fund it. Funding in Paralympic sports is limited. National Governing Bodies will not continue to fund applied research unless they perceive it to be of significant benefit to them. In the London 2012 Paralympics, Britain had more individual swimming medallists than any other nation (24) and finished with a medal haul of 7 gold, 16 silver and 16 bronze. The sport science support, including the biomechanics, is perceived by other nations as World-Leading and to have contributed significantly to the ongoing success of British swimmers.  A testimonial on file from the Sport Science and Sport Medicine Manager at British Swimming confirms, “The biomechanical support we receive from Carl Payton falls into 2 areas: 1) on deck support to athletes and coaches and 2) major development projects which answer the big performance questions for Rio 2016. Working with Carl Payton, British Para-Swimming are able to tap into an extensive pool of expertise. The link with MMU has allowed British Para-Swimming to benefit from several applied projects which would be considered cutting edge within the Paralympic swimming environment.”[C]
    The knowledge generated by the research has also been disseminated to coaches and other practitioners at International, National and Regional level through presentations at coaching conferences, workshops, seminars and publications in coaching journals (examples listed at end).
  2. Biomechanics Support for the International Paralympic Committee (IPC)
    The second impact of the research is the provision of new scientific knowledge that led to the decision by the IPC in 2010 to use the research to improve the fairness and objectivity with which elite swimmers are classified for international competitions.
    An effective classification system should provide athletes who have a disability with an equitable starting point for competition by minimising the impact that their impairment has on the outcome of the event. The current swimming classification system relies on expert, but predominantly subjective, opinion, rather than on empirical evidence. In 2009 the IPC mandated the development of a new, evidence-based classification system for swimming. Research groups from Australia, USA, France and the UK were then invited to contribute to the project, with the UK group (led by Dr. Payton) taking the lead on the assessment of drag (resistance). Over 200 elite swimmers have been tested and preliminary results (Oh et al., 2013) indicated that the current classification system significantly disadvantages certain swimmers by placing insufficient weighting on drag assessment. These findings highlighted an important deficiency in the current system and provided an understanding of how drag assessment could be incorporated into the new system. 
    The knowledge generated by the drag research has been communicated directly, in written reports, to swimmers and coaches in over 41 countries and indirectly to an even broader audience via the IPC website ( As the Medical and Scientific Director for the International Paralympic Committee writes (in a statement on file at MMU [D])The further development of sport-specific classification systems on the basis of scientific evidence is critical to the continued growth of the Paralympic Movement and for opportunities available to athletes with a disability. This project will form the basis for the revision of the classification system for IPC Swimming to become credible, valid, transparent and consistent with the IPC classification code. The IPC recognises the lead role of MMU in this project.”
  3. Direct Impact through Coaching, Workshops, Newsletters and Media Dissemination
    Secondary impacts have been achieved through the dissemination of Dr. Payton’s research findings at a range of conferences, workshops and events to the professional and amateur coaching community throughout the impact period. Most notably Payton has run workshops for the British Para-swimming Coaches Annual Meeting, Liverpool (2011), provided the keynote address and various demonstrations on Biomechanics Support for Elite Swimmers with a Disability to the 16th FINA Sports Medicine Congress, Manchester (2008) and in 2013 he was a speaker at the first ever World Coaches Conference.
    Payton has also contributed many articles to coaching publications including the Peter Harrison Centre Newsletter (2011) [E],
    SportEX medicine newsletter [F] and the chapter on Biomechanics i n the British Disability Swimming Delivering on Deck Handbook. His role and his approach to using biomechanics within it was featured in an Independent newspaper article:

Sources to corroborate the impact

Reports, reviews, web links or other documented sources of information in the public domain.

  1. Link to full swimming team list from London 2012 Olympic Games – evidencing Carl Payton’s role as biomechanics lead within the squad (p2)
  2. Swimming Times Article – Science and the Paralympian, June 2012 (electronic copy of the article available on request) corroborating Carl’s work with the British Paralympic team. 
  3. Full testimonial on file from Sports Science & Sports Medicine Manager – Para-swimming, British Swimming corroborating the impact of MMU biomechanics research on the British Paralympic Swimming team.
  4. Full testimonial on file from Medical and Scientific Director - International Paralympic Committee corroborating impacts on international IPC classification systems for Paralypmic Swimming.
  5. Biomechanics Support for Great Britain Disability Swimming. Peter Harrison Centre Newsletter (available on request)
  6. Biomechanics Support for British World Class Disability Swimming. sportEX medicine newsletter (available on request)

The following individuals have agreed to be contacted to further corroborate the contribution of the research undertaken at MMU to the development of Paralympic swimming

  1. National Performance Director – Para-swimming, British Swimming
  2. Classification Research Manager - International Paralympic Committee

The Impact of MMU Research on the Optimisation of Railway Vehicle-Track interaction

Summary of the impact

The School of Engineering at MMU has longstanding research into many aspects of railway engineering. This commenced in 1998 under the leadership of Professor Simon Iwnicki, who carried out research into the interaction between railway vehicles and the track. The understanding of the dynamics of the wheel rail contact that has resulted from this work has been developed into a number of tools and techniques that are being used on a daily basis by the rail industry both to design new railway systems and to predict the deterioration of railway wheels and rails. This allows railway engineers to predict and control roughness growth on rails and to optimise wheel profiles and maintenance intervals on wheel and track.

This work is now helping the railway industry internationally to realise both economic and environmental impacts as track maintenance costs are reduced, safety levels are enhanced and passengers continue to switch from road to rail in increasing numbers. This is evidenced by the award of new research contracts and industry funding and by direct input into industry standards.

Underpinning research

One of the most important and most complicated factors influencing
the dynamic behaviour of a railway vehicle is the nature of the interface between the wheel and the rail. There is a highly non-linear relationship between the motion of the vehicle and the forces on the wheels. The very high stresses present cause elastic and plastic deformation of the steel and high levels of wear and fatigue are common, which ultimately could lead to track failure. Analytical methods, together with mathematical computer models that can accurately predict and model this deformation have been developed by a team of dedicated rail researchers at MMU (listed below) and are being used widely by industry to improve the design of vehicle suspension and track construction to increase safety and reliability levels, reduce cost and improve performance of the railway system [3, 5 and 6]. This modelling and analytical work made step-change improvements to computer tools which, prior to this work, were not able to include some of the many variations which actually exist in track such as local changes in the support stiffness or the sleeper type or spacing or the shape or flexibility of the rail. The team supported this work with expertise in laboratory testing, on-vehicle instrumentation, data collection and advanced computing techniques.

In several EPSRC funded projects (detailed in section 3), together with partners at Birmingham and Southampton Universities, research has been carried out by the Rail Research Team to allow prediction of damage to railway wheels and rails [1, 2 and 4] and to allow railway engineers to optimise vehicle and track design. Through involvement in the European Research Framework 6 and 7 projects INNOTRACK, CATRIN and DYNOTRAIN, improved modelling techniques have  been developed to predict the non-linear and non-steady wheel-rail forces. Novel techniques and tools have been developed to allow optimisation of vehicle suspensions and track structures. This work is continuing in the Framework 7 projects SUSTRAIL, SPECTRUM and D-Rail.

More recently, Rail Research within the School of Engineering has also focussed on the preventative maintenance and condition monitoring of rail and tramway using machine vision techniques (e.g. via EU Framework 7 project PMnIDEA).

Key Researchers

Simon Iwnicki (1998 – 2012), Professor of Railway Engineering, Julian Stow (1998-2012), Research Fellow, Yann Bezin (2000-2012),  Research Fellow, Nick Bowring (2004 – present) , Professor of Electronic Engineering.

References to the research

  1. Iwnicki S.D., Bjoklund S. And Enblom R. ‘Wheel-rail contact mechanics’ chapter in ‘Wheel-rail interface handbook’, Woodhead Publishing, 2009 (ISBN 978-1-84569-412-8)
  2. Bezin Y, Iwnicki S.D. and Cavalletti M.  ‘The effect of dynamic rail roll on the wheel-rail contact conditions’ Vehicle System Dynamics, Supplement to Vol 46 (2008), pp 107-117 (ISBN 90-265- 1972-9)
  3. Xie X., Iwnicki S.D. ‘Calculation of wear on a corrugated rail using a three-dimensional contact model’ Wear 265 (2008) 1238-1248 This work was subsequently used to assist the operators of Copenhagen Metro to deal with noise problems on their system
  4. Iwnicki S.D. ‘The effect of profiles on wheel and rail damage’ International Journal of Vehicle Structures and Systems, Volume 1, Number 4 (2009) As a result of this work further development of the novel modular steel track support system was undertaken by partners Tata Steel and an improved product is now being marketed.
  5. Bezin Y., Iwnicki S.D., Cavalletti M., de Vries E., Shahzad F. and Evans G. ‘An investigation of sleeper voids using a flexible track model integrated with railway multi-body dynamics’ Proc. Instn. Mech. Engrs,. Vol 223 (2009), Part F, pp597-608 (ISSN 0954-4097) DOI: 10.1243/09544097JRRT276
  6. Persson I., Nilsson R., Bik U., Lundgren M. and Iwnicki S. ‘Use of a genetic algorithm to improve the rail profile on Stockholm Underground’ Vehicle System Dynamics, Volume 48, Supplement 1 (2010), pages 89 – 10 This presentation of the application of a novel technique for designing an optimised rail profile has since been applied to several railway systems.

Major Grants awarded to MMU in connection with the work described here:


GR/R31447/01 ‘Railway Vehicle and Track System Integration’, October 2001 to January 2005 (with University of Birmingham) £255k to MMU, Iwnicki as PI
EP/D080207 ‘Aerodynamic/Train System Interactions’ September 2006 to August 2009 (with University of Southampton) £468K to MMU, Iwnicki as Co-I
EP/D033918/1 ‘Prediction of defect development with a track system model’ November 2005 to October 2008 £220K to MMU, Iwnicki as PI
EP/H024743/1   ‘Factor 20: reducing CO2 emissions from inland transport by a major modal shift to rail’, January 2010 to October 2011 (with Universities of Southampton, Salford, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle) £201K to MMU, Iwnicki as Co-I

European Commission

MMU has secured £1.6M Euros for FP6 and FP7 projects relating to this case study including: EURNEX (to create a European rail research network of excellence) (2005- 2007), INNOTRACK (to undertake research on track support structure, switches and crossings, rails, and logistics for track maintenance and renewal) (2004-2007), CATRIN (to undertake research into the cost allocation of transport infrastructure) (2007-2009), DYNOTRAIN (promoting interoperable rail traffic in Europe by reducing certification costs) (2006-2010)

Industry funding

A total of over £1.5M including research projects for Network Rail, Corus/Tata, Docklands Light Railway, Hitachi

Details of the impact

Research findings have resulted in major impacts across the international rail sector. Impacts have been achieved in relation to passenger safety through the introduction of industrial standards and “best practice” guidelines as well as improvements to vehicle track interaction that minimise rail degradation. Commercial and environmental impacts have been realised through changes to vehicle acceptance costing and procurement processes and through policy development on freight charging standards.

Impacts on Passenger Safety and Track Maintenance  

As a direct result of the research described above, MMU are recognised as leading authorities in the field of modelling rail-wheel interactions and having advanced computational models capable of accurately predicting rail and wheel wear. In September 2010, the UK Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) produced a research brief on Project T613 “Trials of wheel and rail rolling contract fatigue control measures” undertaken by MMU researchers using computational modelling of new trains. The work was designed to support a business case for the adoption of sustainable operation limits (SOL’s) by Network Rail. In 2012 MMU were invited to lead Project T963 which involved studies into the production of cost-effective, track-based “sustainable operation limits” for rolling contact fatigue. All of this work was monitored and tested over time and the successful results are now underpinning Network Rail efforts to roll-out sustainable operation limits across the UK rail sector [A]. This leads to improved vehicle track interaction and therefore enhanced levels of passenger safety. Team members took part in the roll out of the new tool in a series of workshops for industry during 2012 and 2013 organised by RSSB and carried out by MMU and SERCO. Training has subsequently been delivered to over 200 industry colleagues who are now using the tools in planning the day-to- day maintenance of the UK railway network.

Research has contributed to the production of several guidelines related to rail safety. For  example, in response to the Office of the Rail Regulator commissioning a study of optimising wheel and rail profile designs to reduce the risk of derailments, Julian Stow produced “A Good Practice Guide for Managing the Wheel-Rail Interface of Light Rail and Tramway Systems’, Feb 2008] [B]. This guide and the accompanying “Determination of Tramway Wheel and Rail Profiles to Minimise Derailment” [C] have been presented to the Light Railway Engineers Group which includes all of the major UK light rail operators. Both guides are publically available on the Office of the Rail Regulator’s Rail Safety Research web pages

Research has also supported improvements to the safety of new railway vehicles leading to partnerships with manufacturers such as Siemens and Hitachi. In 2007, Hitachi called in MMU expertise to assist in ensuring the safety and efficiency of their Olympic Javelin bullet trains which were rolled out into operational use in 2009. The successful roll-out of the vehicles, designed to improve passenger experiences for the London 2012 Games and which travel at 140mph, relied on MMU techniques to predict wheel wear [D].

Researchers have delivered workshops for the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (in 2008) and for the Light Rail Engineers group (annually from 2009-2011). MMU established an bi-annual European Rolling-Stock Summer School (with Politecnico di Milano and Sileasian Technical University) in 2010 attended by 40 delegates from industry.

Impacts on Rail Policy Development including Crossrail, Freight Charging and Industry Standards

During 2010 and 2011 MMU worked in partnership with Mott MacDonald to support the Crossrail project partners in a study to investigate the consequences of challenging gradients on the proposed cross London rail link. A wheel-rail force assessment and mitigation study was carried out to consider the potential performance and maintenance requirements of the current state of the art resilient track systems. As a direct result of this work, an effective wheel-rail management policy has been instigated by the Crossrail management team that will allow the high density of service required for the planned Crossrail operation.

In 2011, Network Rail commissioned the MMU Team to review the methods used to allocate charges to freight vehicles. The report issued in 2011 proposes a new approach for allocating freight vehicles to suspension bands. Network Rail carried out a wide scale industry consultation on these proposals before adopting them fully and implementing them in Charging period 5 which begins in 2016 [E and F].

In 2011, MMU helped to establish the Rail Research Association (RRUK-A), a network of over 20 universities and the rail industry who are working together to improve the safety and efficiency of Britain’s railways. The network, funded by the Rail Safety and Standards Board and Network Rail, and launched by transport Minister Theresa Villiers, has led to the development of significant new research that directly addresses the challenges of the rail industry. It provides a forum for targeted knowledge exchange between universities and the industry, including the organisation of workshops and wider networking opportunities and also maintains a ‘map’ of expertise to prevent duplication of research activities. [G]

Researchers have also underpinned on-going contributions to industry standards through membership on various committees and working groups including Vehicle Track System Interface Committee Technical Advisory Group, BSI Gauging Standards Committee, CEN European Working Group on gauging. Simon Iwnicki is the Editor in Chief of Part F of the Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (the Journal of Rail and Rapid Transit regarded as a key journal for disseminating results of rail research to industry and MMU researchers edited and contributed to “The Handbook of Railway Vehicle Dynamics” (2006) now regarded as the key text for researchers in Higher Education and Industry.

Commercial and Economic Impacts in the Rail and Light-Rail (Tram) Industry

Research findings led to the creation of a sophisticated ‘Virtual Test Track’ computational toolbox, developed between 2008 and 2010. The ‘Virtual Test Track’ allows users to produce a short section of track data for use in computer simulations that fully represents all the features found in real track. This work has been instrumental in the development of a new version of the European standard EN14363 (confirmed in Sept 2011), which will allow computer simulation in place of physical testing allowing reductions in the costs of vehicle acceptance [H].

In 2008, MMU researchers were commissioned by the Victorian Government Department of Transport to carry out a study of vehicle-track interface on the Melbourne Tram system. Researchers benchmarked vehicle-track interface conditions and specified maximum wheel-rail forces for various types of vehicle-track interaction. This data was used to inform procurement decisions for tram fleets, ensuring that new vehicles do not increase the prevailing rate of track degradation experienced at the time of the study. Research has also informed improvements to the Stockholm Metro (2008, [6]) where a method for optimising railway wheel profiles using genetic algorithims to solve problems of high wheel wear was developed and Copenhagen Metro [3], where MMU’s input reduced the environmental impact of noise problems caused by corrugation on the rail in curves. The INNOTRACK project has also developed significant impacts [I].

Sources to corroborate the impact

  1. Example of Research report from UK Rail and Safety Standards Board. MMU leading role referenced under Deliverables on p 4.
  2. Link to “A Good Practice Guide for Managing the Wheel-Rail Interface of Light Rail and Tramway Systems”, Feb 2008 rep_90_3B_iss1.pdf (available on the Office of the Rail Regulator’s rail safety research website (  corroborating impacts on rail safety research.
  3. Link to “Determination of Tramway Wheel and Rail Profiles to Minimise Derailment” Feb 2008 (available on the Office of the Rail Regulator’s rail safety research website ( corroborating impacts on rail safety research.
  4. Web links to press release on MMU partnership with Hitachi corroborating research impacts on the safety and efficiency of railway vehicles: and and
  5. 2011 report on Quantifying Freight Vehicle Suspension Bandings for Network Rail eviews/cp4%20charges/i.%20suspension%20banding%20review%20-%20final%20mmu%20report.pdf
  6. Network Rail letter in relation to the Quantification of Freight Vehicle Suspension Bandings
  7. Web Link to story on the launch of Rail Research Association (RRUK-A) And link to RRUK-A website:
  8. Network Rail article corroborating the economic and environmental impacts of improved vehicle procurement using the “Virtual Test Track” software and accompanying testimonial from Network Rail Research Manager (MMU p 9)
  9. Press release from UNIFE 2010 (the Association of the European Rail Industry) corroborating economic and commercial impacts on track maintenance and renewal costs of INNOTRACK.