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Solid mechanics and AI hybrid approach to mitigation of climate change driven railway track buckling

Project Description

This is an exciting PhD research opportunity combining academic research with industrial application in rail. It is funded by an EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership grant and Network Rail. A significant problem for rail networks is prevention of track buckling in hot weather, particularly with climate change leading to extreme and variable conditions. Buckling risk means trains run at slow speeds, reducing network capacity and giving poor customer experience. Traversing buckled track can lead to derailment with severe safety consequences. Data shows buckles are more prevalent for specific track conditions. Individually insignificant factors occur in combination leading to a buckle without an obvious cause. Contributory factors may have stochastic nature through variability in components, installation, their age, loading history or other factors.

Large-scale data collection on the railway network is opening the possibility of Artificial Intelligence (AI) approaches to accompany conventional mechanics in understanding rail infrastructure. An analytical mechanics model of rail buckling considering the track system as a restrained ladder structure is available in Sheffield. In this research it is anticipated this will be extended with a finite element model to more fully capture realistic (and stochastic) behaviour. Alongside this an AI model of buckling will be developed with rail network data. A particular fuzzy-set based methodology has proven to offer fast reliable predictions (in alternative cases 95-97% accuracy) estimating factors influencing results significantly. The joint support of the research by academic supervisors and industry will provide an exceptional opportunity to address the research problem using the latest ideas with potential to deliver real benefits of improved rail system performance.

It is anticipated that the successful applicant will have a first degree at 2:1 or 1st class (or equivalent relevant experience) in one of these areas: Physical sciences, applied mathematics, engineering, materials science. The research will be based in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Sheffield. The University is a founding member of the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN) having been selected by the rail industry to host facilities for jointly undertaking academia-industry research projects.


The studentship is open to UK and EU candidates that fulfil the eligibility criteria for EPSRC funding through UK nationality and/or residency status. (

You will be expected to have excellent communication, written and verbal, and organisational skills along with a keen interest to engage in industry focussed research. Interpersonal skills are also required to effectively work as part of a research team.

Closing date:

Please apply by 14th February 2020, although early application is encouraged as the advert may be closed early if we receive an application from an outstanding candidate.

Funding Notes

The funding covers the cost of tuition fees and provides an annual tax-free stipend at the standard UK research rate (currently £15,009) plus a top of payment of £5,000 per annum. The PhD also comes with a total research training and support grant of £16,500.

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