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The aerodynamics of freight trains

Department of Civil Engineering

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Prof Mark Sterling , Dr D Soper Applications accepted all year round Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Developments in the capabilities of rail freight, including increased freight speeds and larger, better connected rail networks, will enable greater competition between rail and road markets while having many environmental benefits. The UK Government have recently set strategic aims to double the volume of cargo carried by rail by 2030, to which Network Rail have invested in detailed studies with a view to assessing opportunities to enable continued sector growth to 2043 and beyond. However, an issue often overlooked when considering high speed rail freight are the aerodynamic properties of these trains. Such potential has been overshadowed by a series of high profile “near miss” incidents related to freight train aerodynamic flows as trains passed through stations – such as at Twyford where a wheelchair containing a disabled passenger was sucked into the side of a freight train.

The proposed doctorial work will look to develop a platform in aerodynamic understanding from which to directly aid the rail freight industry through the development of new strategies in freight train working and design. The project will be achieved through a range of experimental studies at both model scale using the University of Birmingham TRAIN rig facility and at full scale through trackside and on train measurements.

Prospective students should hold at least a 2:1 Bachelors degree (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]) or a Masters degree (preference for Merit or above) in a relevant technical subject (Engineering, Mathematics or Physics) and should be eligible for H/EU fees. The project is well suited to motivated and hard-working candidates with a keen interest in vehicle aerodynamics. The applicant should have excellent communications skills, including proven ability to write in English.
The Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education is a worldwide leading institution for railway research and education, with over 130 academics, researchers and professional support staff. The successful candidate will work in the Wind Engineering and Vehicle Aerodynamics Research Group, which is a fast growing research group with outstanding international reputation and close relationships with the rail industry.

Applicants are encouraged to contact Mark Sterling ([Email Address Removed]) or David Soper ([Email Address Removed]) for an informal discussion.

Funding Notes

Enquires can be sent to David Soper ([Email Address Removed]) or Mark Sterling ([Email Address Removed]) and should contain a covering letter and CV.

Useful information about funding opportunities and fees can be found on our website:

For excellent applicants (very good first degree), there is the potential for funding for Home / EU students that will cover fees at the current Home / EU student rate and a stipend. Overseas students are welcome to apply but should note that they will be required to be either completely self-funding, or to make up the difference between Home and Overseas fees.


Soper, D., C. Baker, M. Sterling (2014), Experimental investigation of the slipstream development around a container freight train using a moving model facility, Journal of Wind Engineering and Industrial Aerodynamics.

Flynn F, Hemida H, Baker C (2016) On the effect of crosswinds on the slipstream of a freight train and associated effects, Journal of Wind Engineering and Industrial Aerodynamics 156, 14-28

Iliadis, P., Soper, D., Baker, C., & Hemida, H. (2019). Experimental investigation of the aerodynamics of a freight train passing through a tunnel using a moving model. Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part F: Journal of Rail and Rapid Transit, 233(8), 857-868.

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