With passenger numbers predicted to double in the next 25 years, safely and affordably expanding capacity is a major challenge for the rail industry.
Rail franchises agree outputs for up to 20 years, during which infrastructure changes often occur and their impacts cannot be adequately simulated without initial designs. They need more sophisticated ways to predict future capacity requirements.
According to HS2 initial estimating protocols, design costs typically account for 8% of the capital expenditure on railway enhancements. The Office of Rail and Road says this was £3.4 billion in 2016/17, which gives an idea of the potential savings.
Use of computers in mechanical design has advanced significantly. Increasingly code is used to automate form finding. Terminology varies, with differing groups referring to this as parametric, computational or generative design; this last term seems to best capture our intent.
Such methods allow designers to work by defining high-level goals and constraints. They can use the power of computation to automatically explore a wide design space and identify the best design options.
These technologies are beginning to impact high performance mechanical component design in the aerospace and automotive fields.
The rail industries’ needs differ from those of other industries because of the nature of the challenges faced, and because the overall systems to be designed are more dispersed. While we are not seeking a comprehensive design solution, the broad range of relevant factors must be represented to produce valid outline designs.
The railway is a system of systems, including: power systems, control systems, pedestrian flows and train services. These are overlaid on track systems and substructure, including earthworks, bridges and tunnels, within an environmental context of differing land uses ranging from dense urban to sites of special scientific interest.
While most developments occur within the existing rail corridor, in some cases adjacent land use may be necessary or desirable, and the expected costs of acquiring this land varies widely. In addition the desired outcomes can vary depending upon the part of the network being considered, with priority on capacity, journey time, performance (reliability) or cost, depending on use patterns.
Potential benefits from generative design tools include:
- better long term prediction of railway performance, reducing risks during franchising and enabling private sector investment
- more optimal designs for safer, higher capacity infrastructure at lower costs and better service performance
- more efficient infrastructure design, to reduce time and cost
- accelerated option development, aiding consultation and reducing overheads
We have 2 capability needs to be addressed by this work. We anticipate that they can both be addressed by the creation of the same solution. These are:
- to be able to predict future railway service capability in the very long term, when we know infrastructure will change, but no designs are yet prepared,
- to assist in the preparation of design options to save time and optimise designs by better balancing complex interacting factors
Your solution could have significant rail markets overseas. The technology could have applications in wider infrastructure and urban planning applications.
This competition is funded by Network Rail’s Whole Systems Modelling programme. The competition aims to encourage development of solutions and stimulate investment in this area, so that the organisation will be able to purchase automated design tools in the next 2 to 5 years.
Successful applicants, subject to suitable confidentiality agreements, will have access provided by Network Rail to a wide range of data on existing assets, and to the passenger demand forecasting handbook.
The full range of Ordnance Survey’s geospatial data products is available without charge to all projects that are funded under this competition.
- open data products are freely available to download without restriction
- detailed premium data products can be accessed by clicking through OS’s Data Exploration Licence and completing a simple form. Against the question ‘What do you plan to do with the data?’ select ‘Other’ and type ‘Innovation project: Planning rail capacity through automated infrastructure design’ in the text box. On submission of the form, OS will make arrangements to allow you to place orders for the required data if your application proves successful
- applicants are also welcome to sign up for a free trial of OS’s mapping and data APIs
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