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Heavy structures lab

Multi axis simulator

The heavy structures laboratory, with its rigid floor and large hydraulic test rigs, undertakes leading research into railway systems. Researchers are studying the behaviour of railway sleepers and ballast, to underpin design and maintenance practices for modern, high speed, heavily trafficked railways. Work done in Southampton brings together numerical modelling, materials testing and laboratory simulations with the behaviour of real infrastructure in service.

Southampton is a world leading centre for infrastructure research with a particular focus on the infrastructure used for the transport of people, goods, water and energy. We work closely with industry and have research projects funded by companies such as National Grid as well as the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). In rail infrastructure, we lead an EPSRC funded programme grant, TRACK21, which aims to provide low maintenance, high performance railway track systems fit for the 21st century. We also have a strategic research partnership with Network Rail on Future Infrastructure Systems, and are working with HS2 on some of the issues associated with high speed railway track.

Our researchers are using the Southampton Railway Test Facility to investigate the effect of sleeper type, ballast specification and the provision of under sleeper pads on the long term performance of railway track. We can simulate three million passes of a 20 tonne axle,representing perhaps a year on the UK West Coast Main Line, in about twelve days. We have also used the apparatus to investigate the effects of sand ingress on the performance of ballasted track in connection with a proposed desert railway.

The facilities in the Heavy Structures Laboratory compliment the extensive testing facilities available in TSRL for smaller scale components and substructure.

Testing Frames

There are a number of small testing frames primarily used for teaching purposes. They give students experience of Buckling of Struts, Deformation of Portals and other structural experiments. These experiments give an insight into problems with structures that the student will encounter if they decide to follow a career in Civil Engineering.

Overhead cranes

Due to the weight of some of the items we handle we have a variety of lifting equipment in the laboratory. This ranges from two overhead cranes to small sack trucks. Health and safety is an important part of the process of moving and testing samples. Test samples can consist of a variety of materials. Steel, aluminium and concrete are regularly tested. We make our own concrete beams or cubes to the student’s specification. We also do commercial testing when we liaise closely with outside companies.

Column testing machines

There is a variety of testing equipment used in the Structures laboratory. They range from a large Column testing machine capable of a maximum load of 1500kn to a free standing machine with a maximum load of 100kn. Research investigating how railway ballast behaves after prolonged loading, is currently in place. The test arrangement is using a hydraulic jack to simulate a train passing over a sleeper, which is sitting on ballast.

For more information regarding the technical specifications of our equipment and to speak to a member of the team please contact us.

The Heavy Structures Laboratory

Research Projects:

Civil, Maritime and Environmental Engineering and Science Unit

Engineering and the Environment
University of Southampton
Highfield Campus


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