Towards a REgulatory FRamework for the usE of Structural new materials in railway passenger and freight CarbOdyshells

Significant reductions in emissions due to transport are being demanded by governments and policy-makers, as well as by society. Reductions in the energy consumption of railway rolling stock are therefore an important objective. It is in this context of ‘lightweighting’ of rolling stock that the REFRESCO project has been conceived. New materials such as composites and light metallic alloys encourage hopes of the construction of lighter rolling stock, which will consume less energy and help reduce the emissions of rail transport. While composite materials have already been used in the manufacture of parts of rolling stock, there is currently no way to certify a rail vehicle built entirely or in large part from non-metallic materials. For this evolution in rolling stock construction to be made possible, the existing regulatory framework must be examined in order for the sector to understand which changes, if any, need to be made.

REFRESCO is a thirty-month project, supported by the European Commission under the Seventh Framework Programme and co-ordinated by UNIFE, the association of the European rail industry. It has a budget of approximately €4.6 million. It began on September 1st, and runs until February 2016.

The overall objective of REFRESCO is to set the framework for the implementation of new materials in the railway sector through the evolution of certification processes for rolling stock. REFRESCO will generate recommendations and provide the information needed to adapt the regulatory framework of railway carbody structures to the introduction of new materials.

Such materials are already used in other sectors, both within and outwith transport.  In aeronautics, structural and non-structural parts of aircraft are being made from composite materials. The industry has done this progressively, gaining confidence over decades in the performance of such materials for aircraft construction. These materials are also being used in the wind power sector, in the manufacturing of turbines. REFRESCO aims to build upon the extensive knowledge developed in such sectors, in order to apply them in the rail sector and without duplication of the work already carried out by others. This will be done in part by taking advantage of the presence in the REFRESCO consortium of partners with direct and indirect involvement in aeronautics.

Eighteen partners have come together to carry out this project, including many of the principal European rolling stock system integrators, and members of the rail supply industry, railway operators, material suppliers, university and research sectors, as well as one of the largest certification companies in Europe. The associations of the European railway supply industry and Railway Undertakings and Infrastructure Managers are also partners in REFRESCO.

The project will work toward its objectives by identifying the gaps in materials knowledge and in the current regulatory framework of railway car body construction. This will allow the consortium to understand the gaps to be filled to facilitate the certification of rail vehicles in composite and other non-metallic materials. The research will then address the specific issues surrounding the implementation of new materials in railway car bodies, such as: maintainability; structural performance; fire performance; manufacturing processes; and crashworthiness. Finally, the project will produce recommendations to allow for the introduction of new materials in structural components, while at least maintaining current levels of safety.

REFRESCO is linked to SHIFT2RAIL, a proposal for an ambitious large-scale, industrially-driven and multi-annual research programme that aims to help the EU rail industry to retain its world leadership.