Austrak, Laing O’Rourke and USQ Partner on Composite Rail Technology

Australian organisations Austrak, Laing O’Rourke and the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) have joined forces to develop polymer composite solutions for bridge transoms in a $10 million project titled Polymer Composite Transoms for Rail Bridge Deck Replacement (CompTrans).

The consortium secured $3 million grant funding from the Australian Government Cooperative Research Centre Projects (CRC-P) initiative to increase innovation and develop new technologies for industries in Australia.

The fibre reinforced polymer composites will replace traditional timber bridge transoms, which are subject to warping and rotting, proving costly and disruptive due to constant repair.

Australia has the sixth largest rail network in the world and it’s estimated that nearly 90% of the existing transoms will need replacement in the next 10 years, including the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge’s rail deck. Rail sleeper and timber transom replacement is a global industry worth over $1.3 billion per year.

It is projected that in the next five years, Australian rail track asset owners will move from a traditional timber-based system with a limited lifespan of 15 years, to that of an engineered composites system with a lifespan of 50 years.

The project will build on existing research at USQ’s Centre for Future Materials to commercialise materials and manufacturing technologies where it has been proven that strategically using polymer composites results in sleeper/transom technology that requires significantly less volume of material whilst complying with all strength and stiffness requirements of a railway system.

USQ Professor Peter Schubel says the research partnership highlighted a successful collaboration that will bring a step-change technology to an otherwise conservative sector.

“A major gap in the rail industry market was identified, leading to numerous research activities at USQ in transoms for a cost-effective, robust and sustainable technology,” he explains. “By working directly with Austrak and Laing O’Rourke, we can ensure the technology is delivered at the right cost point and commercialised to its full potential to rehabilitate the nation’s rail network.”

“For the past 20 years, USQ has dedicated significant research effort into developing innovative sleeper and transom technologies based on polymer composite materials, so it’s extremely rewarding to see the culmination of this work formulate the design and manufacturing of this new technology,” he adds.

Austrak General Manager, Murray Adams, says they were looking forward to exploring the use of polymer composites for railway transoms and sleepers as a commercially viable alternative.

“We foresee a large demand for innovative technology to replace the traditional bridge transoms in the near future and as the largest railway sleeper producer in Australia, we’re responding to the rail sectors need for alternative materials to timber. Through the CRC-P programme and in partnership with USQ and Laing O’Rourke, we would like to improve our understanding of composite technology, so that better designs can be developed to reduce the overall costs of composite transom decks and beams to the point where it is commercially viable.”

Industries: Construction, Mass Transport

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