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EPTA Highlights Opportunities for Composites in Rail

EPTA Highlights Opportunities for Composites in Rail

  • Tuesday, 25th September 2018
  • Reading time: about 4 minutes

As the rail sector looks to new technologies to enable it to answer sustainability, performance and cost challenges, applications for pultruded composites are set to grow, according to a new report from the European Pultrusion Technology Association (EPTA). Lightweight, high performance, durable composites offer energy efficient solutions with lower environmental impact and reduced through-life costs in rolling stock and rail infrastructure.

The EPTA industry briefing, Opportunities for Pultruded Composites in the Rail Market, discusses the drivers for increased adoption of composite materials in the rail sector and the growing number of applications for pultruded components.

Growing populations, accelerating urbanisation, resource scarcity and climate change are driving demand for more sustainable mobility solutions. Significant investment in rolling stock and infrastructure will be required to create a railway fit for the 21st century. Modernisation strategies call for improved, energy efficient trains which are faster, safer and more comfortable, and which operate more reliably and cost effectively. New technologies and materials will play a big role in this transformation. According to the EPTA report, composite materials can offer cost-effective, versatile alternatives to traditional construction materials, without compromising safety, providing advantages for the train operator, rolling stock and infrastructure owners, and ultimately the customer, including:

  • sustainability improvements: reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions
    per passenger km;
  • operational benefits: lower energy costs, faster acceleration, increased payload;
  • reduced lifecycle costs: fast installation, lower maintenance, reduced renewal frequency;
  • enhanced functionality: new design concepts, multi-functional components,
    customised solutions.

“As international policies continue to push to mitigate CO2 emissions from global transport activity, demand for lightweight materials such as composites will increase,” states Dr Elmar Witten, Secretary of EPTA. “Increased demand for lightweight, high performance, fire retardant materials for train interiors will favour pultruded components, and proven performance in interior applications over time will strengthen the case for adoption of composites in structural applications. The rail sector’s growing focus on through-life costs is a further factor improving the competitive position of composites against other materials.”

The pultrusion process, one of the few continuous composites manufacturing processes, enables the cost-effective, high volume production of parts with consistently high quality. As part of a multi-material design, rolling stock components manufactured from pultruded composites can provide a significant contribution to lightweighting initiatives and reduce through-life costs. Versatile pultruded profiles can find applications in both external and internal parts, enabling multi-functional designs not possible with metals. Large exterior body parts such as side panels and cant rails can be manufactured with integrated functional elements and customised shapes. Roof panels can span the whole ceiling from window to window, and it is possible to integrate air conditioning ducts and heating channels into the structure. Partitions, luggage shelves and storage units, tables, window trims, catering and toilet modules, and door components are some of the further applications for pultruded profiles.

In rail infrastructure, durable, corrosion resistant composites deliver low maintenance solutions of superior structural performance compared to steel, concrete and wood, and offer rapid installation and extended asset life. Pultruded composites offer the opportunity to create prefabricated, modular solutions which enable fast installation on site. Typically around 30% lighter than similar steel structures, composite pedestrian bridges can be easily transported from factory to site as prefabricated assemblies or as a complete structure, for installation overnight. Unlike metals, glass fibre composites do not need to be electrically earthed, making them ideal for applications such as cable trays, third rail covers, rail joints, and trackside cabinets and ballast retention systems. Further infrastructure applications include sleepers and embankment shoring systems, tunnel lining panels, access platforms, and fencing and barriers.

The report briefing is available to download from the EPTA website:

Image provided by EPTA

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