ARC-funded centre to give students the skills needed to meet Australia’s rail transport challenges

The Australian Research Council (ARC) is funding a new training centre at the University of Wollongong (UOW) to equip the next generation of engineers with the knowledge and skills needed to upgrade Australia’s rail network.

It is the first ever rail training centre to be funded by the ARC.

Funding for the Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Advanced Technologies in Rail Track Infrastructure (ITTC-Rail) was announced by the Minister for Education and Training, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, on Monday 5 June.

ITTC-Rail was given $3.9 million in ARC funding, to go with $1.8 million from Industry Partner Organisations for total funding of close to $6 million. At least 18 PhD students will be trained at the Centre over the four years of its funding.

Distinguished Professor Buddhima Indraratna from UOW’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences will be the Centre Director.

“Due to the dependency of the Australian economy on efficient heavy haul, there is a pressing need to upgrade ageing rail infrastructure by rejuvenating higher degree training with a new generation of engineers with advanced knowledge and practice skills,” Professor Indraratna said.

The Australian rail network is the sixth largest in the world ¬– with 38,500km of track carrying in excess of 1 billion tonnes of freight and 850 million passenger trips annually – and an essential part of the national transport infrastructure.

The University of Wollongong’s Faculty of Engineering has for many years contributed innovative and practical research to the rail industry. Photo shows The team at the Centre for Geotechnics and Railway Engineering (GRE) was established at UOW under the leadership of Professor Buddhima Indraratna (front) more than a decade ago and as a result of several geotechnical and rail track projects funded by the ARC since the mid-1990s.

Demand for safe and reliable tracks to accommodate faster and heavier traffic has been increasing steadily in the past decade, and ongoing improvements are essential if the forecast 6 per cent per annum increase in bulk freight is to be achieved cost effectively.

“Australia also has some of the world’s longest heavy-haul trains, exceeding 4km at times, with considerable challenges offered to railway engineers along problematic soil terrains. Through specialist training of industry-focused researchers, ITTC-Rail will meet the challenge of designing, constructing and maintaining the rail network,” Professor Indraratna said.

“This will involve close collaboration with companies in the rail supply chain, programs to promote novel design approaches, and innovative fabrication of products using advanced manufacturing techniques.”

ITTC-Rail is a collaboration between the UOW and eight partner universities: University of Sydney, Swinburne University of Technology, Monash University, University of Queensland, University of Newcastle, Queensland University of Technology, Curtin University and Western Sydney University.

Along with Centre Director Professor Indraratna, nine of the ITTC-Rail’s Chief Investigators are at UOW: Associate Professor Cholachat Rujikiatkamjorn, Professor Kiet Tieu, Professor Zhengyi Jiang, Professor Rian Dippenaar, Dr David Wexler, Professor Pascal Perez, Associate Professor Alex Remennikov, Dr Tao Yu and Dr Hongtao Zhu. Another 20 Chief Investigators are spread across the partner universities.

The 13 Industry Partner Organisations (Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation, Metro Trains Melbourne, Bridgestone Corporation, Geofrontiers Group, SMEC Australia, Ecoflex International, China Railway Eryuan Engineering Group, Innovative Technology Beijing, Nu-rock Technology, Tensar International Limited, Elasto-Plastic Concrete, Boral Construction Materials, Polyfabrics Australasia) will contribute 13 Partner Investigators.