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PhD Studentship: RAEng/Rail Safety and Standards Board Project on Understanding Autumn Low Adhesion Effects

University of Sheffield

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Sheffield
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: Not Specified
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 15th January 2021
Closes: 14th April 2021

Supervisor: Roger Lewis

This project sponsored by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) and supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering and a range of railway industry stakeholders including the MetOffice, train operator North Trains and Network Rail as well as Supertram, builds on research from parallel projects studying the key physical and chemical factors associated with the creation of leaf layers and oxide/water mixtures that have used small-scale laboratory simulations of wheel/rail interface conditions. More understanding is needed of how the identified mechanisms are driven in the field where there are many more variables present.

Work will focus on combining laboratory small and full-scale tests alongside field observations and measurements of contamination on the railhead, environmental and friction levels throughout the day and between trains.

New measurement approaches will be developed that can be used to record railhead conditions at a particular point on the track as environmental conditions vary and trains pass and “clean” the railhead. Data will also be taken before and after railhead cleaning to study their effectiveness and how long the effect lasts before low adhesion conditions return. Equipment will also mounted to trains to take measurements along the track. Weather boxes will be used to record moisture levels and leaf fall data alongside, temperature, humidity and precipitation. Swabs will be taken and analysed (using XRD etc.) to establish what physical material is on the railhead. Collaborations with the MetOffice will help facilitate access to new measurement technology and weather data. A collaboration with the Sheffield Urban Flows Observatory in Sheffield will also provide data from their new 1km grid of mini weather stations across Sheffield and access to their mobile measurement unit. Supertram and Northern Trains will provide access to live track for the measurements.

Friction measurements will be taken so complete data maps can be built that allow relationships between environmental conditions, railhead contaminant and friction levels to be examined.

The successful candidate will be expected to publish their work in journals and key conferences (e.g., Contact Mechanics and Wear of the Rail-Wheel Systems – CM2021 in Melbourne, Australia (now in 2022).


  • 1st or 2:1 degree in Engineering, Materials Science, Physics, Chemistry, Applied Mathematics or other Relevant Discipline.
  • The funding covers the cost of tuition fees and provides an annual tax-free stipend at the standard UK research rate (£15,285 in 2020/21). This studentship is only available for UK / EU applicants. 

Please contact Prof Roger Lewis for more details:; 0114 2227838.

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