University of Sheffield Professor announced as railway engineering 2019 Research Chair by Royal Academy of Engineering

The Royal Academy of Engineering has announced a new Research Chair to be led by University of Sheffield mechanical engineer Professor Roger Lewis.

Professor Roger Lewis from the University of Sheffield standing next to a trainProfessor Lewis’ position is one of five Research Chairs and Senior Research Fellowships awarded by the Academy to leading engineering researchers working on some of the biggest challenges faced by industry.

Focusing on projects across a wide range of engineering disciplines, researchers will work to enhance the links between academia and business, with each of the prestigious five-year positions being co-sponsored by an industrial partner. The awardees will also be aiming to establish a world-leading research group in their field.

Professor Lewis has been lecturing in the Department of Mechanical Engineering since 2002, after studying both his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at the University of Sheffield. His research in tribology – or the study of friction, lubrication and wear – has led to him becoming a world-leading expert in railway engineering, focusing in particular, on the interaction between wheel and rail.

The Research Chair is linked to this area of his research, looking at the management of the wheel/rail interface in low adhesion conditions.

His Chair is sponsored by Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), an industry body that works to deliver a better, safer railway through research, standards and analysis.

Commenting on his appointment, Professor Lewis said: “I am delighted to have been awarded a Research Chair by the Royal Academy of Engineering, sponsored by RSSB. It is an honour to be acknowledged for my research in railway tribology and to have the opportunity to progress this further during the five-year term.

“My research will focus on how the wheel of a train interacts with rail, and looking at ways to manage low adhesion between the two. Low adhesion between train wheels and the rail, caused by weather conditions, or leaves and vegetation for example, can cause problems to railway networks and passengers across the world.

“It can lead to issues with braking, including missed stop signals and station overruns, and in the worst case can result in train collisions. In the UK, the overall cost of low adhesion to the UK rail network is estimated at £345 million each year.”

With low adhesion identified as a key challenge for the efficient running of the railway, Professor Lewis’ partnership with RSSB will aim to provide a fundamental understanding of how the rail head becomes contaminated and the effect this can then have on friction, and in turn railway safety and performance.

Professor Roger Lewis from the University of Sheffield working on a railwayHe will also examine the effectiveness of cleaning, and other mitigation methods, in removing and preventing low adhesion issues. This will include modelling a train’s movement, incorporating changes in friction to understand and improve brake design, mitigation technology and assess train performance in low adhesion conditions.

Luisa Moisio, Research and Development Programme Director at RSSB commented: “As one of the founding members of the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN) and a promoter of collaboration between industry and academia, RSSB is pleased to co-fund Professor Roger Lewis’ Research Chair scheme, together with the Royal Academy of Engineering.

“This initiative will help strengthen the close research partnership between RSSB and the University of Sheffield in the area of tribology at the wheel/rail interface. We are certain that this will provide useful, use-inspired research to help the rail industry make a step change in the prevention and management of low adhesion, forming a key part of the ADHERE research programme.”

Neil Ovenden, Chair of the Adhesion Research Group (ARG), commented: “The rail industry’s Adhesion Research Group’s scope is to promote a wider understanding of the fundamental science and engineering behind wheel on rail adhesion, and ensure a system-wide approach to solving outstanding issues and in proposing solutions or mitigations to these.

“As such, the group and its predecessors are long standing and keen supporters of academic research. Professor Roger Lewis and his team have been engaging closely with ARG and have provided significant contribution over the last 15 years or more to knowledge in this area. On behalf of ARG, I look forward to continuing to collaborate with RSSB and the University of Sheffield on new, ground-breaking wheel on rail adhesion research.”

Professor Neil Sims, Head of Department at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Sheffield, added: “I am absolutely delighted that the Royal Academy of Engineering and the RSSB are supporting this research. Professor Lewis has developed a unique expertise on the tribology of rail systems, especially the issue of rail-wheel adhesion, so it is fantastic that this project will enable a strategic approach to solving such an important engineering challenge.”

Professor Lewis will commence his Research Chair in March 2019 and will undertake an inaugural lecture at the University of Sheffield on Tuesday 26th March, where he will discuss his background in railway tribology and ambitions for the Research Chair.

To find out more about the lecture, please visit:

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