The future of composites in the railway industry

Composites have been used in the railway industry since the seventies, but mainly for parts like seat supports, decorative elements and reservoirs. What about the potential of these materials for structural elements?

To use composites for structural elements there still seems to be a lack of knowledge and experience, and there is no regulatory framework either. However, the railway industry is unmistakeably eager to try it out. That is why Unife, the association of the European railway supply industry, launched the European REFRESCO project in September 2013. This project - which includes about a dozen partners like Bombardier, Alstom, SNCF, Siemens, Talgo, Dupont and CAF - aimed to study the possibilities to use composites for structural elements of trains.   

Promising results

The closing event of this project took place on 21 January. The results are very encouraging and show us that composites can definitively be used for structural elements, either for engines or carriages. Composites offer lots of advantages, such as lower weight, but also greater impact resistance and reduced maintenance needs.

During the project several partners identified certain aspects to be studied and which need to be worked on to use composites sustainably in structural elements. There are clearly two restrictions: 

  • A lack of certification or certification not fully adjusted to composites;
  • A lack of experience: users need guarantees about sustainability and reliability of the new materials.

Following these positive results a new project - Roll2Rail - and a European collective technology initiative for the railway industry - Shift2Rail - were set up aimed at producing demonstration models and ensuring that adequate certification is put in place. 

During the next Innovation Day of CFK Valley Belgium on 8 April this topic will be discussed in more detail. More information to follow soon!

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