Two Swiss institutions have been selected to take part in a European Union project looking at ensuring the safety of the continent’s railway bridges.
The project is assessing whether bridges can cope with the future demands of faster trains and heavier loads.
Transport experts say it should soon be possible to double the number of passengers using the European rail network, and triple the amount of goods transported.
At the same time, the safety of existing bridges – many of which are more than 50 years old and in a bad state – has to be guaranteed.
The Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (LMTR) and Lausanne’s Federal Institute of Technology are to collaborate with 30 other institutions on the EU’s “Sustainable Bridges” project.
The LMTR will play a key role in the electronic monitoring of railway bridges, while the Lausanne institute will study the effects of fatigue on the safety of steel-reinforced concrete bridges.
“A large number of bridges in the European rail network are old and in poor shape, a fact which represents a major problem for rail system operators,” said the LMTR in a statement.
“However, improved monitoring and maintenance makes it possible to avoid expensive renovation work, with the knock-on effects of reduced service levels.”
The EU decided last year to launch the four-year project, which is expected to cost more than €10 million (SFr15.26 million).
Its aim is to optimise the use of existing infrastructures and develop more efficient maintenance procedures.
The LMTR says accurate measurement and analysis could help avoid costly strengthening work, especially for newer rail bridges designed for lighter loads, which generally have significant unused capacity.
The eight-nation group lead by the LMTR will work on automated monitoring systems that can supply vital information on the serviceability, lifetime and safety of both existing and newly built bridges.
The value of the bridges in the European rail network is believed to be around €50 billion. If the project estimates are borne out by the researchers’ findings, it could generate savings worth several billion euros by 2020.
Project participants include rail operators, private engineering firms, research organisations and universities.
Another key area that the project will cover is the creation of an inventory of railway bridges, as an aid to planning the European transnational rail network.
All the EU partners will share funding of €6.9 million, but Switzerland’s contribution to the project has yet to be decided.
So far, only funding for the first 28 months of the Swiss share of the project is guaranteed.
30 institutions from the EU and Switzerland are taking part in the "Sustainable Bridges" project.
The overall cost of the four-year project is expected to top €10 million.
So far, €6.9 million in funding has been guaranteed by the EU.
The LMTR and Lausanne's Federal Institute of Technology will monitor the effects of fatigue on bridges.
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