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Quantum Sensor Research Project Aimed at Slashing Train Delays and Improve Passenger Experience

Railway station
Railway station
People walking in St Pancras station, London, near the Eurostar terminal

A new research project using quantum sensors is aimed at improving railway navigation technology in an effort to reduce train delays and increase passenger experience has been launched at the University of Birmingham, according to a news release from the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing.

The project aims to tackle one of the rail sector’s biggest challenges: how to pinpoint the accurate location of a moving train. Overcoming this challenge is key to ensuring fewer train delays and increased passenger safety.

The University of Birmingham-led UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing and the University of Birmingham’s Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) are joining forces to solve this problem.

Experts from both centers will collaborate to develop a system for quantum-enabled navigation, which is a standalone system capable of capturing highly accurate measurements without reliance on Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), which will help engineers ensure the health of the railway track and passenger ride comfort.

“The quantum sensors will provide highly accurate measurements that will help to detect the rate of change of the track, and subsequently, any deteriorations which might lead to faults.”

“The system we are developing will have gravity map-matching capabilities, allowing engineers to understand what is happening underneath the track as well as the train’s movement,” explains Professor Clive Roberts, Director of BCRRE at the University of Birmingham, and Co-Investigator for the Navigation work package at the Quantum Technology Hub.  “The quantum sensors will provide highly accurate measurements that will help to detect the rate of change of the track, and subsequently, any deteriorations which might lead to faults.”

Professor Costas Constantinou, Chair of Communication Electrodynamics and Director of Research and Knowledge Transfer at the University of Birmingham’s College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, said: “Our dependence on GPS can leave navigation systems vulnerable to spoofing or, more frequently, loss of positioning due to weak network signals – a particular challenge when trains are moving through tunnels, for example.

“Our standalone navigation system does not rely on satellite signals and is therefore not exposed to the same external risks experienced by GNSS.

As part of the project, field tests will take place on the test track at Long Marston, in Warwickshire early next year, where sensors will be installed on a purpose-built stabilization platform in a train.

Industry collaboration is central to the Quantum Technology Hub’s goal of translating science into real-world applications, and Hub academics are working with Network Rail and other international railway organizations to bring precise navigation to the rail sector.

The UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing, which partners with the Universities of Glasgow, Strathclyde, Southampton, Nottingham, Sussex, Imperial College London, NPL and the British Geological Survey, is also actively developing quantum inertial navigation systems for use on ships and cars. The Hub’s aim is to create robust systems to support the services which make up the UK’s critical national infrastructure, including transport, civil engineering and communications.

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Matt Swayne

With a several-decades long background in journalism and communications, Matt Swayne has worked as a science communicator for an R1 university for more than 12 years, specializing in translating high tech and deep tech for the general audience. He has served as a writer, editor and analyst at The Quantum Insider since its inception. In addition to his service as a science communicator, Matt also develops courses to improve the media and communications skills of scientists and has taught courses. [email protected]

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