Research collaboration with West Coast Partnership


The University has announced a research agreement with the West Coast Partnership, the franchise that runs rail services on the West Coast Main Line and selected as the operator of phase one of HS2.

The collaboration, led by scientists and engineers at the University’s Institute for High-Speed Rail and System Integration (IHSRSI) is worth more than £1 million and will focus on: 

  • Automatic Train Operation and European Train Control System – technologies, which include signalling, to keep trains operating safely.
  • Passenger movement on trains and in stations.
  • Full scale testing of rolling stock and their system integration.
  • Driver training and simulation
  • Passenger experience

We will be using a lot of leading-edge technologies and helping us to embed them into our operations will be the IHSRSI.

Caroline Donaldson, West Coast Partnership Development

The Institute for High-Speed Rail and System Integration will be capable of simulating the conditions found on busy rail networks.

The institute’s director, Professor Peter Woodward, said: “The institute was designed to speed up the time it takes to get new innovative ideas introduced to the railway – and to ensure that when they are brought into service, they work as intended.

“The facilities at Leeds will enable new technologies to be thoroughly tested and risk-proofed before they go live on a busy network, significantly reducing the likelihood of operational problems developing thereby reducing network delays and hence frustration among passengers.

“Our founding philosophy is to work closely with the rail industry, and I am excited that we are forming a research collaboration with the West Coast Partnership that will be shaping the UK rail industry for decades to come.”

The image shows a large greenfield site with various laboratories and workshops. It is an articst's impression of what the Institute for High Speed Rail and System Integration could look like.

An artist's impression of what the Institute for High-Speed Rail and System Integration could look like.

The cutting-edge facilities at the institute will include:

  • A specially designed vehicle testing rig – in effect, a rolling track that can test trains and carriages at speeds up to 250mph. Using a tilting platform, it will be able to simulate bends, ascents and descents. Programmable with GPS and track geometry data, it can recreate any rail route in the world. It will be used for designing and testing new traction and power systems, brakes and ways of increasing energy efficiency.
  • An infrastructure testing facility will be able to recreate the enormous forces that are generated on tracks, ballast and embankments by conventional and high-speed trains. It will allow engineers to significantly cut the time it takes to design and test new track and support structures.
  • A system-integration laboratory will measure how well different railway technologies – power, track, signals and customer information services – operate as an integrated whole. Major rail investment projects are sometimes delayed when systems are brought together and found to be incompatible.

Caroline Donaldson, Managing Director at West Coast Partnership Development, said: “We are at the start of a huge technological revolution on the West Coast Main Line. Within the next few years, trains will be greener and cleaner, passengers will travel in greater comfort, Wi-Fi will be faster and more reliable and there will be facilities to wirelessly charge mobile phones.

“In nine years, we will also be running high-speed services on the HS2 line connecting some of the nation’s biggest cities including Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and London.”

“We will be using a lot of leading-edge technologies and helping us to embed them into our operations will be the highly-skilled research engineers and scientists at the Institute for High-Speed Rail and System Integration.”

Construction of the institute, at a site next to the Leeds Enterprise Zone, has started but progress has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which will influence timings for completion of the facilities.

The Institute will form a key part of a wider strategy involving Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Combined Authority/Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership to develop a UK centre of excellence for rail engineering in the Leeds City Region.

Further information

The top image shows an Avant West Coast train arriving at Penrith station. Avanti West Coast is part of the West Coast Partnership. Picture credit: Avanti West Coast.

For further information, please contact David Lewis in the University of Leeds press office via or 07710013287.