The project, known as SecureMetro
, is a collaborative project led by Conor O'Neill with Newcastle University's NewRail
. The main objective of the project is to identify weaknesses in current rail car construction and develop ways to eliminate those weaknesses. By using materials developed through the project, researchers hope to increase the rail car's resistance to firebomb and explosive attacks. The ultimate goal is the reduction of damage caused to rail cars and the surrounding infrastructure, which would in turn increase passenger safety.
O'Neill told Railway Technology
"The primary objective is to improve metro vehicle resilience to bomb blasts and firebomb attacks through intelligent structural design and return the network to normal operation as quickly as possible. By doing this, we hope to reduce the attractiveness of metro systems so that they become less favored as a terrorist target - and ultimately minimize death and injury as a result of attacks."
O'Neill and his team studied the 2004 Madrid and the July 7, 2005 London bombings. They tested more than 64 types of materials, looking at how those materials reacted to "blast loadings". Looking at specific weaknesses in windows, doors and seats, among other things, they were able to determine that applying an inexpensive plastic coating to the rail car windows would prevent shards of glass from showering bystanders. They also learned that developing lighter, more energy-absorbing panels and tethering those panels can reduce the impact of a blast.
The team also looked at the effect of seat orientation, both "longitudinal and transverse, as well as mountings. O'Neill stated
"We also changed the glazing mounting; on some metro systems the glazing is held in by joints, while we experimented with bonding it on."
In order to test their findings, the researchers created a full scale 15 m long vehicle. Using a combination of sensors to measure acceleration, pressure and deflection, along with high speed video cameras, the team detonated an explosive devise next to their prototype vehicle in October. O'Neill called the test a complete success.
Following the testing, O'Neill said
"We are in the process of analyzing the multitude of data from our blast testing program and, by the middle of 2013, should be able to confirm which technologies are best suited for implementation in metro vehicle design throughout Europe and worldwide."
After detailed analysis, the team was able to confirm that preventing flying objects was key, saying
"With the plastic coating you see a clear rippling effect as the blast moves through the train but every window remains intact apart from the safety windows which are designed to be easily knocked out. Tethering ceiling panels reduced the risk of fatalities and injury from flying shrapnel and also meant the gangways were kept relatively clear of debris, allowing emergency staff quick access to the injured."
When photos of damage to train cars from the 2004 Madrid bombing are compared to photos of the damage in the prototype vehicle, it becomes clear that much of the structural damage in the prototype car is eliminated.
O'Neill admits they have not created a fully "bomb proof" vehicle, noting that a bomb on a train is going to have devastating affects, but he hopes that the new technology and ideas created by the project will greatly improve safety, saying
"What we've shown is that companies could make some relatively cost-effective and simple modifications that would significantly improve the outcome of an attack. These are all low-cost, simple solutions that can be put on existing trains which could not only save lives but also reduce the attractiveness of our railways for potential terrorist attacks."