Case study

Supporting Derby’s rail sector

The city of Derby is home to the largest cluster of rail businesses in Europe and has a long and proud tradition in rail, spanning over 180 years. The rail sector, which has seen unprecedented growth in the UK over the past two decades, plays a key role in the UK’s future transport policy supporting clean economic growth, innovation and productivity.

The University of Derby has been playing its part in supporting a dynamic rail cluster in the city, through R&D collaborations with rail companies, a new research centre specialising in rail, knowledge exchange collaborations with other universities and our engagement with members of the Rail Forum Midlands. This forum is actively involved in delivering the Government’s Rail Sector Deal

Rail Research and Innovation Centre 

To support such a strategically important sector, the University of Derby established a new Rail Research and Innovation Centre (RRIC) in 2019 with funding from the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership. It is now supporting innovation and collaboration between the rail supply chains and our knowledge base, by providing technologies and equipment, as well as expertise through collaborative research and knowledge exchange projects. The Centre includes three technology ‘demonstrators’, which provide state-of-the-art equipment for advanced rail composite design and manufacture; rail data analytics and artificial intelligence; and future rail propulsion.

The Rail Research and Innovation Centre has directly led to a new HE collaborative knowledge exchange partnership. 

In October 2019, the University of Derby led a successful ERDF bid on behalf of a consortium involving the University of Birmingham and the Midlands Rail Forum to deliver a new programme of innovation support tailored to D2N2 SMEs already in or seeking to enter rail supply chain.

Crowle Wharf Engineers Limited

Safety critical rail engineering firm, Crowle Wharf Engineers Ltd (CWE), began working with us in 2018. They initially benefitted from a University of Derby ERDF-funded project, which gave them access to our technical expertise to help them develop rail coupler refurbishment solutions.

This has now grown into a longer-term collaboration through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), which has recently started. The KTP is looking at leveraging wireless technology to develop new train couplers that are more effective and reliable for train operators. Our engineering researchers are supporting the system design and testing. The Managing Director at the time of the project said:

“By working with the University of Derby, we will enhance our knowledge and skills via specialists who will embed new capability through innovation. This KTP will enable us to introduce new capability to the rail industry and could help us keep older trains running longer. In fact, it has already helped us secure new contracts. It will also mean we can create five new jobs during the two-year project and upskill our existing workforce.”

Alongside the ongoing KTP, we continue to support CWE in other areas. For example, their team are using the University’s tensile testing machine to do preliminary studies and calibrate some new testing facilities as well as receiving CPD on equipment based at our Rail Research and Innovation Centre.


The major rolling stock leasing company, Porterbrook, wanted to resolve an issue with the handrails on its trains. Straps and bags often get caught around the protruding ends of the handrails, which is inconvenient for passengers and could potentially cause injury or damage to personal belongings.

As a result, Porterbrook worked with our Institute for Innovation in Sustainable Engineering (IISE) to help it develop some 3D-printed prototypes of a new end cap for the handrails. Jenny Hicks, Porterbrook’s Maintenance Services Programme Manager, explained how it has helped:

“It allowed us to test the concept and present it to the operator, enabling them to make a decision on its viability. It’s been a really useful process.”

For further information or to discuss working in partnership with us, please contact our Business Enquiry Team on +44 (0)800 001 5500 or