Dr Yann Bezin, IRR's head of research, says In2Rail will effectively be starting with a blank sheet of paper, as if railways were a completely new concept unencumbered by their long history. "We will try to do something radically different and eliminate as much as possible the failure modes that are associated with the existing system."

For example, IRR has discussed with a number of partners new rail principles that completely avoid switch rails as they are commonly used, which are exceptionally prone to damage.
Also under investigation will be the potential for smart tracks embedded with sensors and mechatronics to enable them to monitor for damage and self-adjust over time to compensate for normal wear and tear. This would remove maintenance staff from the tracks, reduce disruption and permit 24-hour freight operation.

"It is difficult, but it is achievable with smart systems and smart structures," says Professor Simon Iwnicki, director of IRR. "And if you do have to suspend services, you only do it when it is absolutely necessary, plan it in advance and get in and out quickly."

IRR's computer modelling skills will enable it to use simulation techniques to test the efficacy of some of the radically new systems being proposed. Loughborough University, which has special expertise in control systems, will assist IRR with the project.

In2Rail is being led by Network Rail, Britain, and Trafikverket, Sweden.