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New Coating Helps Blastproof Trains

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

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Haunted by catastrophic terrorist bombings of their transit systems, European researchers have developed a window coating that helps keep glass intact when shattered by a blast.

The coating is one critical material advance among several by the EU-funded SecureMetro project team, led by Newcastle University in the UK and featuring a team of prominent engineers from across Europe. The work also includes the development of new energy-absorbing materials.
The team "has designed a new generation of train and metro vehicles to reduce the impact of a possible bomb attack on our railways," the university announced recently.
Train blast testing video
Images and video: Newcastle University

Filming the explosion, which takes less than a second, the team used high-speed cameras to slow down the footage to understand the mechanics of the blast.

The new prototypes follow years of research begun in the wake of horrific rail bombings that killed and wounded nearly 2,000 people in Madrid and London in 2004 and 2007.
The research is rooted in analysis of the London Underground railcars targeted in the four bomb blasts of July 2005 that killed 51 people and injured hundreds. The 10 Madrid bombings of March 2004 killled 191 people and injured more than 1,000.
The aim is for the new technology to be incorporated into European and national standards and regulations.

The team has released a video of a full-scale test on the latest rail prototype, which includes the new coatings and materials.

Containing the Blast

Led by Conor O’Neill of Newcastle's NewRail research center, SecureMetro's research has focused primarily on containing the impact of a blast and reducing debris—the main cause of death and injury in an explosion and the key obstacle for responders trying to reach injured passengers.

“A bomb on a train is always going to be devastating, but what we are trying to do is find a way in which the vehicle itself can help to mitigate the impact of an attack," said O'Neill.

Conor O'Neill

Conor O'Neill, of Newcastle University's School of Mechanical and Systems Engineering, leads the multinational project.

What Coatings Can Do

Preventing windows from hurling explosive-force shards of glass at passengers and bystanders would be a significant step forward, and the new coating appears to help do just that.

O'Neill calls the new window coating "incredibly effective."

"Without it," he says, "the windows are blown outwards—putting anyone outside, such as those standing on a platform, at risk from flying glass.

"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.”

Train blast test Train blast with coating

Left: Doors, windows and other components are blown in all directions after the blast on a conventional train. Right: New materials, including a blastproof coating, helps rein in the explosion's impact, containing the damage from flying debris.

The team has also investigated the benefits of dividing up the railcars using energy-absorbing materials that reduce the impact of the blast.

Development and Testing

In a controlled, full-scale explosion on a decommissioned transit railcar, the NewRail team began the process of assessing the impact that a terrorist attack can have on the vehicle structure.  Understanding the progression of the blast wave as it traveled the length of the car was key to understanding how the interior furnishings reacted to the blast force.

Filming the explosion, which takes less than a second, the team used high-speed cameras to slow down the footage in order to understand the mechanics of the blast.

Drawing lessons from this experiment, a similar test was carried out on a prototype, designed and built specifically with blast resilience in mind.

Other key modifications in the prototype include tethering down heavy equipment such as ceiling panels and equipment using retention wire and replacing heavier structures with lighter-weight and energy-absorbing materials.

London bombing - 2005 Madrid train bombings - 2004
Ajuk via Liberapedia (left); Pundit Press (right)

Left: Terrorist bombs aboard three London Underground trains and a double-decker bus killed 52 people and injured more than 700 in one hour on July 7, 2005. Right:  In March 2004, 10 near-simultaneous bomb blasts aboard four Madrid commuter trains killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,000. The multinational SecureMetro project is working on answers.

“Preventing flying objects is the key,” says O’Neill. “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."

“At the same time, we have to be realistic—completely replacing existing vehicles just isn’t an option. Instead, we have developed and incorporated new technology and materials into existing carriages to improve performance.

“And 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.”

The SecureMetro project will be sharing its findings with the rail industry.

O'Neill said, “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.”



Tagged categories: Accidents; Fatalities; Health and safety; Railcars; Transportation; Windows

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