Atkins has announced the appointment of Professor Peter Woodward as its first-ever Chair of High-Speed Rail Engineering for the UK.

Currently Professor of Railway Geotechnical Engineering and Head of the Institute for Infrastructure and Environment at Heriot-Watt University, Prof Woodward will provide technical advice and work together with Atkins’ team to overcome some of the challenges of high speed as we push the boundaries into the realm of ultra high speed rail.

Douglas McCormick, managing director of Atkins’ Rail business, said: “The requirement for high-speed rail is growing at a pace, with projects worldwide expected to be worth £100s of billions in just the next 15 years. The combined efforts of Atkins and Prof Woodward offer a real opportunity to develop solutions in the UK that will overcome global challenges, to the benefit of UK Plc.

“Peter is a recognised industry expert and his appointment as Chair of High-Speed Rail Engineering further underlines Atkins’ commitment to both the rail industry and Heriot-Watt University. As we also face an ongoing skills shortage in our sector I believe that, together, we have a great opportunity to develop students and produce world-class engineers who can solve the problems of tomorrow.”

Professor Peter Woodward said: “This is a wonderful opportunity to bring together the best in the railway industry in the UK and internationally with the best of cutting-edge academic research.

“High and ultra-speed railways are our future, they have the capacity to transform the economic prosperity of nations and our challenge is to develop the technology to underpin their successful implementation and cost-effectiveness across the world.

“Heriot-Watt already has the UK’s biggest purpose-built laboratory test track bed (GRAFT II) which can predict the effects of high-speed trains and simulate the effects of decades of operation on major lines. With the support of Atkins we plan to construct the world’s most advanced railway test track facility (GRAFT III)  and to develop the world’s premier railway testing organisation for high-speed.”

Atkins and Heriot-Watt University signed a landmark Memorandum of Understanding in July to create a High-Speed Centre of Excellence. The next stage is to look at constructing the world’s most advanced railway test track facility to push the boundaries of railway track research beyond high speed into the realm of ultra high speed, trains that run at 400km/h.