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Network Rail has announced plans to provide millions of pounds to boost research and development (R&D) at eight universities.

As part of this move, Network Rail CEO Andrew Haines inaugurated the new National Infrastructure Laboratory at the University of Southampton.

The laboratory offers new facilities such as a large structures lab to test how rail tracks cope with hundreds of thousands of trains, as well as a geotechnical centrifuge.

These features mean the entire life service of different train components can be simulated in a few hours.

University of Southampton professor of geotechnical engineering William Powrie said: “Infrastructure and urban systems underpin modern life. Our new facilities, which will be open to researchers from around the world, will support research to ensure that our infrastructure is affordable, adaptable, resilient and transformational.

“Our research in rail infrastructure has underpinned innovation and design improvements for several years. This new investment by Network Rail will accelerate customer-focused improvements in performance, cost-efficient design and carbon-neutral construction.”

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The company has agreed to eight framework contracts with the universities of Birmingham, Heriot-Watt, Huddersfield, Loughborough, Newcastle, Nottingham, Southampton and Sheffield.

These contracts will aid the company to deliver its R&D portfolio in the next five years.

The universities are part of the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN), which is a partnership between the universities and rail supply industry.

As per the contracts, Network Rail will provide a minimum £10m investment to the universities to deliver the R&D portfolio and for the universities to maintain core teams and nurture talent.

Haines said: “We know that, above all, passengers want a reliable railway and to be looked after when things don’t go to plan. Our railway is growing, but it’s congested and ageing, and we’re also dealing with more frequent incidents of extreme weather. We quickly need ideas and technology to help us meet these challenges.

“Universities are a critical source of innovation for the rail infrastructure of the future, and a stronger relationship allows us to come up with faster, better solutions than we could ever do without their support.”