This PhD studentship is funded by Network Rail, the owner and infrastructure manager of most of the railway network in Great Britain, and Furrer+Frey, presently an international leading and innovative, mid-size supplier of overhead contact lines. The project will aim at the environmental fatigue life investigation of Automated Fibre Placement Process (AFPP) for composites to be used in the overhead line supporting structures. The project will provide the opportunity to collaborate with industrial partners and develop testing methodology and simulation tools for the prediction of fatigue life in composites structures under complex environmental and mechanical loading conditions. Read more Read less

Overhead line equipment (OLE) refers to the overhead wires and supporting infrastructure that carry electricity at 25,000 volts to power electric trains. Due to the difference in the static and dynamic actions on different railway lines, the design of the OLE structure can vary in complexity and geometry. It can be single or double cantilever, twin track cantilever, portals, headspans and spanwire portals.

In all these configurations, four main loading conditions acting on the structure are stressing the structures and they include dead loads, live loads, accidental loads and construction loads. In order to meet the stiffness and strength required as well as ensure electrical conductivity in case of faults, the conventional design of mast is based on galvanised steel or weathering steel, which is heavy and difficult to handle and install. This material also implies a major carbon input at the time of manufacture and installation, this latter due to piling and excavation.

The aim of this PhD studentship is to optimise the structure of the OLE focussing on the mechanical characterisation of the environmental fatigue response of composites structures. The optimisation will also include a more detailed description of the load time history and environmental effects to account for the fatigue damage and degradation as well as avoid bonding and its negative impact on stiffness and strength.

The main objectives are: - Develop testing protocols to investigate environmental and mechanical damage accumulation in composites - Correlate manufacturing parameters and damage observed in testing - Identify criteria to estimate the combined effects of environment and stress on the damage - Validate numerical strategies to estimate damage accumulation

The student will be part of the Advanced Vehicle Engineering Centre in the School of Aerospace, Transport and Manufacturing (SATM). SATM is a leading provider of postgraduate level engineering education, research and technology support to individuals and organisations. At the forefront of aerospace, manufacturing and transport systems technology and management for over 70 years, we deliver multi-disciplinary solutions to the complex challenges facing industry. AVEC delivers research across a range of specialist areas associated with vehicle engineering to a wide range of industrial sectors from automotive manufacturers to space vehicle research teams, but always with a strong focus on improving vehicle performance and/or reducing the environmental impact and energy consumption of a vehicles manufacture and use.

Network Rail owner and operator of most of the rail infrastructure in Great Britain including 32,000 km of railway tracks, signals, overhead wires. Network Rail is interested in developing a lighter, cheaper and quicker to instal composite solution for the OLE structures. Furrer+Frey are suppliers and installers of electrification schemes in the UK and internationally. They are active on several Network Rail schemes and are keen to develop masts which are lower-cost, quicker to install and have an overall lower carbon footprint. They are also participating in the current DfT road catenary trails for HGVs.

This project will provide the necessary tools to perform a reliable and robust design of composite structures for railway electrification.

The successful candidate will be working at Cranfield alongside Network Rail and Furrer+Frey to develop cutting edge methodology for testing and simulation of complex damage mechanics problems.

The student will have the opportunity to attend internal training at Cranfield University as well as external opportunity as well as present the results of the project to conferences.

At a glance

  • Application deadline24 Jun 2022
  • Award type(s)PhD
  • Start date01 Oct 2022
  • Duration of award3 years
  • EligibilityUK
  • Reference numberSATM282

Entry requirements

Applicants should have a first or second class UK honours degree or equivalent in a related discipline. This project would suit candidate with strong background in structures, materials and composites and experience in stress analysis, fatigue and damage mechanics in composites would be a desirable.


Stipend salary of £18,000 per year, for 3 years, plus budget for consumable and travel. Applicants must be classed as a home student and must be either a UK national (meeting residency requirements), or have settled status, or have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements) or have indefinite leave to remain or enter.

About the sponsor

Sponsored by Network Rail and Furrer&Frey, this studentship will provide a bursary of £18,000 (tax free) plus fees for three years.

Cranfield Doctoral Network

Research students at Cranfield benefit from being part of a dynamic, focused and professional study environment and all become valued members of the Cranfield Doctoral Network. This network brings together both research students and staff, providing a platform for our researchers to share ideas and collaborate in a multi-disciplinary environment. It aims to encourage an effective and vibrant research culture, founded upon the diversity of activities and knowledge. A tailored programme of seminars and events, alongside our Doctoral Researchers Core Development programme (transferable skills training), provide those studying a research degree with a wealth of social and networking opportunities.

How to apply

If you are eligible to apply for this research studentship please complete the online application form.

For further information please contact: Dr Marzio Grasso