Indian railway which was started in 1853 has grown more than 10-fold between 1951 and 2007, but the rail track length has only grown 1.4 times in this period. In spite of increase in investment in railway infrastructure around the world, in India the construction of new tracks is sluggish and uses the same manual intensive workflows that were used during its conception. A major development has been the introduction of concrete slabs, used as the track base instead of using traditional ballast (stone bed to stabilise and support the track) at some locations.
The aim of the this project was to design for the future of railway-track construction in developing countries like India and exploring a new track construction system suitable in this context.
This project resulted in the Volvo Link 500, a track laying machine which delivers value in terms of safety, consistency and efficiency of track construction.
Inspiration and Method
The project is a collaboration with Volvo Construction Equipment, a leading manufacturer of construction equipment. It was crucial to observe the process of railway track laying in India to be able to understand and extract key insights specific for the emerging-economy context. To do this, a field study in two construction sites in India was done. Interviews were conducted on site with site managers, and workers to get insights on their workflows. Experts from the Indian Railways Institute of Civil Engineering (IRICEN) were consulted to validate these insights and observations.
The research phase was concluded with the identification of quality, consistency issues of track laying and worker safety as the core problems of track construction in India . The opportunity direction chosen was to design a machine to assist linking the tracks and embedding the research insights in the design.
Volvo Link 500 is a new concept rail track layer which aids in the construction of an alternate railway track system.
The track layer lays prefabricated concrete slabs cyclically along a GPS route, minimizing operator error and increasing efficiency. Manual workforce is still involved in the rough work of placing dowels, which serve as GPS locators / slab guides. The design of the machine allows it to pass over a flat bed material-carrying train. It is cheaper, easier to assemble and transport than current solutions, and requires no auxiliary track because it uses pneumatic tyres.
This future concept tries to match the real present day needs of the emerging economy context with developments in railway track construction around the world. In essence, proposing to bring a future track laying product as the next step in the evolution of track laying in countries like India.