DIAB Divinycell P rail electrification

Diab´s core material enters the rail electrification beauty pageant

You have probably seen the masts that provide electricity to railways. They are usually plain poles and arms of little or no visual interest. Functional, but ugly. But what if they could be designed with nature in mind? That is what Oxford Architects thought when entering the UK Government’s infrastructure competition for HS2, the new high-speed rail link planned to connect London with the north of England. And since innovative design deserves innovative material, why not turn to DIAB for assistance?

In order to achieve faster, quieter and more reliable journeys, as well as critically reducing the long-term life cycle costs of rail infrastructures, railways are heavily investing in electrification upgrades. In Great Britain, there are many electrification projects planned over the coming years. Among them is HS2, the new high-speed railway line from London to the north of England.

Well proven but plain
A railway electrification system supplies electric power to railway trains and trams without an on-board prime mover or local fuel supply. The overhead electrification technology is well proven and understood. The only problem is that most transport-related overhead line masts are very functional and not very attractive. Unlike most elements of railway infrastructure that have had some good design applied to them from time to time, electrification masts seem to have been totally overlooked. That is, until now.

Challenging the ordinary
Oxford Architects are an innovative, professional design company looking to create contemporary design solutions for buildings and structures. In January 2014, Oxford Architects submitted an entry to the UK Government’s HS2 (High Speed Rail Link) international competition project.

The project brief challenged the current infrastructure framework for the support of the rail electrification system. It called for alternative designs offering an improved aesthetic that could be implemented along the length of the new train route, cutting through areas of outstanding natural beauty.

Ground-breaking design based on composites
To create a lightweight structure that could be connected to the ground in many different ways, depending on the topography and embankment conditions, Oxford Architects contacted Diab for help with the composite material to stabilize the horizontal and vertical beams.

With Divinycell P100 as core reinforcement, Oxford Architects developed a totally new structure design for the electrification. Called “Fronds in the landscape”, it took cues from nature to form a concept totally in tune with the landscape. This is the first time composite materials were considered for construction of an electrification system, enabling both a lightweight and complex cost-effective shape.

This was also the first time that Oxford Architects had worked with Diab.

– Working with Diab was essential, says Tony Mullin, Partner at Oxford Architects. It allowed us to mesh technology with design at a conceptual level to ensure that what we were proposing was robust and deliverable. Although we didn’t win this time, it would be great to cooperate with Diab on another project another day.

This project shows what sandwich composites, being lightweight and easy to shape, can bring to architects and designers looking for innovative and challenging designs in novel applications.

Louise Eriksson Jacka
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