World’s First Railway Transoms to Use Fibre, Waste Composites

The UniSQ-Austrak project is supported by the Queensland Government through the Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship program.

Thu 10 Aug 23


A team of researchers from the University of Southern Queensland are installing the first railway transoms made from composites as part of a collaborative project between UniSQ and Austrak. 

The team, led by UniSQ’s Dr Wahid Ferdous, is replacing timber-based transoms, a railway sleeper used in bridges, with a new fibre composite and water-based material.

Transoms are structural members placed on top of open deck underbridges and spanning transversely across the longitudinal girders or stringers to attach rails and guardrails on top.

The team found that combining materials can produce a composite transom with a design life of up to 50 years.

As part of an Austrak-UniSQ collaboration initiative, a group of researchers from UniSQ has erected the first sustainable composite railway transoms in Adelaide.

Austrak has a patent technology to replace timber-based sleepers with concrete sleepers. Footage courtesy of @theedgeeonfx.

Established in 1980, Austrak is a world leader in designing and manufacturing pre-stressed concrete sleepers and is Australia’sAustralia’s largest manufacturer.

“This is more than three times longer than existing timber transoms, which last around 15 years, which means we can help significantly reduce track maintenance costs,” Dr Ferdous said.

“The knowledge and experience shared between the University and project partner Austrak have played an important role in validating these new composite transoms.”

The project has the backing of the Queensland State Government through an Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship.

The Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowships program supports researchers partnering with industry to complete original research that will positively impact Queensland.

The project is part of the UniSQ Centre for Future Materials. Learn more about the UniSQ Centre for Future Materials. (Photo Credit: Supplied by UniSQ)

Last month, Dr Ferdous travelled to South Australia to monitor nine composite transoms installed in the state’sstate’s rail track.

The transoms were tested under real-life loading conditions, which they then compared to the existing timber transoms.

“We found that the deflection of the rail track with the composite transoms was within the allowable track deflection limit,” Dr Ferdous said.

“I have conducted many tests on these composite transoms at the university’suniversity’s laboratory, where I had the chance to evaluate their performance critically. But it’s very exciting to see the research in action when it’sit’s translated into a commercial product.”

According to UniSQ’s, Institute for Advanced Engineering and Space Sciences Acting Executive Director Professor Allan Manalo, the university has been working extensively on many industry lead research projects, with the team helping to translate research into reality.

“This in-service performance evaluation will help demonstrate to railway engineers and authorities the durability and high-performance characteristics of polymer composite transoms and encourage the adoption of this new technology as an alternative to expensive and hard-to-secure hardwood timber for bridge transoms,” Professor Manalo said.

As for Dr Ferdous, he is now working on optimising the performance and cost of the composite transoms to make a more competitive product.

Dr Ferdous anticipated the new product could one day lead the Australian composite transom market whilst attracting international interest.


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