Train Aerodynamics Research in 2020 Part 1


The book “Train Aerodynamics – Fundamentals and Applications” (hereafter referred to as TAFA) was published in early 2019, but in reality took no account of any material published after June 2018. In January 2020 I posted a review of Train Aerodynamics research published in the latter part of 2018 and all of 2019 to update the material in TAFA. In this two-part post I do the same for material published in 2020.

It should be emphasized at the outset that, as in last year’s post, this collation cannot properly be described as a review, which requires some degree of synthesis of the various reports and papers discussed. This of course requires a number of papers addressing the same issue to be available to synthesise. Looking at papers from a short time period that cover a wide range of subject matter, this is not really possible, so what follows is essentially a brief description of the work that has been carried out in 2020, with a few interpretive comments.

In this post we consider the papers that address specific flow regions around the train as outlined in TAFA – the nose region, the boundary layer region, the underbody region and the wake region. In part 2 we consider specific issues – tunnel aerodynamics, trains in cross winds and a variety of other effects.  In the text, published references are linked directly to their DOI, rather than to a reference list.

The nose region

The major aerodynamic feature of the flow in the nose region is of course the large pressure fluctuation that occurs as the nose of trains pass an observer. The major practical issue arising from this is the loading on passing trains or structures next to the track.

A number of investigators have studied these loads, using full scale, physical model scale and CFD methods. The most common structures investigated were noise barriers of different types, and a range of data has been obtained that adds to the general database of train loading on such structures.   Xiong et al (2020)  report a series of full-scale measurements to investigate the loads on noise barriers on bridges caused by different types of high-speed train running between 390 and 420 km/h. The variation of pressure with position on the barrier was measured and the results compared with earlier data from other experiments and codes. Oddly, the variation of load with train speed was considered in a dimensional way and was shown to increase with the square of the train speed – unsurprisingly implying that the pressure coefficients were constant. Also, a Fourier analysis of the unsteady data was carried out, which was not appropriate as the loading was deterministic rather than stochastic. Zheng et al (2020) measured the vibrational characteristics of semi-enclosed sound barriers at full scale, consisting of a box over track with panels on one side and on half the roof and an open lattice structure on the other side. Measurements were made using accelerometers and pressure loads were not measured directly. They supplemented their data with RANS CFD and FE vibration analysis. The CFD was validated for a short train against earlier tests and used to predict loads for the full-scale case that were then used in the FE analysis. Good agreement was found with the full-scale measurements of accelerations. Interestingly the authors found that to predict the measured vibrations, it was not necessary to take into account the mechanical vibrations caused by the passing train – this is somewhat contrary to previous work and is probably a function of the rather rigid geometry of the semi-enclosed barriers. Du et al (2020) investigated the pressure loads on a range of geometries of low noise barriers caused by the passage of high-speed trains, using moving model tests. The loads due to both single and passing trains were measured. The effect of train speed was again investigated through looking at dimensional pressure values only – but in effect show a near constancy of pressure coefficient as would be expected.  Luo et (2020a) made similar moving model measurements on two coach Maglev trains passing noise barriers, and investigated various barrier geometries using IDDES simulations.  Unsurprisingly the authors found that the pressures on the barriers were well in excess of open air values. Slipstream values were also measured and calculated in the gap between the train and barrier.

Liang et al (2020a) and Liang et al (2020b) measured loads on a bridge over the track and on the platform screen doors in stations and the roofs of enclosed stations, using moving model tests and LES or IDDES CFD calculations.  Good agreement was found between the physical and numerical modelling in both cases. For the bridge case, loads were measured at different positions across the bridge, for different bridge heights. There were no observable Reynolds number effects on pressure coefficients and good agreement was found with the CEN data collation. For the station case, good agreement with the CEN correlations was found for the station roof measurements, but the data for the various platform screens was widely scattered about the CEN value.

Moving away from the consideration of pressure loads, Munoz-Paniagua and Garcia (2020) investigated the optimization of train nose shape, with drag coefficient as the target function, using a genetic algorithm and CFD calculations of the flow around a two coach ATM (Aerodynamic Train Model). The looked at a large number of geometric variables and concluded that the most important parameter to optimize for drag was the nose width in the cab window region. 30% decreases in drag coefficient were reported but it is not clear to me whether this relates to the nose drag or the drag of the whole train.

The boundary layer and roof regions

A number of studies published in 2020 investigated the boundary layer development along high-speed trains, often in association with wake flow investigations. Whilst most of these  used CFD techniques, one study, that of Zampieri et al (2020) describes a series of full scale velocity measurements around an 8 car, 202m long, ETR1000 travelling at 300km/h. Measurements were made at the TSI platform and trackside positions and profiles of longitudinal profiles of ensemble average velocities and standard deviations were obtained. The effects of cross winds were studied and found to be particularly significant toward the rear of the train, where a significant asymmetry in flow fields was observed. These tests were supplemented by a range of CFD calculations using various RANS turbulent models. Only moderate levels of agreement between the two techniques were found. In my view the most important aspect of this work is the establishment of a high-quality full-scale dataset for future use in CFD and physical model validation.

The CFD studies all used DES or IDDES techniques. That of Wang et al (2020a) looked at the effect of simulating rails in CFD simulations of a two-coach high speed train, and although mainly concerned with wake flows, does present some boundary layer measurements. Wang et al (2020b) investigated the difference between the use of conventional and Jacobs (articulated) bogies for a three coach high speed train. Again, it is mainly concerned with the effect on the wake, but it does show that the use of Jacobs bogies results in a thinner boundary layer on the side of the train and reduced aerodynamic drag. Guo et al (2020) describes an investigation into the effect of the inter-unit gap between two coupled three care high speed trains. As would be expected from recent full-scale tests, an increase in boundary layer velocities is observed in the vicinity of the gap, with a significant thickening of the boundary layer on the downstream unit. Liang et al (2020c) investigated the effect of ballast shoulder height on the boundary layer and wake development of a four-coach train. Little effect on boundary layer was observed either on the train walls or roof. Finally, Tan et al (2020) carried out IDDES calculations for 2, 4 and 8 car Maglev trains. Unsurprisingly the boundary layer grew to be thicker along the eight-coach train than along the others. The maximum slipstream velocity increased with train length at platform level but was greatest for the four-coach set lower down the train.

Work has also been carried out to investigate boundary layer development on freight trains. Bell et al (2020) describe a series of full-scale velocity measurements around six different loading configurations of multi-modal trains. Rakes of anemometers were set up at three locations along the track, that enabled boundary layer measurements to be made. As all the configurations were different the normal technique of ensemble averaging was not possible. Nonetheless much valuable information was obtained on mean velocities, turbulence intensities, length scale and velocity correlations along the track. It was found that the effect of cross winds was quite marked, with significant differences between the measurements on the two sides of the track. Also, it was found that in general the effect of gaps between containers was small, except for the larger gaps in the configurations. The paper of  Garcia et al (2020) looks in detail at various CFD techniques for predicting the flow around container trains. In particular it investigates the performance of the URANS STRUC-epsilon methodology and shows that it compares favourably with reference LES results, with a much lower resource use. As part of the analysis the paper presents calculations for boundary layers around single containers with gaps in front and behind.

In a series of five papers, a group from China has investigated “Braking Plates”, flat plates that are lifted into a vertical position on the train roof in order to increase aerodynamic drag and act as brakes. All the papers describe IDDES CFD investigation on various geometric configurations of high-speed trains.  Niu et al (2020a) calculated the forces on a two car train and showed that the increased drag was more significant when the plate was on the centre of the roof rather than in an intercar gap. Niu et al (2020b) contains very similar material but with more flow field detail around the plates and the vehicle more generally. Niu et al (2020c) looked at the interaction between rooftop equipment such as HVAC units and pantographs, and the highly unsteady turbulent wake behind the plates. These interactions were found to be small. Niu et al (2020d) investigated the behaviour of plates near the nose and tail of vehicles in a two coach train, and showed that those near the nose were more effective in increasing drag than those near the tail, with the latter significantly affecting the vortices in the train wake. Finally, Zhai et al (2020)  calculated the flow over the roof of the train only and studied in detail the highly unsteady flow field caused the raising and lowering of braking plates at zero and ten degrees yaw. Whilst this concept is interesting, more work is required to determine how multiple plates would work together on longer more realistic trains – are the drag benefits significant in terms of the drag of the whole train. Also, the question remains as to how effective they would be in an actual braking process. Work is required to model the slowing down on trains using both conventional and aerodynamic methods to find out the speed range over which the braking plates make a significant contribution to overall braking forces.

The underbody region

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Two studies have been reported that look at specific underbody flow effects, rather than the effect of underbody changes on the development of the wake which will be reported below. The first is by Jing et al (2020) who report an investigation using a wind tunnel model of the flow over a 1:1 section of ballasted track, together with k-epsilon calculations of the flow beneath a two-coach train. They specifically look at the pressure distributions on different types of ballast configuration and draw some conclusions about the “best” ballast configuration to reduce ballast flight. However, the unrepresentative nature of the wind tunnel tests, and the lack of any link between the observed pressure distributions and the mechanics of ballast movement does not enable one to have a great deal of confidence in these conclusions.

Liu et al (2020) describe some very innovative studies of water spray from train wheels, addressing the problem of ice accretion in cold climates. The IDDES technique was used to study the flow beneath a two coach HST with detailed bogie simulations and rotating wheels. Water droplet trajectories were modelled using Lagrangian particle tracking methods.  Regions where water spray impinged on the underbody and bogies, and were thus prone to ice accretion were identified. It was noted that spray impingement fell substantially as the train speed increased above 250km/h.

The wake region

A number of CFD studies of the wakes of high-speed trains have been published in 2020, mainly carried out with two or three coach high speed trains, using DES or IDDES techniques. All identified the major wake structure as a pair of counter-rotating longitudinal vortices. Most of the studies investigated the effect of different geometry changes on these structures. Zhou et al (2020a) investigated the difference between train simulations with and without bogies, and found the longitudinal vortices were wider when bogies were present. A tail loop vortex could also be seen that shed alternately from each side of the train with bogies present but shed symmetrically with no bogies. Wang et al (2020a) investigated the effect of rails in the simulation and showed that the effect of rails was to constrain the width of the vortices and to reduce the TSI gust values. Similarly Liang et al (2020c) investigated the effect of ballast shoulder height on the wake, and in general found that the higher the ballast shoulder the lower were the wake slipstream velocities, both in term of ensemble averages and TSI values. High ballast shoulders tend to lift the wake vortices upward and away from the TSI measurement positions.   Wang et al (2020b) describe an investigation of the difference in wake structures between Jacobs bogies and conventional bogies. The former results in a narrower wake and lower TSI slipstream velocities. Wang et al (2020c) examined the effect of different bogie configurations, including a wholly unrealistic no bogie case, but with bogie cavities. Unsurprisingly this case was shown to result in the largest slipstream velocities, but because of its unrealistic nature has no real meaning.  Guo et al (2020) looked at the effect of the gap between two three car units on the wake of the combination. They found that the wake was wider for a double unit than a single unit, presumably because of the increased thickness of the train boundary layer at the tail. Two further studies of the effect of underbody clearance are reported by Dong et al (2020a) and Dong et al (2020b). Both use the IDDES technique, the first on a four coach ICE3 model without bogie representation, and the second on a three coach ICE3 with realistic bogie simulation. In the first case the ground clearance is directly changed, whilst in the second case it is changed by adding panels of different thicknesses onto the track bed. Whilst there are some effects of ground clearance on drag and lift and on the nature of the boundary layer flow along the side of the train, the primary effect in both cases is seen in the wake, as the underbody flow and wake vortices interact in different ways. For the more realistic case of the second investigation, increased TSI slipstream velocities were observed as the gap width decreased.

Tan et al (2020) present the results of an investigation of the boundary layers and wakes on two, four and eight car Maglev vehicles, rather longer than the vehicles used in the above investigations. The wake structures were very different for different train lengths, with a significant decrease in the Strouhal number of the wake oscillation as the train became longer.

Finally, Wang et al (2020d) investigated the wake structure of a two-car high speed train as the Reynolds number increased from 5 x 105 to 2 x 107. They showed that the overall flow pattern, in terms of large-scale vortex structure, tail separation positions and wake Strouhal number, was little affected by Reynolds number, although as the Reynolds number increased, more and more smaller scale vortex structures could be seen.

Part 2 of this review can be found here.

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