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The Railway Challenge is a competition designed by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), aimed at engaging young engineers with the rail industry.  The challenge, now in its seventh successive year, brings together teams of university students, as well as apprentices and graduates working in industry across the world to test their business knowledge, design ability and technical skills in a live test environment.

The Railway Challenge at Sheffield (RCAS) is an extracurricular student-led activity within the Mechanical Engineering department at the university of Sheffield, that designs, codes and manufactures a 10 1/4 inch gauge miniature locomotive to compete in the IMechE’s  Railway Challenge.  The locomotive is assessed in accordance with a set of strict rules and a detailed technical specification, such as traction, ride comfort, and a business case. The locomotives are tested live at a competition, which takes place in June at the Stapleford Miniature Railway in Leicestershire, where several categories of winners and an overall Railway Challenge champion is crowned.

The team consists of around twenty members, and students studying Mechanical Engineering and even cross discipline can get involved as soon as they come to the University, getting into to the design of components within the suspension or braking systems for example, before proceeding to manufacture and test; allowing the students to experience all the stages of an engineering product as well as skills gained by working in the team such as effective communication, time management and financial planning.

Last year the team was granted a sponsorship from Maplesoft, and as a result, huge improvements were made within the team. Overall the team jumped from finishing in 7th place to in the summer winning the maintainability challenge and finishing in 4th place overall – mostly down to the electronics working for the first year ever!


Using Maplesoft’s donation the team switched form a central CRIO control system to a distributed network using I2C protocols and Arduino hardware. This did away with some of the electrical teething problems the team has suffered in previous years. It also introduced our Mechanical Engineers to coding that they would otherwise not do in their course.

This year Maplesoft have again sponsored RCAS. The team is hoping to use the licenses to perform their structures calculations in an easy way to keep track of them for use in the design report. They are also hoping to use MapleSim for dynamics modelling, to assist with suspension design, and designing any electronics or control elements, such as filter design and motor control.

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