Trapping the sand not to miss the train of the desert

Title of the research project 

SMaRT - Sand Mitigation around Railway Tracks

Scientific area  

Civil Engineering, Mathematical-Physics, Geomorphology


More and more often trains cross the deserts. They carry pilgrims, minerals, freight. Wind-blown sand is troublesome for trains: it covers the tracks, wears rails and wheels, and causes train derailments. SMaRT is a research project that aims at solving these problems by developing efficient tools of simulation and analysis, effective and innovative sand mitigation measures.

Description of the research project  

In the last decade, a growing number of railways have been designed and or built in arid regions worldwide. For instance, North Africa and Middle East Countries have allocated about USD 260 billion to build 40,000 km of railway tracks up to 2030. This is more than twice the overall European high-speed railway network.

In arid environmental conditions, windblown sand can have undesired effects on both the safety side and the serviceability/maintenance one. Hence effective, durable, robust Sand Mitigation Measures are mandatory.

The design and verification of sand mitigation measures currently remain in the realm of empiric practice. The design of Sand Mitigation Measures suffers then the scarce transfer of knowledge from some specialist research fields (e.g. Wind Engineering, Geomorphology) to the Transportation and Civil Engineering design practice and industry.

The European railway Industry offers a strong overall know-how thanks to its past experience. Such competences should be complemented by advanced and specialized knowledge in the design and analysis of Sand Mitigation Measures.

Innovative sand mitigation competences should find their place in the long production chain of the railway industry. Innovation provided by academy should be developed by specialised consulting companies, then applied by railway construction industry.

The SMaRT Research and Training Programme is inspired by this problem features, and aims at:

  • conceiving innovative and effective Sand Mitigation Measures;
  • developing predictive simulation tools of the sand-wind-SMM interaction, to allow the quantitative assessment of the SMM performances;
  • “landing” the SMM on landscape, by assessing in situ sand hazards within the context of landscape scale variability in aeolian processes;
  • training a new generation of young researchers, by means of a multidisciplinary and intersectoral doctoral formation.


Impact on researcher’s career and on society 

SMaRT wants to be an opportunity for a international, multidisciplinary, and intersectorial debate among specialists from different scientific fields, united by a single concrete objective: finding efficient solutions for mobility in extreme environmental conditions, such as those present in desert regions.

SMaRT plans to offer to young researchers an intersectoral training on subjects and methods that are scientifically innovative, and of relevant industrial interest.

SMaRT plans to offer a contribution to the transfer of knowledge and to the innovation of European industry required to export competences and products toward countries characterized by a fast  economic and social growth.


Working group @Polito 

Luca BRUNO, Associate Professor in Structural Engineering, Department of Architecture and Design 

Luigi PREZIOSI, Full Professor in Mathematical Physics, Department of Mathematical Sciences "G. L. Lagrange" 

List of beneficiary organizations 

University of Oxford - School of Geography and Environment – Oxford – UNITED KINGDOM 

Optiflow – Società di consulenza in Ingegneria del Vento Computazionale – Marsiglia – FRANCIA 

List of partner organizations 


Ansaldo STS 

Reco – Gruppo Salcef 

SMaRT project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 721798

  • Budget: 794,224.80 €
  • Start date: 1/01/2017
  • End date: 01/01/2021