Antimicrobial poles for public transport

Person holding onto public transport pole risks infected with germs

Grab poles on trains and buses have hundreds of hands touching them every day, but a new project funded by Innovate UK could turn them into pillars of hygiene.

At various points in the pandemic, the public was told to avoid public transport where possible due to the airborne or surface transmission risks.

Project AMICABLE will produce lightweight composite grab poles with an embedded antimicrobial property to create an effective barrier against bacteria and help reduce viral transmission.

Collaboration between academia and industry

Derby manufacturing firm Composites Braiding Ltd (CBL) is leading the project, which includes researchers from the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) at the University of Warwick, Transport Design International (TDI), BioCote and Promethean Particles and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The poles will be retro-fittable, so they could replace current steel poles on buses and systems like the London Underground, as well as being fitted into new carriages and vehicles.

The team will be working on prototypes over the next 12 months and will have the opportunity to demonstrate the new grab poles within the Coventry Light Rail system.

Dr Darren Hughes, from WMG, University of Warwick said:

It is clear that a key point of contact for passengers is the grab poles and other similar structures. Therefore, incorporating antimicrobial grab poles into vehicles could encourage more people to opt for public transport, which is generally an environmentally efficient mode of transport.

Antimicrobial and environmentally friendly

Durability and cost-effectiveness are two priorities for the grab poles’ design, as are their green credentials.

Steve Barbour from CBL said:

Using in-mould coating impregnation and fibre commingling techniques, antimicrobial particles will be incorporated into the composite rails during the moulding process.

Importantly, as the antimicrobial material will be applied during manufacture, it becomes a permanent part of the structure and therefore is expected to be less susceptible to wear.

However, when it does reach the end of its life the thermoplastic matrix material will be inherently recyclable, making the grab poles environmentally friendly.

The team hopes the grab poles will increase public confidence in public transport post-COVID-19 and say they have huge export, as well as domestic, potential.

Last updated: 4 November 2022

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