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Innovation in transport enabled by regulations and fire retardant composites

Author: Pierre Gouhier, Engineering Manager at RPC Technologies

Fire, for the composites industry, is a significant topic of discussion. Indeed, the fire performance of composites, or lack thereof, has been and still is a barrier to entry into some markets. In some cases, such as the transport and mass transit industry, the fire performance of composites products is critical and is in direct competition with not flammable materials. Regulatory requirements are key to allowing the composites industry to compete.

Waratah at EDI Ausrail

The driver’s cab of Sydney’s Waratah trains is a fire retardant composite product manufactured by RPC Technologies. 

Fire is an event that requires three elements in the right amount: fuel, oxygen and energy. Remove one of those element and the fire will die. Fire is measured using a number of metrics, the most common ones are its ignitability, flammability, heat release, smoke emission, and toxicity.

The rail industry is one of the industries that has developed a significant regulatory requirements framework, and also an industry that is keen to use lightweight materials, hence where composites has been flourishing for many years.

Phenolic formulation, as we mostly know it today, was motivated in the 80’s, by the introduction of the stringent British Fire Safety Standard BS6853 (Lewark, 2007) for the Rail Industry. This standard, along with the French standard NF F16-101, have been the most used regulatory requirements in the rail industry over the last two or three decades. One of the problems with those standards has always been that one cannot compare the performance from one to the other. In other words, a “M1F1” product to the French standard is not necessarily a “Category II” to the British standard … This makes things tricky.

RPC - Melbourne tram composite cab

Fire retardant composites enabled the sleek modern design of Melbourne’s modern trams. Above: the driver’s cab Below: the interior
Images: RPC Technologies

In July 2013, the Rail industry saw the introduction of a new regulatory requirement aimed at superseding all others in Europe, EN45545. By superseding the French, German and the British standards (the most influential), this new standard is destined to become the new global norm when it comes to fire safety, and is shown to be more exhaustive than FRA/NFPA 130 (Markos & Shurland, 2012) used in the US.

Three and half years after its introduction, most of the global composites suppliers to the Rail industry, like RPC Technologies, are now supplying products to this new standard at various levels of performance (HL1,2 or 3). But the chase for new raw materials or systems complying to this new industry standard has been re-ignited (excuse the pun), which should hopefully bring some new innovation as the BS6853 did a few decades ago, which may open new doors. This is an exciting time for the composites industry in this space!


Lewark, B. A. (2007). Composites: Past, present future: Phenolics revisited. Retrieved January 26, 2017, from melb tram interior_web

Markos, S., & Shurland, M. (2012). Comparison of the US and European Approaches to passenger Train Safety.

More information:
RPC Technologies