Scotland – Digital sensors can spot track faults and cut service disruptions


New Technology will see sensors able to predict sections of track likely to develop faults

First using 4D computer planning tools and now a small amount of railway lines in Scotland are seeing digital sensor installed that will have the ability to monitor and predict which sections of track are likely to develop faults and require maintenance.

Hitachi-Perpetuum the company behind the development of the tech have been working in conjunction with Network Rail, rolling stock leasing company Porterbrook and Scot Rail.

The sensors will be able to minimise disruption and improve safety along the network by being able to spot track defects before they are discovered by other more traditional and expensive means such as the new measurement train that network rail operate up and down the country. If the trail is successful then it could pave the way for a smart mobility system which as a whole will lead to reduce maintenance costs, improved safety and reduced disputation for passengers across the network.

SO far the Equipment has been installed at the following locations across the Scottish rail network, North Clyde Line, The borders and Fife Circle.

Benefits of fitting the system to the network includes:

  • reducing disruption to passengers and improving safety;
  • lessening the risk to track workers and cutting maintenance costs;
  • improving the performance of the network and the ride quality of trains;
  • a further step towards intelligent rail infrastructure that can predict and plan preventative maintenance.

The contract with Hitachi-Perpetuum follows successful trials of the technology on the West Coast main line in 2019. It is self-powered and measures data between the train and the track in real-time. This is achieved by fitting sensors with gyroscopes and accelerometers in carriages or on the wheels of trains already in passenger service.

At this stage of the development, it is possible to identify the onset of warping or changes to the track . By applying digital analytical tools, a picture of areas that are at risk can be built up, identifying locations that require inspection or maintenance in the future. The ability to identify and fix this before it causes passenger disruption means it can be a preventative countermeasure, while simultaneously creating intelligent rail infrastructure.

Perpetuum Sensor
Perpetuum Sensor

Regular use of railway lines means that over time, parts track degrade and need repair, resulting in bumpy journeys for passengers, speed limits, and weeks of potentially disruptive maintenance. At present, locations of rough riding are reported by drivers, followed by a manual inspection by maintenance crews walking on the track.

Perpetuum’s solution automates this monitoring and reporting, which improves the safety of the railway.
The digital technology brings the following benefits:

  • the ability to identify track faults and fix them early will improve reliability and minimise disruption;
  • the data collected can help identify trains that are more prone to poor ride quality over certain types of track, which in turn can help identify where preventative maintenance can take place on train to maintain passenger comfort;
  • the remote sensors are particularly easy to fit to existing fleets as they are self-powered and require no extra wiring or power sources.

Head of UK & Ireland, Hitachi Rail Jim Brewin, said:

“Introducing in-service monitoring technology to improve ride quality demonstrates how Hitachi Rail can utilise digital solutions that support track maintenance. This ability to bring train and track together can solve issues for both passengers and train operators.

“Hitachi Rail is committed to constantly pioneering and championing new technology to make our railways safer and more reliable.”

Head of Digital Services, Porterbrook Stephanie Klecha said:

“Porterbrook is delighted to support Perpetuum’s data-led approach alongside train operators and Network Rail which can deliver a better passenger service across these fleets. This project is a great example of how rolling stock data can improve and enhance the industry’s understanding of track behaviour in the run-up to rough ride events. This will enable tailored proactive maintenance to solve this important industry challenge.”

Safety, Engineering & Sustainability Director, ScotRail David Lister, said:

“The performance and reliability of our trains is always a top priority which requires both reliable trains and reliable track infrastructure so it’s great to see Hitachi Rail and Perpetuum developing this innovative digital technology to monitor and then predict which sections of track need maintenance using technology fitted to our passenger trains.

“Anything that can increase comfort for our customers by making their journeys smoother, while reducing the need for unplanned downtime for stretches of track is to be welcomed and is a tangible example of train and track working together to provide a safe, efficient and reliable railway.”

What do you think of these new sensors? Can you see them helping to improve the network? let us know in the comments

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