The future of remote monitoring for the rail industry

The PANDAS-V remote condition monitoring system.

‘First of a Kind’ (FOAK) project develops new technology to revolutionise the monitoring, measurement and maintenance of rail assets and infrastructure.

Industrial technology specialists, Transmission Dynamics, have partnered with rail asset owners and operators to produce an innovative remote condition monitoring system. The system will better inform and resolve maintenance and operational issues across the UK railway network.

Faults and inefficiencies can occur across many aspects of the rail network, from issues and obstructions with overhanging wires, to track performance problems and defects within the train assets themselves. With each reparation of an overhead wire costing around £1.5 million to the industry, and other faults providing similar costs and time delays, solving these problems is a priority for the sector.

Currently, technology exists to monitor and display faults in isolation. But it lacks the ability to come together to effectively determine the root cause of a problem and thereby inform the most effective and timely maintenance planning.

Trains with Brains®

The ‘Trains with Brains’® solution brings cutting-edge sensor technology into a combined intelligence platform for rail operators. The technology gives, for the first time, a complete picture of the defect, its impact and the best resolution.

The system helps maximise the intelligence gained from the sensor technology. It provides a more complete picture of a fault, and the interaction between track, train and overhead wire that informs the most effective and fastest solution. Using video technology, the system can more accurately pinpoint imagery and location of the issue, giving valuable insight to maintenance crews and helping with any necessary route adjustments or delays.

Information on faults, potential issues and anomalies is displayed in real time across the Network Rail dashboard. Users can then interact with the Trains with Brains® platform for more information and data to assess its impact.

The solution is not without environmental benefits too. By reducing the time, travel and engineering processes of maintenance crews looking for and assessing the causes of faults, as well as minimising delays and travel disruption for passengers. Improving the performance and shelf life of trains, track and wiring assets by reducing areas of impact, inefficient runtimes and design flaws, are also all key to reducing the environmental impact of rail maintenance and operation.

The project scope

The SmartBug miniature wireless data telemetry system.

The SmartBug miniature wireless data telemetry system. Credit: Transmission Dynamics

The project is led by Transmission Dynamics. It has support from train operators West Midland Trains and Angel Trains as on-track demonstrators. It is also backed by Network Rail from a software, insight and operational perspective.

For the first time, the PANDAS-V® overhead line and pantograph tool, the Smart Oil Plug gearbox sensor, and the SmartBug® track-facing telemetry system, will all report simultaneously into a central data platform. The platform correlates their findings into one combined real-time analysis of issues across specific locations.

The project’s plan was to undertake a real-world test of the capabilities of the over-arching system across a set region in central and north-west England. The project looked at how the three monitoring technologies interact on journeys and how data is received, processed and displayed to provide the most effective information and solution for users.

Tests took place that focused on areas such as track sway, which impacted the train asset itself as well as the connection between the train and overhead wires. Other test areas included the video monitoring of obstructions and defects within the overhead line that would impact the safe passage of trains, or even cause damage to equipment. With no errors found across any of the data resulting from the tests, the project was able to prove its effectiveness across a live scenario.

Following the completion of the project phase, Jenny Hudson, Business Development Director at Transmission Dynamics, said:

We believe this is true artificial intelligence in action. The importance of keeping the UK’s rail network running is paramount, and the results the system achieved demonstrate the difference that a combined and holistic view brings.

Having the backing of Innovate UK and the DfT through the project has not only given us some valuable expertise and guidance for the scope of our testing, but also a real credibility in the market to take the solution forward to a wider audience.

What happened next

Both the hardware and software are already in operation in its test locations. The project is now moving towards more extended trials to demonstrate the system’s capability to work agnostically to any type of asset, rail, line and infrastructure design.

This not only supports their work to continue developing and upgrading the capabilities of the technology, but also to extend the reach of the solution overseas. The Trains with Brains® concept has already begun testing in Ireland, Canada, Austria, Australia and India, with further international opportunities also being explored.

About the funding

The project forms part of the FOAK demonstrator initiative. The FOAK initiative aims to accelerate innovation in the UK rail sector and enable new technology to be readily and efficiently integrated into the railway system. This project was successful under the ‘cost efficiency and performance priorities for a reliable railway’ funding theme.

The FOAK initiative is intended to support innovation solutions at high technology readiness levels in their route to market, and deliver scalable rail solutions that lead to deployment and real-world demonstrations.

FOAK is funded by the Department for Transport (DfT) and delivered in partnership with Innovate UK. As part of the FOAK 2022 initiative, over £6 million was allocated to 24 projects from across the UK. It is helping to deliver demonstrations and feasibility studies to tackle key challenges within the sector.

This project is just one example of how Innovate UK and its partners are investing to realise the vision for rail in the Transport Vision 2050 strategy document. The strategy document sets out what the UK transport system may look like in 2050, and outlines the likely steps along the way to achieving this. Innovate UK and its partners are currently investing over £500 million in transport programmes covering the pathways set out in the Transport Vision document.

Top image:  The PANDAS-V remote condition monitoring system. Credit: Transmission Dynamics

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