Train derailments and delays could be cut after trial of track fault detection system

Train derailments and delays could be cut after trial of track fault detection system

A data gathering system is being trialled which could make the UK’s rail network safer, reducing costs and delays, by identifying derailment-causing track geometry faults sooner.

After a successful feasibility study as part of Project ‘Automated Rail Geospatial Observation System’, Thales was awarded £500,000 from the Geospatial Commission via Innovate UK to trial equipment intended to detect and locate potential track faults.

Guilherme Beirao, who leads Thales’s technical delivery for the project, said:
“This is an opportunity to demonstrate an innovative use of technology with the aim of making our rail network safer and more efficient. That would be a big win for everyone involved in railways; Network Rail, the TOCs and passengers.”

The system uses Thales’s Robust Train Positioning System, originally designed to support train operations. RTPS takes data from a number of varied train-borne sensors and track map data, using an algorithm to combine this data to pinpoint its position on the network.

Next month the system will be fitted to an in-service GWR Class 150 cab and over the next five months data from RTPS, along with pitch, yaw and roll measurements from the sensors, will be transmitted to Thales’s data centre. There, it will be analysed, and assessment algorithms developed along with warning thresholds, to alert operators to track geometry faults.

Thales is working with York-based rail technology pioneer, Incremental, which is developing a user interface and threshold definition for the system, allowing Network Rail to define baselines and adjust warning threshold levels. This will also allow data collected from the system to be directly presented to track maintenance engineers and alert them of any abnormalities or developing faults.

Network Rail has an obligation to survey its track. However, its specialist measuring trains are tied to specific schedules, and while busy lines are regularly surveyed, those carrying fewer services, typically for freight, are checked less often. Freight trains account for more than half of UK derailments which have serious consequences, such as days of rail service disruption.

Fitting a survey system to even one in ten in-service trains would allow lines to be monitored more regularly. This would give early warning of potential problems which could be repaired before a derailment occurred or emergency speed restrictions had to be imposed, for which Network Rail has to compensate TOCs. Such a system could also verify finished repairs, allowing normal services to resume more quickly.

Daniel Lee-Burnsall, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Incremental, says:
“We’re delighted to be working alongside Thales on this fantastic project. Creating solutions for the railway that reduce delays and disruption to passengers is at the core of everything we do, and we’re committed to making the railway better for everyone.

“As an SME in the rail industry, it really is exciting to collaborate with large-scale businesses such as Thales. We’re a tried and tested partnership and we’re really looking forward to making a difference to the industry, once again, with this latest project.”

“Incremental works in a very agile way, exactly how our R&D projects are managed,” said Guilherme. “We enjoy working with the team, who are passionate and proactive and we’re collaborating on a number of other projects as well.”

Thales will present its findings to Network Rail, Innovate UK and the Geospatial Commission in a series of workshops in the new year.