Digital sensors to monitor and predict rail faults

Hitachi Rail and subsidiary Perpetuum are developing the first real-time digital solution for monitoring and ultimately predicting rail sections that affect ride quality and require maintenance.

Perpetual distance sensors are particularly easy to fit to existing fleets because of their ability to power themselves – using patented energy harvesting technology – they require no additional wiring or power sources (Image: Hitachi Rail)

The monitoring equipment: is currently installed on trains across Scotland’s networks, including the North Clyde Line, The Borders and Fife Circle. By installing digital sensors in trains, the pilot – awarded by Network Rail – offers advantages such as less nuisance for passengers and more safety; less risk for track workers; improved network performance; and further development of intelligent rail infrastructure.

Network Rail launched a half-million pound competition to develop and introduce new technology to improve rail maintenance in the next audit period (mid-2024). As part of this programme, it has entered into a contract with Perpetuum to extend its ride quality trial to Scotland. This development follows successful trials of Perpetuum’s ride quality monitoring technology with Network Rail on the West Coast mainline in 2019.

Currently, ‘rough ride’ locations are reported by drivers, followed by manual inspection by maintenance crews walking on the track. Perpetuum’s solution automates this monitoring and reporting, which is expected to improve rail safety.

In partnership with Network Rail, ScotRail and Porterbrook, Perpetuum uses its self-powered monitoring technology to measure real-time data between the train and the track. This is achieved by installing sensors with gyroscopes and accelerometers, either in the carriages or on the wheels of trains in passenger transport.

At this stage of development, the Perpetuum solution can identify the onset of warping or changes to the track. By applying digital analytic tools, Perpetuum can build a picture of areas at risk and needing inspection or maintenance in the future.

David Lister, Safety, Engineering & Sustainability Director, ScotRail said: “Anything that can increase comfort for our customers by making their journeys smoother, while reducing the need for unplanned downtime for parts of the track, is welcome and a tangible example of and rail working together to create a safe, efficient and reliable rail line.”

Safety warnings on track sections regularly lead to weeks of speed limits, which can extend journey times or shorten timetables. For operators, poor ride quality on the track can affect train performance. The data Perpetuum collects can help identify trains that are more prone to poor ride quality on certain types of tracks. This, in turn, can help identify where preventive maintenance can take place on the train to maintain passenger comfort.

Stephanie Klecha, Head of Digital Services at Porterbrook, said: “This project is a great example of how rolling stock data can improve and enhance the industry’s understanding of track behavior leading up to heavy rides. This will enable proactive tailor-made maintenance to solve this important industrial challenge.”

Abhishek Maheswari
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