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  • Periodic Reporting for period 1 - WARNTRAK (Rail track monitoring system - Wireless Autonomous On-Board System measuring vibration with continuous reporting to reduce maintenance costs and enhance reliability and safety.)

WARNTRAK Report Summary

Project ID: 672265

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - WARNTRAK (Rail track monitoring system - Wireless Autonomous On-Board System measuring vibration with continuous reporting to reduce maintenance costs and enhance reliability and safety.)

Reporting period: 2015-06-01 to 2016-05-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Railways today must battle between the demands of ever increasing operations and the corresponding rising maintenance workload that follows - more passengers or freight means more trains, more mileage, more asset wear, more maintenance and therefore less time in the timetable to deliver the increased services. The traditional approach of operate during the day and maintain at night have been under threat since the resurgence of freight services but the situation going forward means a new approach will be necessary. We must look to maintaining assets when their condition requires it and not based on a one-size-fits–all approach based on time or mileage

Track maintenance is particularly disruptive for obvious reasons. Track asset condition is monitored principally through two methods – specialist measurement trains and manual inspections. Both of these require dedicated access to the railway and displace revenue generating services. They also provide two very extreme levels of inspection – an infrequent, network wide, highly accurate, fully loaded operation from the measurement train, and a more frequent, low accuracy, small scale, unloaded operation from the track teams. Another consequence of the complexity of track works is that they are often postponed until the “11th hour” in a bid to buy time to identify priorities between the competing programmes of work. Sadly prioritisation cannot be done on a real-time factual basis due to the operational conflicts mentioned above – meaning poor prioritisation of work, inefficiencies and therefore a lower all round quality of track condition than would have been achieved if the rate of deterioration and location was known months in advance.

By mounting vibration sensors to the unsprung areas of passenger and freight units, information on the actual condition of the rail, track and trackbed across the network can be communicated to the maintenance teams in real time and months ahead of any urgent corrective measures, resulting in huge cost savings and considerably enhancing passenger safety. Instrumentation using this principle is being deployed by Perpetuum today for axle bearing and wheel condition monitoring, using the same core components and so has been technically de-risked. Extracting specific track related information, and accurately interpreting that information so that appropriate remedial work can be scheduled without direct (manual) track inspection is a new and exciting application for this data stream. In addition to the savings in track maintenance, track inspection team safety will be improved and measurement trains can remain doing what they are designed for – very detailed infrequent audits of the infrastructure asset status.

In all cases the asset condition information must be completely reliable, simple to interpret so that it can be acted upon immediately – there is a critical distinction in this market between communicating data and providing information. Users are not expected to have specialised skills to use the information and the products have been designed to be maintenance free. System outputs should therefore fit seamlessly into the users existing processes.

The objective of this work is to provide real time information on track condition derived from axle box mounted vibration sensors. The visible output of the project will be a usable data stream, with rigorous analytical backing from a number of physical and numerical modelling tools that will be used to build our understanding of how bogies react to track defects, and how axle box mounted sensors respond.

In parallel with development of data processing and modelling, the sensing and communication capabilities of the sensor nodes will be extended to provide continuous data from much longer trains. The existing product, which is optimised for passenger unit bearing and wheel condition monitoring, is limited to short range communication and intermittent reporting, which increases the response time of the track monitoring system.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

"The majority of the progress made up to February 2016 has been in data processing, progressing towards a real time website providing real time representations of track vibration data, and in improvements to Wireless Sensor Node design necessary to improve data quality and flexibility of the nodes. Improving communication to the nodes has required development of a new type of wireless mesh network ("String"), for which a patent has been applied.

The live website showing track vibration data has already been shown to reflect a range of track defects, and has been used to direct remedial work on a defect that had not been detected by the New Measurement Train (NMT). This website has been made available to Network Rail personnel. It has also shown the effects of work done on the track, indicating the possibility of improving understanding of how track behaves - information that might be used to enhance track maintenance quality in the future. This is new information for the rail maintenance industry.

The bearing test rig has been designed and will be installed at the University of Southampton, where there is space to house it and interest in using it for academic investigations past the end of the project period."

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The live track quality reporting provided by the website and track vibration data from sensor nodes has the capability of providing the measurement information in real time that is necessary to properly manage a rail network. It has already provided what is probably unique real time response data to work done, detecting minor changes to track alignment in response to work in other locations.

Improvements to rail network management at relatively low cost, compared with the cost of track maintenance and lost capacity from poorly planned maintenance or speed restrictions caused by poor maintenance, have the capacity to significantly improve rail travel for both passengers and freight, with a subsequent positive impact on both society and the environment from improved communications and fewer resources required to maintain major infrastructure. We have already provided useful monitoring results to Network Rail track maintenance managers and demonstrated new insights into track behaviour.

The new harvester powered sensor communication system for trains that we have developed, and applied for a patent, could be used to add an open communications channel to any train. The instrumentation could be used to reduce maintenance requirements for both track and vehicles, as well as enabling freight truck tracking economically. This could have a significant impact on the cost and convenience of passenger and freight transport.

The bearing test rig will be unique, as the only test rig specifically designed to measure vibration from bearings. As well as the benefits in refining track quality measurement this knowledge will improve detection of bearing failures, with a consequent impact on maintenance regimes and ultimately safety - catastrophic failure of bearings can lead to significant track damage and has the potential for derailment. Siting the rig at a University will ensure continued use of the rig for academic studies as well as our continued use past the end of the project.

The project is already showing that there will be clear benefits to society by enabling more efficient rail systems, enhancing safety, reliability and capacity.

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