Inspection and maintenance of complex railway infrastructures represents a large share of total infrastructure costs and track maintenance accounts for about 40% of that. Track-associated maintenance includes those related to the track bed, subgrade and engineering structures such as bridges, tunnels and retaining walls. Decreasing track-associated maintenance costs would have important impact on reducing operating costs of rail transportation systems.Doing that while enhancing safety and passenger comfort were the goals of the EU-funded project 'Automated and cost effective maintenance for railway' (ACEM RAIL). The key to success was increasing automation throughout from monitoring to evaluation of defects to scheduling and execution of maintenance. The team even included operator assistance in the field during execution of maintenance services.Of the six automated inspection technologies to evaluate track condition, the most promising employs fibre optic sensors. Placed along the track and integrated in the trains themselves (both conventional and high-speed and both passenger and freight), the sensors facilitate frequent and cost-effective evaluation. Major development work focused on data analysis and management of information obtained from the inspection systems. The team created a centralised management system together with decision support software tools. This would help in evaluating infrastructure condition, optimally scheduling maintenance, assisting operators in the field and automatically generating reports.ACEM RAIL developed a set of maintenance performance indicators to facilitate evaluation of sustainability in terms of cost, quality, safety and environmental impact. Application in simulated scenarios, at a test and validation centre and in railway infrastructure demonstrated the significant benefits of the ACEM RAIL systems across the board.Outcomes have been widely disseminated in scientific papers, at exhibitions and workshops and through brochures and newsletters. Commercialisation potential is clear in the creation of one spin-off and plans for another.ACEM RAIL technologies and tools will enhance the efficiency, safety and comfort of rail travel while decreasing operation and maintenance costs. The software tools developed should also be easily adaptable to automation of inspection and maintenance for road transport.
Railway infrastructures, automation, inspection, maintenance, sensors, software tools