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Rail track monitoring system - Wireless Autonomous On-Board System measuring vibration with continuous reporting to reduce maintenance costs and enhance reliability and safety.

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - 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: 2016-06-01 to 2017-08-31

"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.

This project has delivered a track monitoring system for condition based track maintenance, based on new wireless sensor node technology and a set of modelling and simulation tools for ""off-line"" assessment of vibration generated either at the wheel-rail interface or in the bearing. Early commercial success has been achieved, with several commercial contracts either in operation or being shipped. Rail operators recognise this technology as having the potential to reduce rail maintenance costs and increase rail capacity. The work has generated two new patents.
This work has resulted in a system that has been shown to deliver real time track quality information that can be used as part of a system for condition based track maintenance. Dissemination has been through presentations to international rail conferences, customers and specialist meetings on track maintenance. Two patents have been filed, and these are expected to lead to further projects and exploitation. Four commercial contracts have been delivered and are running, or are being delivered this year with over twenty further customers engaged in advanced negotiations. This has driven company expansion from 20 employees to 50 employees (approximately) during the course of the project, with track monitoring being the major driver for new sales.
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.

Wireless vibration monitoring of rail axle hubs was the state of the art at the beginning of this project. Development of data processing, harvester powered communications and advanced high sensitivity vibration sensing is delivering measurements that are currently either very expensive or not possible with existing established techniques, beyond the capabilities of measurement trains, while the bearing test rig is driving the development of new research programmes, accessible to academics as well as supporting product development.
Website track information output snapshot showing defect types
Website track information showing improved resolution and correlation with work done