Digital Sensors to Predict and Monitor Rail Faults

Perpetuum remote sensors that monitor rail faults are easy to fit to existing fleets due to their ability to self-power. Photo credit: Hitachi Rail
Perpetuum remote sensors are easy to fit to existing fleets due to their ability to self-power. Photo credit: Hitachi Rail

Hitachi Rail and subsidiary Perpetuum are developing the first real-time digital solution to monitor rail faults, and eventually predict sections of railway track that affect ride quality and require maintenance.

The monitoring equipment is currently installed on trains across Scotland’s networks including the North Clyde Line, The Borders, and Fife Circle. By fitting digital sensors to trains, the pilot – awarded by Network Rail – offers benefits that include reduced passenger disruption and improved safety; less risk to trackside 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 track maintenance in the next control period (mid-2024). As part of this programme, it has agreed a contract with Perpetuum to expand 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 main line in 2019.

At present, locations of ‘rough ride’ 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 the safety of the railway.

Working in partnership with Network Rail, ScotRail and Porterbrook, Perpetuum is using its self-powered monitoring technology to measure data in real-time 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 service.

At this stage of the development, Perpetuum solution can identify the onset of warping or changes to the track. By applying digital analytical tools, Perpetuum can build a picture of areas that are at risk, requiring 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 stretches of track is to be welcomed and is a tangible example of train and track working together to provide a safe, efficient and reliable railway.”

Safety alerts on sections of track regularly result in weeks of speed restrictions, which can lengthen journey times or result in reduced timetables. For operators, poor track ride quality can affect train performance. The data Perpetuum collects can help identify trains that are more prone to poor ride quality over certain types of tracks. This in turn can help identify where preventative maintenance can take place on train to maintain passenger comfort.

Stephanie Klecha, head of digital services, Porterbrook said: “This project is a great example of how rolling stock data can improve and enhance the industry’s understanding of track behaviour in the run up to rough ride events. This will enable tailored proactive maintenance to solve this important industry challenge.”