Rail traffic has increased in the last decade. This development and the need for model shift from road to rail to decrease CO2 emission, creates a challenge for the railway industry to improve capacity in the network. However, the need of capacity for maintenance also increases. The challenge of the project is to do more effective inspection and maintenance in less time. Therefore the project focus is to optimise and automate maintenance & inspection where possible.
The aim of the AUTOMAIN project is to make the movement of freight by rail more dependable (reliable, available, maintainable and safe) through the generation of additional capacity on the existing network. Through the widespread introduction of automation that is designed to improve the Reliability, Availability, Maintainability and Safety (RAMS) of railway infrastructure equipment and systems, it is anticipated that required possession time (downtime) of the railway could be reduced by as much as 40%.
To achieve this, five objectives are set:
- adopting best practice from other industries in maintenance optimisation (e.g. highways, aerospace);
- developing novel track inspection approaches for freight routes with a scope on in-train measuring and self inspecting switch;
- researching and assessing innovations that can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of large scale inspection & maintenance processes with a scope on track and switch maintenance, track inspection;
- further developing of key technologies that will drive the development of modular infrastructure design;
- developing a new maintenance planning and scheduling tool that is able to optimise the maintenance activities, taking account of the benefits brought about by other improvements in this project.
To achieve these objectives, the project will be organised into 8 Work Packages (WP):
- WP1: benchmark & evaluation criteria;
- WP2: improvement of specifications;
- WP3 : improve inspection;
- WP4: improve maintenance;
- WP5: improve planning & scheduling;
- WP6: demonstration;
- WP7: manages dissemination, exploitation and training;
- WP8: managing the project.
The Consortium composition covers the whole railway maintenance and inspection field: infrastructure managers, contractors, train operating companies, railway component industry, research organisations, SME's and railway industry interest organisations.
As anticipated from the outset, the main impact of the project has been in innovations that have the potential to create extra capacity on the existing rail network. These have been achieved by focussing effort on lean processes (WP2), inspection technologies (WP3), high performance maintenance (WP4) and improved scheduling and planning of maintenance (WP5). As a result of the activities in these work packages and the implementations developed in the demonstration work package (WP6) it has been shown using a robust evaluation process (developed in WP1) that the project has the potential to reduce possession time (downtime) by as much as 40%. This directly aligns with the committed aim of the project at the application stage.
Developing innovations that have the potential to achieve such a level of possession reduction is a significant result and a major achievement that has attracted the attention of various partners who have stated their intention to exploit the results of the project.
As part of the AUTOMAIN project, the University of Birmingham has developed a lightweight laser based trolley to accurately assess rail profiles through switch and crossing (S&C). The trolley uses two scanning lasers commonly employed in the production industry to scan all the important contacting surfaces through S&C. The trolley has initially been developed to assess S&C against Network Rail standards, and algorithms have been successfully demonstrated for the assessment of switch blades. Algorithms to assess crossing profiles are currently under development, and the longer-term ambition is to use this technology to inspect S&C from service vehicles running at line speeds. The trolley also has the potential to gather sufficient data points to build up an accurate 3D model of the switch, potentially enabling more advanced assessment of the true risk of derailment to be made using vehicle dynamics modelling software for example.
In AUTOMAIN an Automatic Switch Inspection device was developed. A laser scanning measurement system is used to measure cross sections in 2 cm steps in the whole turnout. In AUTOMAIN we used a laser-scanning device of the SIM car by Strukton/Eurailscout with a software developed by DB. All these measurements were done with 40 km/h. The identification of the switch / frog was tested with GPS, map mapping and RFID’s. After the tests, RFID’s were chosen because of the future possibility to do the complete processing online on the car. Therefore special switch information must be available, which can be written on the tag. The measurement car with additional post-processing software is also able to measure the track geometry. That opportunity offers a reduction of “wiggle-runs” of the regular Track Geometry Measurement cars in stations too. The demonstrator shows impressively, that approx. 130 Switches can be inspected during one night shift, compared by 5 per day by the traditional hand measurements.
A new methodology for analysing and optimising maintenance processes by applying best practice from other industries - KM&T (an SME) have already undertaken further work to extend and formalise the processes for Network Rail. In addition KM&T have recently commenced a project for Network Rail to support the upgrade of London Bridge station.
Higher performance infrastructure inspection methods - three specific routes for exploitation: (i) in-service track monitoring; (ii) advanced switch and crossing inspection; (iii) laser based track measurement in switches:
- Work on in-service track monitoring is being exploited by Deutche Bahn (DB) in Germany and Network Rail (in conjunction with the University of Birmingham) in the UK. A further research grants has been awarded to the University of Birmingham to progress the development of the in-service train monitoring innovation into a product.
- The developments on advanced switch and crossing inspection that were carried out and validated in the project will be taken forward by Strukton.
- Network Rail (in conjunction with the University of Birmingham) is taking forward the laser based track measurement system for switches. Since the project end a workshop has been held to develop an exploitation plan for this innovation and this has been presented to the Office of the Rail Regulator. Further validation trials have been carried out.
Higher performance rack maintenance methods - developed a series of improvements and best practice suggestions for higher performance track maintenance methods. These have generated interest with the infrastructure managers involved in the project, particular in Sweden with Trafikverket; however, due to the nature of these innovations the lead time and investment cost is significant and therefore a clear route to exploitation has yet to be developed.
Modular infrastructure components and subsystems which lend themselves to automated removal and fitment - in the area of modular infrastructure components and subsystems innovations in the area of modular switch and crossing components have been developed by Lulea Technical University and Vossloh. There is a clear plan to take these innovations forward and patents are currently being applied for. Once the patents are granted, practical exploitation of the results will proceed.
The improvement of automatic maintenance scheduling and planning systems, which focus on scheduling maintenance ar