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Development of an Innovative Ground-Penetrating Radar System for Fast and Efficient Monitoring of Rail-Track Substructure Conditions

European Union
Complete with results
Geo-spatial type
Total project cost
€4 292 950
EU Contribution
€2 599 458
Project Acronym
STRIA Roadmaps
Network and traffic management systems (NTM)
Infrastructure (INF)
Transport mode
Waterborne icon
Transport policies
Transport sectors
Passenger transport,
Freight transport


Call for proposal
Link to CORDIS
Background & Policy context

The improvement of the European Transport Network is a key action for today's sustainable development, and the revitalisation of railways is a priority that was envisaged in 2001 in the European Commission's White Paper on 'European Transport Policy for 2010: time to decide'. In this context, the improvement of the capacity and safety of the railway infrastructure is strategic at both national and trans-national levels.

The continuous assessment of rail track substructure conditions in a fast and accurate way is currently a primary need in order to increase risk management and accident prevention capabilities while optimising construction, reconstruction and maintenance works on the European Rail Network with the minimum possible degradation of rail network capacity.

The SAFE-RAIL project responds to the need to tackle technological gaps that limit state-of-the-art systems by developing an innovative radar system to monitor the conditions of railway track substructure.


The aim of SAFE-RAIL was to develop an innovative Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR) system for fast and efficient monitoring of rail track substructure conditions.

The GPR is based on:

  • a new concept of railway substructure monitoring radar based on innovative antennas and technologies optimised for operation on board fast diagnostic trains;
  • innovative data interpretation and analysis tools based on expert systems and neural networks providing on-field information in a user-friendly way, allowing monitoring of the conditions of rail tracks directly on-site during construction and maintenance works;
  • information technology based tools for the networked exploitation of multiple diagnostic systems moving on the rail network and the joint interpretation of multi-temporal diagnostic data.

The SAFE-RAIL system application provides accurate, fast and continuous assessment of railtrack conditions (ballast, sub ballast and sub-grade). The application ensures:

  • optimisation of railway's track construction, reconstruction and maintenance operations plan;
  • minimisation of the railway traffic slow-down;
  • optimisation of the network's capacity and safety;
  • increase the risk management and accident prevention capability and overall cost reduction.

The full exploitation of SAFE-RAIL's scientific and technological results led to the provision of improved performance diagnostic systems and platforms including powerful radar-based subsurface assessment capabilities.


The project followed eight technical work-packages, as follows:

1. Requirements definition - The scope of this first stage was the definition of a complete set of requirements, for subsequent use in the following phase (system design and development). The requirements were defined at two different levels: user level requirements and system level requirements.

2. System design - The purpose here was to define the basic Safe-Rail system architecture, identifying and addressing quantitatively the main design trade-offs, in order to derive a complete set of requirements for the hardware and software modules, to be used in the design and development stages of the project.

3. Fast Substructure Array (FSAR) development - The design and development of a prototype of the FSAR system, based on the requirements defined in WP2. The activities of this stage consisted of the execution of tasks addressing Antenna System and Radar Control Unit design and development.

4. Rail-Track Positionning Unit - This step adressed the design of a relevant Rail-Track positioning Unit, also based on the criteria set out in WP2.

5. On-Board Processor development - The scope of this task was to design and develop the On-Board Early Warning Processor, based on processing algorithms stemming from computational electromagnetics and neural networks. Software design activities were carried out in parallel to provide algorithmic software modules ready for integration inside the OBP.

6. Networked Data Interpretation and Processing (N-DIPS) development - This stage carried out the design of the the Networked Data Interpretation and Processing (N-DIPS) software, based on application of information technology tools to geotechnical investigation. It involved defining the processing algorithms, software design and development, and validation of the Integrated NDIPS software using a suite of archive railtrack substructure condition monitoring data.

7. System integration - This involved the integration of the FSAR, RTPU, OBP and NDIPS modules into the SAFE-RAIL system prototype, ready for testing and validation.

8. Field testing - Validation of the SAFE-RAIL integrated prototype through on-site testing on selected railways. The aim was a thorough assessment of the potential of the SAFE-RAIL system from an integrated perpspective, for use within current and future rail diagnostic systems and services.


Parent Programmes
Institution Type
Public institution
Institution Name
European Commission
Type of funding
Public (EU)


Promising results have been obtained with the first SAFERAIL prototype, which was exercised on rail-track test sites. Integration on the MER MEC test-train took place, and the 2007 campaign of acquisitions on the European Rail Network provided the final assessment of the SAFERAIL capabilities and performance.

The successful completion of the SAFE-RAIL project would lead to:

  • demonstrating the capabilities of quickly and accurately referenced detection and classification of rail-track condition deterioration in the rail-track ballast, sub-ballast and sub-grade
  • providing a prototypic processor for user-friendly onboard diagnostic data interpretation and early warning against the probability of critical failures of the rail network.

The full exploitation of the SAFE-RAIL scientific and technological results would lead, in the mid-term, to the provision of improved performance diagnostic systems and platforms, including powerful radar-based subsurface assessment capabilities. These would allow more efficient, cost-effective, faster and safer construction and re-construction of railroads, as well as optimised planning of railway network maintenance strategies.


Lead Organisation
Via San Nazaro 19, 16145 GENOA, Italy
Organisation website
Partner Organisations
Building Research Establishment Limited
Bucknalls Lane, WATTFORD, WD25 9XX, United Kingdom
Organisation website
EU Contribution
Gimpuls Praha Spol. S.r.o.
Nerudova 232, JENEC, Czechia
EU Contribution
Mer Mec S.p.a.
via Oberdan, 70, 70043 MONOPOLI, Italy
Organisation website
EU Contribution
Universita Degli Studi Di Pavia
STRADA NUOVA 65, 27100 PAVIA, Italy
Organisation website
EU Contribution
Mala Geoscience Ab
Skolgatan 11, MALAA, Sweden
EU Contribution
Bundesanstalt Fuer Materialforschung Und -Pruefung
Unter Den Eichen 87, 12205 Berlin, Germany
Organisation website
EU Contribution
Structural Testing Services Ltd
Home Farm Business Centre, East Tytherley Road, LOCKERLEY, ROMSEY, United Kingdom
EU Contribution


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