A project to ‘listen’ to rail lines and identify problems before they delay passengers is among our research projects for the next five years.

During Control Period 6 – which runs from 2019 to 2024 – we will invest £245m in research so our R&D portfolio can explore more innovative ways to deliver a better railway for passengers and freight. It will also receive further investment from sources including suppliers and central Government.

Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, is helping Network Rail deliver its R&D portfolio and broaden the range of companies that can get involved in expanding the rail network and respond to growing demand.

Plain line pattern recognition technology is one of the state of the art tools we already use…

Several projects that will contribute to the R&D portfolio recently received a share of £7.8m government funding as part of the Department for Transport’s First of a Kind competition.

The projects aim to strengthen the resilience of railway infrastructure and operations for passengers, enhance rail freight services and reduce environmental and noise impacts for lineside neighbours.

They include:

  • SPECTRAIL: a low-cost internet of things sensing platform that enables intelligence infrastructure to ‘listen’ to the railway and detect problems like wheel flats, cable theft and trespass before they delay passengers. It will support our predict and prevent maintenance strategy by enabling data collection at sites previously inaccessible to power or connectivity, or at those deemed too high-cost.
  • Alternative Gauging Methodology: the use of probabilistic methods (based on probability) – of gauging to maximise space on the rail network. This will assess areas of the West Highlands Line in Scotland. It will allow rail staff to review the traditional gauging approach against the new method and demonstrate what savings we could achieve in terms of clearance, stepping and intervention.
  • Hubble: an artificial intelligence-assisted lineside inspection and maintenance planning tool that will help us boost the resilience of railway infrastructure, reduce delays for passengers and freight users, and lower maintenance costs.
  • BVLOS Aerial Robotics: improving safety of railway staff by automating track inspections, surveys and response to incidents, avoiding the need for staff to physically set foot onto the infrastructure. It will also significantly reduce costs.

Speaking at Rail Live in June, Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines highlighted some of the projects Network Rail is involved with. He said: “We are supporting a number of companies who are developing great new ideas to deliver a better service for passengers.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the development of artificial intelligence-assisted lineside inspections to help us do a better and quicker job of reducing delays caused by falling leaves and trees.”

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