Sensor system turns trains into track monitors

1 min read

The University of Huddersfield’s Institute of Railway Research is working with Siemens to develop an inexpensive sensor that could turn most rail vehicles into track monitors, capable of capturing and transmitting information about the condition of rails and the rail bed.

The track monitoring system, named Tracksure, has been developed by Siemens in collaboration with the Institute of Railway Research (IRR), as part of the Remote Condition Monitoring Competition supported by the Rail Safety and Standards Board and Network Rail.

Using the sensor system, the train can pick up vibrations and transmit information that identifies voids beneath the track. And, because every train in the UK is fitted with a GSM-R cab radio system, the data can be transmitted to a control centre.

The IRR’s role in the project was to develop an algorithm that allows Tracksure sensors to detect under-track voids – gaps between sleepers and ballast that can lead to an increased risk of rail breaks, along with poor vehicle ride performance.

“It was very challenging,” said IRR researcher Dr Farouk Balouchi, pictured. “Initially, we used simulation to identify what type of sensors and what accuracy and sensitivity would be needed for the Tracksure prototype. This led to us developing a highly efficient algorithm which can process large quantities of acceleration data in a short space of time to detect the location and severity of potential track voids.”

Now that the practicality of on-board sensors has been demonstrated, IRR is to collaborate further with Siemens in developing a concept that has the potential to provide levels of ‘big data’ that could provide a huge boost to rail safety and cost-efficiency.

“Through this further work, we are investigating additional functionalities of the system, whereby we can detect other anomalies from the track and the vehicle,” said IRR’s Dr Adam Bevan.

In addition to detecting voids, sensors could give early warning of problems such as track corrugation, wheel flats and suspension faults.