The digital condition monitoring of track equipment makes it possible to carry out maintenance before malfunctions cause traffic disruptions.
The Finnish rolling stock maintenance company VR FleetCare has developed a new solution for monitoring the condition of track equipment, such as track circuits. The results of the latest pilot project carried out with the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency has already provided a lot of useful data on the operation of track equipment. The condition monitoring has continued after the pilot.
Track equipment refers to the railroad devices and systems which allow trains to travel safely from one location to another. Within the VR FleetCare and Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency pilot project the focus was on a track circuit system, which is used to monitor whether the track is in use or not and, in addition, to obtain information on which railway section the train is currently running on.
Malfunctions in track equipment cause traffic restrictions and interruptions, and consequently, delays for trains. Traffic delays in part start causing increasing costs and reputational damage for stakeholders. Smart condition monitoring can minimize these losses. With the help of condition monitoring, the owner of the railway network benefits from increased operational reliability of track circuits and thus from optimal use of track capacity. In addition, traffic safety will improve and passengers are satisfied with the high level of punctuality.
“Traditionally, it has been possible to detect defects in track equipment only after they start causing traffic disruptions. Digital condition monitoring provides time to react and minimize the disturbance to the traffic.
“When an anomaly is detected within a track circuit, an additional inspection can be carried out and a necessary maintenance team can be directed to the site during lower traffic hours. The better the knowledge of abnormalities and early signs indicating defects are, the better they can be targeted and repaired.”
VR FleetCare has been carrying out several digital track equipment condition monitoring development projects with the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency (FTIA) since 2019. FTIA is responsible for the maintenance and development of the Finnish railway network.
The track circuit pilot project started last year and has already recorded more than a million measurement events from around 200 track circuits. Measured track circuits are part of high traffic areas that were selected for their susceptibility for high cost disruptions. So far the pilot has been very successful and it has provided great results indicating that the potential for smart condition monitoring of track circuits is high. For example, an indication of a rail break could be detected as early as 24 hours before the first traffic disruption.
“From the rail infrastructure owner's point of view, the development work has focused on long-term processes rather than on technology. Digital condition monitoring and the real-time monitoring enabled by it has potential. These pilots in co-operation with VR Fleetcare, have shown us that quite simple systems provide useful information. Digital condition monitoring of rail infrastructure and track equipment is not difficult, if you have skilled partners and sufficient courage.”
In the rail sector, maintenance work has previously been based on best practices and statistical methods. Digital condition monitoring completes the methodology with accurate and detailed information on the actual condition of track equipment. Smart measuring systems can monitor the operation of the equipment with better accuracy than personnel or current traffic control systems, and provide signals for detection and maintenance of defects before they become malfunctions and traffic disruptions.
This article was originally published by VR FleetCare.
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