This article first appeared in the Railway-News magazine Issue 2 2022.
The digital monitoring of track equipment makes it possible to carry out maintenance before a defect causes traffic disruption. There is increasing interest in the potential of condition monitoring to support railway asset management and maintenance.
The Finnish rolling stock maintenance company VR FleetCare, in co-operation with technical experts, data scientists and technology partners, has developed state-of-the-art solutions for the digitalisation of infrastructure maintenance. Initially focused on the digital condition monitoring of the rolling stock, the development work has now brought proven results in the field of track equipment such as track circuits and switches.
Usually defects in track equipment cause traffic restrictions, interruptions and delays. Each traffic disruption causes increased costs and reputational damage to stakeholders. Sami Saloheimo, Senior Specialist in Condition Monitoring at VR FleetCare, explains that, traditionally, defects have been detected only after they have started causing traffic disruptions.
Of course, it is impossible to predict the future of complex electronics with measurements, but monitoring systems can detect defects more effectively than people or generic traffic control systems.
“What is essential is being able to react to disruptions before train speeds need to be restricted or traffic diverted to another track. The later the disruption is addressed, the higher the costs will often be,” Saloheimo says.
In digital condition monitoring, track equipment is monitored with current converters. For example, when a train passes a track circuit, it creates a disruption in the current that triggers the device to create a measurement event. Data from these events is then collected and processed by smart railway gateways and sent to the cloud. Based on the data analysis, a notification of a possible defect can then be created and passed on to the maintenance company.
Since the summer of 2021, VR FleetCare has been carrying out digital condition monitoring of track circuits for the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency (FTIA), which is responsible for the maintenance and development of the Finnish railway network. More than one million measurement events from around 200 track circuits have already been recorded. The measurements have provided useful information on the operation of track circuits. For example, an indication of a broken rail could have been detected as early as 24 hours before the first traffic disruption.
Railway-News magazine Issue 5, November 2021: VR Fleetcare - Data and Maintenance of Rolling Stock – How to Get the Most Out of the Combination
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