Products & Technology

A sound solution: Better rail through acoustic monitoring

For more than two decades Track IQ has been one of Australia’s most successful rail technology exporters. Rail Express finds out about its newest innovation, RailBAM-IB.


Track IQ is an Australian success story. Launched at the turn of the century under the name Trackside Intelligence after engineering consultant Vipac developed a viable method of acoustic measuring for rail axle joint bearings, the Adelaide-headquartered company has grown to work with dozens of major international customers.

This growth has accelerated in recent years since Track IQ’s acquisition by US rail technology giant Wabtec in 2015. Through Wabtec, Track IQ has enjoyed a significant investment in its technology and marketing, allowing it to tap into even more global markets. This support, coupled with the acquisition of imaging technologies in 2017, has helped the company today employ around 50 staff in five offices around the world, making Track IQ one of the largest global suppliers of integrated wayside condition monitoring solutions.

Over its history, Track IQ has installed more than 190 systems in over 120 locations, across 19 countries on six continents.

“The acquisition by Wabtec has provided Track IQ with greater access to a broad range of industry experts with whom we can collaborate in our ongoing product development,” Track IQ’s John Dowie tells Rail Express.

Dowie works out of Track IQ’s Adelaide office as General Manager for Business Development, Sales and Customer Service. He says the Wabtec association has boosted the volume of opportunities for Track IQ to get its technology into operational railway environments.

“The global footprint of Wabtec provides support to Track IQ to deliver our market solutions to almost any country in the world. No matter where we go, there are local Wabtec resources that are there to assist Track IQ, and ultimately our ability to provide a quality service to our customers,” he says.

He notes Track IQ has also had the opportunity to be a part of emerging industry solutions, such as WabtecONE, Wabtec’s monitoring and analytics platform that turns “big data” streams into actionable intelligence, with the aim of providing operators with new opportunities to overcome operational challenges.

RailBAM and RailBAM-IB

Since early in its history, Track IQ’s flagship product has been the Rail Bearing Acoustic Monitoring (RailBAM) system.

RailBAM is a wayside condition monitoring system designed to zero in on the performance of bearings on passing rail vehicles. It is able to monitor the acoustic signature of each axle bearing on a train passing at full speed, accurately and reliably identifying the presence of defects in bearings, providing the operator with known issues ranked by severity and fault type.

Track IQ says the RailBAM technology is able to identify defects within bearings 100,000 to 150,000 kilometres before they would be found by through human inspection. This means faults can be found and resolved before they impact operations, be it through a Hot Bearing Alarm event shutdown, or worse, a catastrophic failure.

Dowie says Track IQ was fortunate to develop the RailBAM system at a time when local railways were pioneering in their thoughts around integration of wayside monitoring into their business model.

“Twenty years ago, the world’s first bearing acoustic monitoring systems were being installed in Australia. Today, the RailBAM system has been installed in most major railways in Australia, including with every major mining railway, but many other countries are only just starting to think about this.”

Track IQ is looking to repeat the success of the RailBAM system with its latest innovation, the RailBAM-IB. Instead of being mounted wayside like the RailBAM system, the RailBAM-IB system is mounted ‘inboard’ on the track, so the train passes over it. This relocation allows the device to detect inboard axle, traction motor, and gearbox bearing defects. It is designed to be installed in conjunction with RailBAM, or as a standalone solution.

“With our proven capability in bearing acoustic monitoring, we are confident that the value of the RailBAM-IB will be recognised and embraced by our customers both in Australia and worldwide,” Dowie says.

Track IQ has been developing the RailBAM-IB system for around two years. The first commercial system, installed in the US in early 2019, has so far had 100 per cent success in confirmation of bearing defects identified.

The seed for the new product was planted during internal evaluation of acoustic data by Track IQ engineers looking to improve the company’s existing product suite. The work identified the potential to apply Track IQ’s advanced acoustic analytic capabilities to u-tube and traction motor bearings.

“Initial trials confirmed this,” Dowie recalls. “Working with industry partners, Track IQ installed the RailBAM-IB in live railway operational environments for both passenger and freight applications and, based on the data gathered, we identified bearings with potential faults that were targeted for investigation. Following hardware and software modifications, we have now fully commercialised the product.”

While traction motor failure is not a common occurrence, it is certainly one that operators prefer to avoid; the failure of a vehicle on any rail network is likely to create significant operational disruption.

So far, Dowie says, the RailBAM-IB system has helped operators protect themselves from this

“We have already had very positive feedback on the RailBAM-IB and the associated operational improvements,” he says. “As with all Track IQ products, we add value to our customers by minimising operational delays as well as creating an opportunity to undertake maintenance when and where it is cost effective for their business. Asset inspection can, and should, where possible, be undertaken in an operational environment thereby freeing up valuable real estate in a maintenance facility.”

Growing suite

RailBAM-IB joins a suite of condition monitoring solutions developed in Australia by Track IQ. In addition to RailBAM, Dowie says the most common products provided by Track IQ include its Wheel Condition Monitor, Wheel Profile Monitor, its Brake Inspection Monitor, and its Bogie Geometry Monitor.

“We can deliver systems that provide full inspection coverage of almost any rollingstock and motive power asset,” he notes. “Track IQ now has a number of wayside supersite installations around the world that include a range of our condition monitoring technology, with railway companies that are truly focused on safety and efficient operations.”

This type of value-adding is the area Dowie says Track IQ plans to focus on for customers into the future.

“We intend to grow our hardware portfolio and will continue to evolve or data analytics capability to ensure customers maximise the value they obtain from working with Track IQ,” he concludes.