Rail industry news (Australia, New Zealand)

Getting the full picture

Loram is utilising innovative technology to ensure the efficient delivery of its maintenance services across Australia.

Loram is aiming to create a more resilient rail network in Australia and has brought a range of technologies to the country to ensure this is delivered effectively.

One component is the geotechnical services that diagnose and solve problems that affect the condition and performance of railway tracks by combining expertise in track roadbed materials, maintenance techniques and data analytics. This results in an advanced diagnostic profile of the health of the track and identifies trends over time for proactive future substructure maintenance program planning.

The core of this technology is the Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), which provides substructure depth analysis delivering fouling, moisture, and substructure layer mapping at depths up to 10 feet.

Rail Express spoke with Loram sales managers Stephen Hill and Darren Riley to get an understanding of how the technology works with its overall offering.

“For us, this technology allows users to make informed decisions around their rail maintenance processes,” Riley said.

“It can show us where we can use our exciting new shoulder ballast cleaner product for example.”

The GPR can identify areas where water is not escaping the ballast as it should and then Loram can bring its shoulder ballast cleaning into that area. The cleaner removes ballast at the end of the ties, screening the ballast and discarding fines and fouling material and restoring the good ballast to the shoulder.

The systems allow users to plan ahead. IMAGES: LORAM

Hill used the example of the recent rains in Northern Australia, which caused a lot of flooding, which resulted in some sections of the rail to dip.

“Over time you will see the ballast rub against each other, and dirt and dust can enter and it can cause the ballast to deteriorate and lowers the effectiveness of the ballast to drain out the water,” he said.

“The GPR is able to look below and through the ballast at the drainage patterns to better plan maintenance schedules and minimise catastrophic failures with strong plans.”

The importance of planning ahead

The pair explained that the GPR can be utilised as a part of a medium term ballast management strategy.

“Sometimes the rail industry can get a bit bogged down in the here and now and not plan ahead,” Riley said.

“The GPR is a part of the broader Loram service with our rail inspections and grinding.

“That is all above the surface, but some organisations might not even be aware they have this problem until they get heavy rain and the track moves.”

The GPR program will give an overview of the area scanned and put each area in either green, yellow or red depending on the quality of the surface. 

“We are able to ascertain which areas of the tack need immediate fixes and which areas can wait,” Hill said.

“We can do another run 12 months later to confirm if there has been further deterioration and we can fix very specific areas of track that need it as opposed to fixing great lengths unnecessarily.”

The data that is collated in Australia is then passed on to a team of specialist engineers based in Finland who analyse the data and provide the simple, easy-to-follow results back to the team in Australia.

Extreme weather

The LiDAR system can provide a clear picture of the condition of the rail shoulder. IMAGES: LORAM

Australia has battled a number of severe weather events to start 2024, including cyclones across the north of the country and bush fires in Victoria. The cyclones closed the Mt Isa line for an extended period causing delays. Hill explained why Loram can support organisations through these challenges.

“You will often see up north where it is dry for a long time, everything goes hard,” he said.

“As soon as it rains you have massive amounts of mud moving around and the GPR system can be critical for understanding which areas might be susceptible to damage.”

Hill said that these weather events can result in speed restrictions on the network, meaning maintenance is critical to making sure it runs efficiently.

“Often after a severe weather event, depending on the network, the first train may not be aware of faults which can lead to major safety issues,” Hill said.

“If you use the GPR you can accurately understand issues within the network, it will show yellow or red areas that need repairs.”

The pair explained that even though tracks may appear in good condition after a severe weather event, it may have faults or issues that are not apparent on inspections done by the naked eye. By using the GPR system it allows users to make accurate decisions around maintenance that can protect the network far better than systems used previously. 

LIDAR

Alongside the GPR system, Loram utilises the LiDAR program to offer insights to predictive maintenance and better plan processes.

LiDAR data mapping provides a scan of the right-of-way to determine shoulder conditions, drainage ditch location and depth and cut/fill conditions. This track topography is used in conjunction with the GPR and track geometry analysis to identify targeted track substructure issues and their underlying origins.

LiDAR information can also be used to identify the width and height of the shoulder to determine the volume of excess or needed ballast.

Integrating the topography from LiDAR with the GPR fouling index and moisture profile data provides documented clarity on the internal drainage capacity of the track, and the adequacy of the ditch to convey water from the right-of-way.

Riley explained that the LiDAR system can ensure it gives a better understanding of the integrity of the shoulder of the ballast.

“We use both systems hand in hand,” he said.

“The GPR gives you a great understanding of what is going on underneath the ballast and LiDAR can analyse the profile and uncover deficiencies.”

Similarly to the GPR system, the LiDAR can allow the accurate deploying of Loram’s systems. This includes its shoulder cleaner that ensures the ballast is working efficiently, or even adding ballast to sections to ensure efficiency.

“These systems all ensure the most efficient use of our maintenance services, giving real data and an ability to analyse weak points to correctly deploy what we have to offer.”