Cloud

Data-driven maintenance: taking rail profiling to the cloud

Lifting data from the digital grave and into the cloud has opened up possibilities for rail maintenance. Autech explains how.

Twenty years ago, Swiss rail maintenance machine manufacturer Autech began providing its customers with an innovative way to measure their tracks. Using electronic measurement data collected by maintenance and measurement machines, rail infrastructure owners and operators could see the cross-sections of their rails, enabling an understanding of the wear and tear of this critical infrastructure.

Despite having this data on hand, CTO of Autech, Peter Merz found that it was not being put to use.

“What we saw is then they piled up the data, they printed it out and put it in the archive, and basically this data was lost.”

While some aggregated data was put into enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, the fine-grain measurements that could provide a maintenance engineer with insights were unavailable.

“The individual measurements were deleted or put in a storage system and were buried in the digital grave,” said Merz.

Having had this experience, Merz and the team at Autech began working on creating a cloud-based solution that would enable rail engineers to easily make use of the data they were collecting. The software system they developed has been named RailCloud.

“RailCloud really plots the view of the maintenance field engineers, so they can see their track, the overall condition of the track, but also the data on the individual section, even a single cross-section measurement,” said Merz.

RailCloud takes measurements collected in the field and combines them in a single, analysable database that is presented based on the geography of the rail track. The software’s base layer is a map of the system, and asset data stored in the cloud is overlaid on that map.

“It starts with the topography, the mapping, so the field engineer can go to this crossing, this intersection and so on. This is connected to the measurement systems, so the measurement systems automatically upload data, located by GPS,” said Merz.

“You can connect your measurement equipment to your network environment, so the data is automatically sorted, assigned, and allocated.”

The cloud-based software can then assign work orders and maintenance tasks based on thresholds set by the operator. In addition, having the data collected together, operators can now begin to predict rates of wear and trends, enabling predictive maintenance regimes.

“Of course, it’s a continuous thing – every year you make the measurements, every year you plan your maintenance. But with RailCloud we kept it quite light weight to make it simple and smart. You really can work on a daily basis with it, collecting measurement data, network, topology, workflows. Then you get data driven maintenance.”

DATA FROM THE SOURCE
To collect data on track condition and wear rates, Autech have recently developed RailXS, bringing together 30 years of rail measurement knowledge.

“The big advantage is it is very lightweight, it’s about 60-70kg and it can be mounted on any suitable rollingstock equipment,” said Merz. “This can be a dedicated equipment, it can be a small trolley, it can be an existing maintenance rollingstock, but it also can be a regular rollingstock.”

By mounting on regular rollingstock, measurement does not have to wait for track maintenance periods or shutdowns and can be done many times in one day.

The data is collected through laser optical sensors, which can record track parameters and the rail profile. Data is then automatically uploaded to the cloud platform RailCloud either via WiFi or a mobile internet connection. If this is not available, the data is stored and then uploaded once the vehicle returns to the depot or an area of internet connectivity. Before uploading, the measurement data is tagged with a location, either through GPS locating or RFID readers. Having these automatic systems means the data is ready to be utilised by the rail maintenance engineer, rather than having to be sorted or allocated.

“By transferring the data into the RailCloud it’s automatically allocated, you don’t have to work again. You can introduce filters to smoothen, aggregate, or transfer the data, or to do additional calculations, but the real key is to automatically map the data to your network and then there is no manual interaction needed again,” said Merz.

THE KEY TO PREDICTIVE MAINTENANCE
During the development process, the focus for RailCloud was to keep the software as lightweight as the measurement systems that supported it. This has enabled the software to be adopted by smaller operators, without the need for expensive experts and consultants to set up the system. Already, the system is in use on the tram networks of Zürich and Amsterdam where it has driven smarter maintenance practices.

“In Zürich, one of the departments wanted to do a replacement and the maintenance department said no we don’t need this replacement yet,” said Merz. “Using the RailCloud data they could prove that instead of a replacement being due every 5 years, it’s only in 12 years. RailCloud is driving fact- based decisions.”

Due to its flexibility, and the lack of a need for scheduled measurements by specialised vehicles, RailCloud can help operators take the next step to predictive maintenance.

“The big advantage is that you don’t measure every five years or every three years, you can regularly measure four times a year or even once a month,” said Merz. “You can set your intervals according to your needs, but in fact if you measure five times a year or 12 times a year, you have much better prognosis points of your wear rates.”

As wear rates are not linear, having more data points can enable a clearer picture of the wear curve to appear than what would be possible if measurements are only conducted every few years, said Merz.

“If you measure once a month you really see the trend or the curve, of your wear rate, and you see also deviation or if it changes in behaviour. That’s a big advantage, not just to know the state the track is in but what will happen.

“It’s the key to go into predictive maintenance.”

Final preparations before construction begins on Narrabri to North Star Inland Rail

The final shipments of steel rail and concrete sleepers for the Narrabri to North Star section of Inland Rail have arrived as the last planning approvals are finished.

With these deliveries completed construction can take the next step forward, with the planning process fast tracked by the NSW government and approved on August 13.

A final contractor is yet to be announced, however three shortlisted tenderers were announced in December 2019. These are: Lendlease Engineering, a joint venture between Downer EDI and Seymour White named RailFirst, and Trans4m Rail, a joint venture between Rhomberg Rail Australia, BGC Contracting, and SEE Civil.

Construction is expected to begin later in 2020.

So far, 21 trains have delivered 24,775 tonnes of Australian-made steel, with the last of the 2,474 165-metre long lengths delivered in the last week.

42 trains have delivered 116,396 Australian made sleepers from Mittagong and 224,939 sleepers from Wagga Wagga.

Federal Member for Parkes Mark Coulton said that once construction begins, local businesses and communities will benefit.

“As we near construction on the next section of the project, benefits are going to flow via local industry and supplier participation, employment and workforce development in communities surrounding the Narrabri to North Star section,” said Coulton.

With the Parkes to Narromine section of Inland Rail nearing completion, communities along the alignment there have seen the impact that the construction phase has had.

“On the first section of Inland Rail between Parkes and Narromine, we saw more than $100 million spent with local businesses and nearly 700 locals work on the project. There were 99 local businesses that supplied goods to the project in some form,” said Coulton.

“Inland Rail is a project that creates opportunity and jobs in the short, medium and long-term – with the local jobs created in supply contracts like the rail and sleepers, the future jobs and investment during construction, and the enduring benefits that will come from the enhancement and expansion of regional supply chains.”

laser sensors

Targeting accuracy and precision with laser sensors

Bestech is providing the local rail industry with access to products such as laser sensors that are used in driving advanced solutions.

The fundamentals of rail wheel interaction have been established for many decades. The conical shape of the wheels allows for the wheel set to shift while rounding a curve, and for the train to stay on track. These engineering principles have served railways well for centuries, however engineers are now looking for a way to reduce rail wear, allowing the tracks to operate longer without maintenance.

In a trial underway in the UK, an array of optoNCDT 1420 compact laser triangulation sensors from Micro-Epsilon have been installed to provide the measurement behind the ActiWheel solution. The sensors guide the ActiWheel traction system to produce more driving force on one side of the wheelset to ensure the train travels down the centreline of the track. The solution would overcome the compromises and issues that result from the combination of a solid axle and wheel coning and reduce wear on the wheel and the rail.

ActiWheel relies upon precise and accurate measurements from the optoNCDT sensors to provide the information for the artificial intelligence software that drives the motors that are individually affixed to each wheel. The optoNCDT sensors measure the lateral position of the wheel, relative to the rail, and according to Neil Cooney, technical director at the UK company behind ActiWheel, SET, the particular specifications of the sensor made it the perfect fit.

“We initially approached Micro-Epsilon for a suitable sensor and were very impressed with the application engineer who demonstrated the optoNCDT 1420 sensor to us. The sensor met all our technical requirements in terms of its flexibility, resolution and robustness. We are measuring down to 0.1mm accuracy and lateral movement can be up to a maximum of 20mm,” said Cooney.

This is not the only application of laser sensors in the rail industry. Sensors such as the optoNCDT have been widely used for maintenance of rail tracks and to measure wear and tear. This is in addition to track guiding devices that are installed below the train, which also use laser sensors. The conditions within these applications require a certain kind of sensor.

“These require a compact sensor that can be easily installed and provide accurate and reliable measurement at high speed,” said Wirhan Prationo, marketing engineer at Bestech, which distribute sensors from Micro-Epsilon in Australia.

As seen in its adoption for the innovative ActiWheel solution, the compact optoNCDT is optimised for the rail industry as a laser triangulation sensor.

“It combines speed, size, performance and versatility for measurement applications in the rail industry. This compact laser triangulation sensor is suitable for measuring distance and displacement up to 500mm with maximum sampling speed of 4kHz. It also can be easily integrated in restricted and narrow installation space,” said Prationo.

In the ActiWheel case, the sensor was particularly useful when it came to ensuring that the data collected was only that which was required, said Cooney.

“We’ve also been impressed by the filtering function, which filters out noise from dirt, dust, grease and pieces of bent metal on the rail head, which means we can trust the measurement data,” said Cooney.

To use the sensors, SET created a frame that lies beneath the wheel axle of the train, 400mm from the rail head. The sensors are located in front of the flange and point towards the rail head. The data from this assembly is then transferred to the ActiWheel control system via a 4-20mA analogue signal. Operation and configuration can be done using the web- based interface. While these are the settings used by the ActiWheel team there are other information channels available.

“The optoNCDT laser triangulation sensor offers a range of different output signals that enable easy integration of the sensor into any industrial control system,” said Prationo. “The sensors are operated through the web interface and they also have additional analysis features, such as video signal display, signal peak selection, background noise filtering and signal averaging. A mobile data acquisition unit can be used to collect the data, which can be connected to the computer on board.”

With the trial ongoing in the UK, the optoNCDT’s technical specifications have been tested in a variety of environments. Rated to an IP65 protection level, the system is housed within a casing that is impenetrable by dirt and dust.

During the demonstration, the optoNCDT sensors were able to read accurate data in the harsh environment underneath the train, where dust, dirt, and moisture are present. They also delivered consistent reading irrespective of whether it’s a cold, wet, rainy or bright sunny day. After running for a couple of thousand miles the sensors did not need cleaning.

While the further development of ActiWheel promises much for reducing rolling contact fatigue, this is only one potential application of the optoNCDT sensors.

Located in Australia, Bestech is able to collaborate with rail organisations seeking to leverage the precision and accuracy of laser sensor technology.

“Bestech have more than 40 years of experiences in sensors and instrumentation for solving test and measurement challenges in the industry,” said Prationo. “We offer not only high-quality products, but also our technical expertise and support to assist with real-time application to correctly gather the data you require. Bestech can also customise the product to fit into certain requirements, such as different cable length, integration with mobile data acquisition system or signal conditioning to fit into the existing devices.”

“Our team is supported by highly- trained applications engineers and product specialists with a wealth of experience in sensor applications for measurement of physical parameters in the industry.”

Auckland

Rail renewal underway on Auckland network

12 kilometres of rail and 2,500 sleepers are being replaced at the centre of the rail network in Auckland.

Staff from KiwiRail are working at night and on weekends to renovate the track on the Eastern Line between Britomart and Otahuhu.

Chief operating officer of KiwiRail, Todd Moyle, said that the works would enable faster, more reliable services.

“Getting this work done will enable us to remove speed restrictions on the line and when finished, commuters will enjoy a quicker, smoother and quieter journey,” said Moyle.

“Replacing the rail and sleepers can only be done when no trains are running. We have worked closely with Auckland Transport to settle on a work programme that allows us to minimise disruption for commuters while enabling us to get the work done efficiently and safely.”

The team of 200 people will be repairing a line that is used by 3,500 commuter services and 246 freight trains each week. The amount of traffic has required limits on the line.

“That amount of rail traffic causes wear and tear on the rails over time, just as heavy traffic does to road surfaces, and in some cases we have to put speed restrictions in place. It is critical that we replace the rails so we can keep trains running efficiently and safely on the network for the thousands of rail commuters,” said Moyle.

Buses will replace trains during the evening and at weekends and noise and disturbances will be minimised to reduce disruption.

“We are working progressively across the entire network to replace the oldest and most worn sections of track, with 23km of new rail already in place across the network since March 2019. This period of work on the Eastern Line will take about eight weeks, with more work planned for late September,” said Moyle.

Auckland’s rail network has seen an increase in patronage, and with new lines being built, the rail network is expected to shoulder a greater capacity of the city’s transportation.

“The work forms part of an ongoing project to improve the Auckland network, lay a foundation for predicted growth in passenger and freight volumes, and ensure the benefits of the City Rail Link can be delivered,” said Moyle.

Recycled

Recycled materials in use at multiple transport projects

Recycled materials are being used on transport projects in Victoria and NSW, making the most of the many infrastructure projects currently underway.

In Melbourne, the newly opened Kananook Train Storage Facility, located in Seaford, used over 11,000 tonnes of recycled rail ballast. The ballast was previously in use on the Melbourne train network and was extracted during the Carrum Level Crossing Removal Project. Instead of going to waste, the ballast was used to build the new storage facility.

The re-use of materials such as ballast reduces the use of raw materials and cuts associated energy used in the mining and transportation of these materials. The project’s environmental impact was also improved by the installation of solar panels on the building’s roof.

The Kananook Train Storage Facility will allow for more trains to run on the Frankston line. A signal control centre at the same site will also help to minimise disruptions by centrally managing train movements. The site includes room for further train storage or a train maintenance facility if required in the future.

In NSW, the Parramatta Light Rail project, which is partly following the former Carlingford Line corridor, has maximised the retention of rail infrastructure from the former line.

Over 15,000 metres of single rail, 13,650 rail sleepers, 13,000 metres of overhead wire and the existing track ballast will be reused on the new light rail line.

Across the entire 12km light rail route, which travels from Westmead, via the Parramatta CBD to Camellia and finishes in Carlingford, recycled components will provide around 30 per cent of the track.

broken rail

ATSB finds broken rail caused freight train derailment

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has found that a broken rail led to the derailment of a freight train near Goulburn on March 31, 2019.

As the SCT Logistics freight train, travelling from Melbourne to Brisbane, exited a refuge loop in Goulburn, NSW five wagons derailed, obstructing both the Up and Down main lines.

The driver of the train had just been authorised to pass the immediately preceding signal at Stop, which could not be cleared due to a track circuit fault. Another train had passed through the refuge the night before when the fault occurred. The network controlled and the on-call signal electrician had consulted and agreed that trains could continue passing the Stop signal.

After the derailment, the NSW Office of Transport Safety Investigation (OTSI) had conducted an investigation on behalf of the ATSB. OTSI found that the immediate cause of the derailment was a broken rail, which had likely occurred after the previous train, and the break had caused the signal to be stuck at Stop. The broken rail had not been detected.

The point where the rail in question had broken was where a crack had formed between two different sized rails that had been joined in an aluminothermic junction weld. Further examination of the track found that the existing crack was not easily detectable through continuous ultrasonic testing or routine maintenance.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), which managed the section of track engaged an independent metallurgist to study the rail after the derailment. The metallurgist found there was a lack of weld fusion on the foot of the rail between the two rail types and was undetected at the time of welding. This, along with the difficulty detecting the crack afterwards, reinforced the need for thorough inspection said OTSI COO and deputy chief investigator Kevin Kitchen.

“It is critical that areas of the rail that cannot be easily inspected during scheduled continuous ultrasonic testing are tested thoroughly at the time of welding to ensure that the weld is free from defects,” said Kitchen.

The investigation also found that other factors increased the risk in relation to the occurrence. OTSI and ATSB noted the network rules were one of these factors.

“Network rules that permit degraded operations must be assessed to ensure that the application of these rules do not increase risk to an unacceptable level,” said Kitchen.

“Personnel responsible for implementing these rules should have sufficient guidance to assess when it is safe to continue operating trains, or under what conditions operations can continue.”

The investigation also found that the sleepers underneath the track were decayed and the ballast appeared fouled with mud and dirt.

Room for growth in trying times

While the COVID-19 pandemic is causing an undeniable impact upon the Australian economy, the rail industry is continuing to play its vital part in moving people and goods around Australia.

During these times, Rail Express will continue to deliver timely news and industry insights to our audience of rail professionals. Rail Express is the only publication dedicated to the rail industry that is publishing daily briefs as the story evolves. Our email newsletter database and online page views have been experiencing substantial growth over the past months, and we will endeavour to ensure that they continue to do so, even as disruption occurs.

Already, we have seen significant interest in how the rail industry will continue to be the lifeblood of Australia’s logistics supply chain. We have spoken with our key industry associations and partner organisations to understand that in fact, the demand for key rail services, particularly in the freight sector, is growing, with the resulting need for suppliers of equipment and services to continue to engage with the industry.

In addition, the growing government stimulus packages have a direct impact upon organisations working in the rail industry, many of whom are looking for the stimulus to go further so they can continue to meet the demand for mobility.

Finally, when the initial impacts of the virus subside, the rail industry will be continuing to grow as infrastructure spending is adopted by governments as a way to kickstart the economy.

More than ever, Rail Express is the resource that the Australasian rail industry turns to. The publication is continuing to grow in both print and online to meet the needs of the sector’s growth as a whole.