UK: Rail Business UK joins a demonstration run of a diesel multiple-unit which has been equipped to undertake infrastructure monitoring while in passenger service.

Northern Intelligent Trains concept train 150136 at Manchester Victoria (Photo: Tony Miles)

An ‘Intelligent Train’ concept demonstrator has been developed by Northern in partnership with Network Rail to facilitate detailed real-time infrastructure monitoring using trains in regular passenger service.

A demonstration trip between Manchester Victoria and Bradford Interchange on January 16 was used to showcase the radar, lidar, thermal, acoustic and bogie vibration monitoring sensors and cameras with intelligent machine vision technology which have been fitted to Class 150 diesel multiple-unit 150 136.

The sensors enable infrastructure monitoring in the dark, including in tunnels and in fog where a normal CCTV camera may not be able to ‘see’.

Northern Intelligent Trains concept train radar image

The data collected can be accessed remotely. Work is underway is to understand how to use the vast amount of data which is being collected, discarding any that is not needed and focusing on information that allows problems to be identified and resolved.

The aim is to monitor the condition of assets in real time and identify trends such as embankment slippage or any movement of lineside equipment such as signals or electrification masts.

This would enable Network Rail to reduce its dependence on specialist monitoring trains. A future widespread roll-out of the technology would increase the frequency of monitoring and, it is hoped, enable interventions to be made before any failures.

The concept train was modified by Northern in conjunction with Belvoir Rail which led technology integration, Modux which created the data transfer and processing software, Yellow Rail which installed the equipment and provided technical support, and DG8 which led the design and worked with Belvoir Rail to ensure all equipment complies with railway standards.

A planned second concept train would use an EMU fitted with additional equipment to monitor the pantograph and overhead electrification equipment.

‘Little and often’ to replace ’big bang’

Northern Intelligent Trains Concept Train Line Profile and Thermal Image Camera 160123 TM2

Speaking onboard the demonstration run, Northern’s On-Trains System Manager Marc Silverwood told Rail Business UK that the concept train is the latest step in the operator’s digitalisation programme, which began with the fitting of wi-fi and CCTV.

‘We are no longer going to be “firefighting” incidents and issues that we may face; we can log in remotely and start to “trend” the network’, he said, with monitoring being undertaken ‘little and often rather than in a big bang’.

This ‘will allow us to see what the norm looks like for every piece of track in the Northern estate, which is over 3 000 km, and gradually see the change in vegetation, slight embankment movements and also the interaction between stanchions and the railhead’.

The technology will also assist in the removal of emergency speed restrictions more quickly, and help monitor the progress of major projects such as the Transpennine Route Upgrade.