Innovative track monitoring technology and the information it provides can help to save cost, predict asset life cycles and be incorporated into the Building Information Modelling (BIM) framework.

There has been much debate in the rail industry and beyond around Building Information Modelling (BIM). However, BIM is a reality and its adoption across the UK in major infrastructure projects is acting as a catalyst for change in the way projects are procured, delivered and managed. In the rail industry, BIM has been adopted by two very high profile infrastructure projects, Crossrail and HS2, which will provide a key reference point for the rest of the industry.

Crossrail, which aims to be the first major infrastructure project to fully realise the BIM concept, defines BIM as “the process of generating, building and managing data through the life of the project by using model-based technologies, linked to a database of project information”. Impressively, BIM incorporates physical, environmental and commercial data on every element designed for Crossrail.

The move to Level 2

Information management and the use of data for operational and maintenance purposes becomes crucial as projects move into their final, and most costly, phase of BIM Level 2 (Level 2 becomes mandatory for all public sector projects in 2016). It’s fair to say that, as BIM is increasingly adopted on more projects, companies or suppliers that are unable to prove they can fully facilitate the collection and analysis of data in these latter Level 2 stages of a BIM project risk losing a significant competitive edge – just as we have seen with the construction elements so far.

PAS 1192-3:2014 (the specification for information management in the operational phase of assets), to which Network Rail made a significant contribution, lists the following capabilities as a prerequisite to delivering BIM Level 2 effectively:

  • Better awareness of the operational and maintenance needs of assets;
  • Better decisions regarding operation and maintenance expenditure based on actual asset performance and status;
  • Dynamic measurement and condition-sensing enabling poor energy performance, faults and impending failure to be identified;
  • Better organisational and strategic planning from more complete and accurate asset information;
  • Better information quality as a result of automation enabling an increased amount of verification.

What PAS 1192-3 is saying is that asset managers are going to have to ensure that the quality of their asset information, as well as the means of obtaining them, is significantly better to drive through these improvements. The development of real-time remote condition monitoring systems and condition monitored maintenance analytical tools can therefore expect to play a major part in this step change in closing the loop in any infrastructure system information cycle.

An example of how track information could be presented [online]

Track conditions

Of course, an asset that is crucial to any rail infrastructure project, and one that needs constant, accurate monitoring and management, is the track itself. Thanks to innovative electromagnetic vibration harvesting technology, which Perpetuum engineered, patented and produced in 2004, daily real-time track condition data collection, information management and analysis are achievable within the BIM framework.

Perpetuum technology delivers the power required to transmit large amounts of autonomous wireless sensor data reliably from remotely monitored assets and is already operationally deployed and collecting substantial analytical data on the UK and European rail network today.

For example, Perpetuum products and information services have been fully deployed on the trains of one of the UK’s largest train operators, Southeastern Railways. In Kent alone, the company monitors over 1.8 million data points per day, taking over 11,000 data samples per track section. That’s a total of over 250 million service miles from over 5,000 sensors on over 600 cars. This data is used to produce significant statistical models upon which to build and create powerful life cycle management processes, enabling asset managers across the rail industry to save cost, increase safety and plan more efficiently.

Furthermore, nearly 160 cars are now being deployed with the Perpetuum system on the adjacent Sussex network with the respective train operator, Southern.

As the sensors are located on the rolling stock (see left), the data provides constant monitoring not just of the condition of those vehicles, but of the track itself. By collecting track condition data directly from trains that are in service and earning revenue, Perpetuum provides a much more frequent, reliable, extensive and therefore valuable real-time information management system than traditional track monitoring systems, such as conventional measurement trains or manual inspections.

Indeed, real time snapshots, accessible 24/7, as well as trending data on degradation and failure rates in track condition, can be analysed and predicted. The interface between the wheel and the track can be analysed too, so wheel flats can be identified and questionable ‘rough ride’ calls can be instantly checked and if necessary, eliminated, thanks to the use of the data as a decision support tool. Unnecessary and costly track maintenance based upon unreliable information can be eradicated, with all the improvements to service and revenue that can bring.

Therefore the major service benefit is in ensuring that the rich analytics which are produced are assimilated into future planning, maintenance and buying decisions, dramatically reducing operational and maintenance costs as well as increasing track safety by reducing manual inspections. Perpetuum is not just a technology provider, its expertise actually provides a huge knowledge and information base upon which process change and improvements can be built, adding significant value to a project.

As track and other infrastructure sub-systems become more and more integrated, Perpetuum’s services, knowledge and information management can provide railway systems projects with the key benefits targeted by PAS 1192:3. These include reduced costs; better awareness of the operational and maintenance needs of assets, including better identification of poor performance, faults and impending failure; better decisions regarding operation and maintenance expenditure based on actual asset performance and status.

Written by Justin Southcombe, commercial director of Perpetuum