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Focus: Digitisation in track maintenance

ÖVG placed the focus on availability and digitisation

The 21st Convention of the Austrian Society for Traffic and Transport Science (ÖVG) was well attended. Around 250 participants, mainly from the DACH region (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), dealt with the availability of the infrastructure. In rail traffic, Industry 4.0 is also a key topic. The oldest mode of transport needs to catch up.

“Networking” in the DACH region: Germany, Switzerland and Austria try to find common approaches. According to Dr. Roland Bosch, CFO DB Netz AG, € 28 billion will be invested into improvement and renewal of the network within the next five years. Philippe Gauderon, Head of Infrastructure, SBB, focused on the key statement: “Maintaining in due time keeps costs down.”

Graz University of Technology provided more than just the venue. Univ.-Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Dr. Peter Veit has been concerned with cost-­efficiency and life cycle costs for many years. This time, he showed how important it is to assess availability financially. But how? His valuation approach for the calculation model is based on the non-availability of the track, with all its consequences, such as delays, detours or rail replacement services.

Predictive Maintenance for greater availability 

At ÖBB it has become a well-proven standard to carry out long-term analyses of track geometry measuring data stored in a track geometry data base. The data is collected during measuring runs with the EM 250 electronic track recording car or during maintenance and construction works. Mathematical models allow making predictions for the planning of maintenance measures.

Prevention is key, as the infrastructure operators attending the convention stressed repeatedly. Particularly the experiences gained in recent years confirm that putting off maintenance takes its toll.

“If tamping works are not carried out, irregular track geometry, quickly deteriorating assets and their unexpected premature breakdown are the consequence. The ensuing failure to reach the end of an asset’s economic life results, unless sufficient quantities are available for renewal, in expensive pent-up demand which, by definition, tends to cause restrictions of availability and additional maintenance,” explained Dipl.-Ing. Ingolf Nerlich, Asset Management Track, SBB.

DB AG launches into the “digital revolution”. The company has set up a “MindBox”, a creative space that aims to provide the traditional rail industry with new impetus. First experiences show that innovative start-ups have a positive impact on the railway.

DI Dr. Matthias Landgraf, a Senior Scientist from Graz, presented the path from measuring data analysis to asset management. Using fractual analysis of the vertical track geometry, the different wavelength ranges of track faults are identified. Short-wave track faults indicate an emerging problem in the interaction between sleeper and ballast. Mid-wave track faults indicate progressing ballast fouling. Long-wave track faults lie in the track’s bearing capacity and describe the substructure condition. 

DI Dr. Florian Auer showed how Plasser & Theurer uses the opportunities created by Digitisation 4.0: The Plasser­SmartMaintenance initiative stores measuring data, working parameters and further data collected by tamping machines to make it accessible for further analyses at any place and any time. For the first time, the new product PlasserSmartTamping – TheAssistant makes it possible to tamp turnouts fully automatically. The operator only has to confirm the suggestions of the assistance system.

Speakers from Great Britain, Korea and Canada also participated in the convention. Their presentations centred on asset management in the HS2 high-speed project, upgrading Korean high-speed lines, which is also important for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, and the Canadian Railway.

James McLeod, Canadian National Railway, showed the importance of emergency recovery measures after national disasters, such as rockfalls or the collapse of bridges. The top priority is to restore the railway infrastructure as quickly as possible to keep the economic damage to a minimum.

Falling ice and flying ballast in winter

In the last presentation, ÖBB and Innsbruck University gave insight into the problem of falling ice at winter temperatures and the infrequent phenomenon of flying ballast. The suggested solutions include: reducing the amount of ballast between the sleepers, restricting the travelling speed to 160 km/h, applying a special coat or removing the ice from the machine mechanically or chemically. The scientific research project “FlyRock”, examined the phenomenon comprehensively between 2014 and 2016.

Once again, the convention of the Austrian Society for Traffic and Transport Science impressively showed the efficiency of the railway system. Digitisation creates new opportunities for infrastructure management. However, it also creates new tasks and responsibilities for the railway and its suppliers. Data must be structured systematically and uniformly to ensure high quality and usability. Expert analysis will help increase the track’s productivity using preventive measures.