Digital Twin – the new world of track construction

In the age of 4.0, the digital transformation poses great challenges to the railway: Both, the users’ need for mobility and the operators’ opportunities to manage the track have changed. The digital revolution changes the order of things, requiring us to rethink and change the way we work.



The track management of tomorrow will require a multi-dimensional approach, combining design data, measuring results, data models and data on costs and time. We show the way from a divided concept, a model separated by tasks, to an integrated concept, an integrated, holistic approach. Networking infrastructure data with the information on the machine fleet adds considerable value to track maintenance operations.

The DIGITAL TWIN provides the basis for optimising railway track sustainably

  • The real track is fully recorded. All relevant features and properties are translated into a virtual world, the “digital twin”.
  • The virtual track is used to carry out holistic tests and develop optimisations. This allows a precise determination of the effects of maintenance operations on the track’s life cycle. The results benefit the management’s decision. 
  • A continual target-performance comparison between the real track and the virtual track provides the basis for the implementation of the optimisations in the real world.   

A digital twin of the track

A virtual world – the digital twin – reflects all relevant elements of the real track. This results in a consistent, database-assisted track model, containing a wealth of information and its interdependencies. The digital twin provides a high-quality data basis for planning according to BIM (Building Information Modeling). This results in a uniform approach to all technological perspectives.

Data will increasingly be used to optimise the asset management and the life cycle management of the infrastructure sustainably and holistically. Infrastructure management planning will be based on correct and complete data.  

About Building Information Modeling (BIM)

Building Information Modeling (BIM) simplifies complex aspects of planning, building and operating a structure, reduces susceptibility to faults, ensures the transparency of costs, makes processes faster and promotes the collaboration of all project participants. BIM is not just a virtual building model or a software package like CAD. It is a working technique for managing the planning phase, building phase and operating phase of a project. This is how a multi-dimensional BIM model becomes Building Life Cycle Management (BLM). Interconnecting its individual dimensions makes it become reality:

  • 3D network model with object description: The description of the railway network is based on a nodes and edges model such as UIC’s RailTopoModel. The network is densely structured and allows the integration of individual objects such as sleepers. All objects are geo-referenced.
  • Time dimension: All information is stored in a data base at least on a daily basis. A differentiated trend behaviour can be derived from the historical data.
  • Costs dimension: In this context, the term costs covers building costs, operational costs or even the financial value of the assets, which are subsumed and allocated to the maintenance processes.
  • Sustainability dimension: This dimension stores any information needed for a sustainable track. This includes quality certificates of the manufacture and installation of components.
  • Life cycle management dimension: The complete documentation of maintenance processes includes condition monitoring, routine maintenance operations, restoration, repair and renewal of the track. Describing the quality behaviour of track installations accurately is crucial to ensure efficient life cycle management. Clearing the track from snow and vegetation is part of this holistic approach.
  • Operation dimension: This dimension comprises all parameters relevant to the track’s wear behaviour, such as type of trains, number of trains, stresses on the rails and the overhead line system. Stationary measuring equipment is particularly important to this function.

We are already working on the virtual track – the digital twin. This is how we create new opportunities of cooperation between track maintenance machines and the infrastructure.

BIM in track construction and maintenance

The digital transformation and Building Information Modeling (BIM) have become a part of our reality and the construction industry, profoundly changing the way we plan, build and operate structures. BIM not only improves the planning logic and the working quality, but also increases the operating efficiency. The implementation of this approach for linear structures, such as railway track, has made progress. The required specifications are being prepared.

The integrated online railway management system of the future

Data will increasingly be used to optimise the infrastructure's asset management and life cycle management sustainably and holistically. Infrastructure management planning will be based on correct and complete data. Data and information will increasingly shape infrastructure processes and the development of new organisational structures.

The tasks ahead will include the promotion of network modelling, integrating the Building Life-Cycle-Management approach (“BLM for Rail Infrastructure”). This will support the collaboration in all areas of planning, building and operating the railway infrastructure. Adding all data generated over a life cycle, an integrated online railway management system stands for the infrastructure managers’ commitment to act sustainably.

We develop the tools for data collection

The demand for object detection systems for the automated recording and embedding of the track components into the network model will increase in the future. Our model of the digital twin and our tools for the automated recording and creation of a data model are crucial to ensure this. The use of artificial intelligence has become indispensable to object recognition.

Ideally suited for cloud applications

In terms of software, the digital twin and BIM are both predestined for a data cloud. A cloud is indispensable to allow all project participants to access the latest data. In addition, it enables them to use the model to follow or implement changes live. This makes it all the more important to ensure a consistent understanding of the exchange of data and provide compatible software solutions – an open infrastructure platform.

PlasserSmartMaintenance

PlasserSmartMaintenance is our contribution to a new era in track construction and maintenance. The “Internet of Machines” is a new approach to the machines for both operators and decision-makers. Using the latest sensor technology and groups of test users, we develop new interfaces for communication, mechanisms of evaluation and digital tools for maximum performance. 

Making machines smart – the PlasserSmartMaintenance initiative

Once the digital twin has been prepared and fitted with the required data, it can be used on track maintenance machines. The applications from our PlasserSmartMaintenance-Initiative grow steadily. The central platform consists of specific apps with networked cloud solutions and web services. They primarily aim to enable easy access to the relevant data on individual machines, fleets and the infrastructure.    

As a result, the machine is becoming ever more intelligent. It becomes a smart machine. We use the opportunities created by digitali­sation to increase quality and reliability and to meet the customer's desire for a higher level of automation and transparency.   

The digital twin creates new opportunities of collaboration between track maintenance machines and the infrastructure. The quality of the works performed can be immediately inspected by the customer. The number of people in the danger zone is reduced. Works can be inspected from the safety of offices. The combination of trends and intelligent assessment methods makes it possible to analyse and recommend predictive maintenance actions for the track infrastructure.   

Objectives/Advantages

  • Supporting infrastructure managers
    To plan maintenance operations and track inspections infrastructure managers need an overview of the track section they are in charge of.

    New digital tools recommend actions, making machine operation easier. Measuring data is visualised and analysed. Maintenance work can be planned (work order) and managed.
  • Virtual track inspection
    The digital twin provides the basis for PlasserVirtualTrack (under development). It allows for a virtual track inspection from the office in compliance with the infrastructure manager’s requirements. As a result, it is no longer necessary to inspect the track on site. This creates potential savings and minimises the risks of infrastructure managers.
  • Track geometry editor
    Recorded and generated data can be easily transferred into other systems. The central geometry data directory exchanges design data and measuring data with track design systems and guiding computers of track maintenance machines – using both absolute values and relative values.