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ÖBB and Plasser & Theurer

Opening a new chapter in innovative partnership

Over the last six decades it has always been the Austrian Federal Railways that would make first use of ground-breaking Plasser & Theurer technologies. This is still the case today. In spring 2019, ÖBB put into operation the first universal tamping machine with a semi-autonomous assistance system and the fastest track recording car on the track.

During a visit in Linz of Andreas Matthä, the CEO of ÖBB Holding, on 29th March 2019, two vehicles were introduced that opened another chapter in the innovative partnership between ÖBB and Plasser & Theurer. “The long-standing partnership with Plasser & Theurer has a special strategic relevance for ÖBB. The company is an important partner for us when we want to make use of new, safe, economically efficient and environmentally-friendly machines and systems”, said Mr. Matthä at a press conference in Linz. Johannes Max-Theurer, Chief Executive Officer of Plasser & Theurer, emphasised the value of this cooperation: “We are proud to have an innovative and world-leading partner in ÖBB.”

A universal tamping machine with artificial intelligence

One of the two new P&T machines is the first universal tamping machine that works semi-autonomously thanks to the “PlasserSmartTamping – The Assistant” assistance system. At this level of automation the system works out recommended actions which the operator just needs to confirm prior to implementation. After that, the machine automatically performs all steps required for successful tamping of a turnout. The basic tamping procedure which the system is based on was developed from guidelines, specifications and discussions with DB and ÖBB employees. For the first time a tamping simulator was used as a development and testing tool, allowing for costly and time-consuming practical tests to be reduced in the early phase of development.

The new assistance system increases transparency, work quality and process safety of tamping work. It also increases economic efficiency, especially in recurring track work. In addition, it is able to produce completely new forms and qualities of verification documentation. The infrastructure operator can easily access all relevant quality and working parameters, such as the tine position, tamping depth or squeeze times, online at any time.

Hybrid drive provides quiet and environmentally-friendly operation

The new universal tamping machine of ÖBB is among the first machines that are equipped with a hybrid system. The drive power can be supplied either electrically from the overhead line or in the conventional way from the diesel unit. This not only makes the machine low in emissions but also much more quiet. Therefore, it is particularly useful for working in urban areas.

The fastest track recording car in railway construction

The second new machine that ÖBB has deployed is the EM100VT Track Recording Car, which can perform highly accurate track measurements at over 100 km/h, 20 times as fast as comparable measuring technologies. The measuring system is non-contacting and is equipped with an integrated GPS navigation system and optical track gauge measuring to record the track geometry.

The stereo cameras on the sides of the vehicle are new; they capture graphical reference points at speeds of up to 100 km/h. The position of the fixed points is calculated in real time. Given the frame rate of up to 200 frames per second and a resolution of 5 MB, a huge amount of data must be processed and synchronised all the time. Only the data that is actually needed is stored permanently.

Multi-antenna measuring system locates the GNSS/GPS position

For the first time, a new multi-antenna measuring system for the location of the GNSS/GPS position will be used on the EM100VT. The location system is also suited for speeds of up to 100 km/h, using four GPS antennas in total. On the one hand, this increases the economic efficiency, and on the other hand, it provides higher safety and availability of lines, emphasised Max-Theurer: “The track recording car enables higher measuring speeds and precision. In addition, the technology reduces the time the engineers are moving in the danger zone of the track.”

Both the universal tamping machine with semi-autonomous assistance system and the EM100VT track recording car have been tested successfully on ÖBB’s tracks. Other railway companies in Europe and Asia have already expressed an interest in these latest-generation machines.