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‘More railway for the money’

Implementing ‘smarter maintenance’ of rail networks can help shape long-term track renewal projects, according to a leading track system specialist. Peter Juel Jensen, who is leading innovative work being carried out by the national Danish rail infrastructure manager Banedanmark on track measuring, will put forward his ideas at next week’s Intelligent Rail Summit.

Jensen will outline how infrastructure managers can gain ‘more railway for the money’ by ensuring maintenance procedures and practices are based on the very best management and interpretation of data from multiple sources. And that not only means utilising the best software available but also ensuring staff are sufficiently informed and empowered to use the data most effectively. Firms should also be collaborating wherever possible.

Through highlighting the benefits felt by Banedanmark since adopting a leading linear management system, he will give a comprehensive overview of current practices for data integration in the rail sector. He will also then shed some light on an area of research which has been focusing on replacing traditional ballast drilling with cutting edge ‘radar’ technology.

Ground penetrating radar

“It is not just that ground penetrating radar (GPR) is more cost-effective – the most significant difference in the results generated is that GPR provides a continuous signal, compared to the point measurements in drilling which only provide discrete, fragmented samples. Combined with other linear asset data types, it has the potential to deliver massive savings when compared to traditional ballast drillings.”

“Linear asset management is an essential tool for carrying out analyses which can optimise life-cycle costs,” he says. “Ground penetrating radar (GPR) is an interesting technology for strategic renewal planning and we are keen to cooperate with anyone who is interested, particularly other infrastructure managers. Why should everybody start from scratch all of the time, instead of learning from each other?”

Since graduating as a Railway Engineer (MScE) at the Technical University of Denmark in 2010, Jensen has become a field leader in railway measuring technology. Having first worked as a track system supervisor and now as project manager at Denmark’s national infrastructure manager, Banedanmark, he heads up various research and development (R&D) work streams. One key project is focused on replacing traditional ballast drilling practices with the introduction of GPR.

The basic principle of GPR is that it transmits a high frequency radio signal into the ground, and reflected signals are returned the receiver and stored on digital media. A computer measures the time taken for a pulse to travel to and from the target – in this case, the layer borders between different layers in the track – and indicates its depth and location. From this, Jensen – or perhaps more importantly the engineering team – can extrapolate key information about the condition of the track bed, and thus help formulate maintenance plans for infrastructure works.

Track bed renewal

“Ground penetrating radar for railways is an interesting technology,” says Jensen, who will be speaking on day two (November 22nd) of the summit, in Naples, Italy. “We plan to use GPR for two things .The first is strategic renewal planning, which focuses on ballast cleaning and track bed renewal, perhaps five or six years in advance of a particular project. For this, we only need the GPR to provide a relatively good indication.

“Second, we use it to develop a detailed project design of a renewal scheme, and for this we require a tolerance of +/- 5 centimetres in order for it to work accurately.” And it is this aspect of GPR’s application which perhaps best demonstrates its advantage over traditional drilling.

GPR is not without its disadvantages though, as Jensen explains: “It is not as straightforward to use as other traditional radar, such as that used for airplanes. This is because the medium that it has to travel in, ballast and sub-ballast, is not as homogenous as air, and therefore the technology has be calibrated and interpreted by specialists.” This is where the human element comes into play, as Peter asserts: “It is absolutely vital that there is high level of cooperation between the supplier and the customer.

International Railway Inspection and Services System (IRISSYS)

“As far as our research and development in this field goes, we have tried GPR and can see a lot of interesting uses for it, but we are still trying to verify just how precise it is.”

Jensen is also Banedanmark’s system administrator and primary developer for the application of IRISSYS (International Railway Inspection and Services System), now regarded as one of the world’s leading software applications for integrated maintenance management of rail networks. Among its major strengths are the capacity to detect weak points and display the reasons for any issues, rather than just recognition of the ‘symptoms’, as it were.

Banedanmark has developed it to manage and calculate the need for the three key maintenance processes: track ‘tamping’ – the process of packing (or tamping) track ballast under the track to ensure support and alignment; rail grinding (removing track irregularities to extend its life); and ultrasonic defects, as well as having data interfaces to other master data management systems in the company, including SAP and ArcGIS (resource planning & geographical data respectively).

“Rail Net Denmark (Banedanmark) has used IRISSYS since 2006 to make several analyses and management systems, along with using its powerful viewing capabilities for optimising the maintenance and renewal of track networks, says Jensen. “As a government agency we have made savings worth hundreds of millions of euros. That money we are saving is part of the railway infrastructure’s life cycle cost, and the best way to measure the success is to examine how effective we use the taxpayers’ money. It is extremely user-friendly and we have a very effective working relationship with the software developers,” he adds.

Trust the data

So what, then, does he see as the main barriers to the better integration of data within the European rail infrastructure? “Trust in the data,” he says. “Can data from measuring cars, driving fast over the infrastructure be trusted – or can it only be used as an indication that something is wrong, and then traditional methods used to verify it?” he asks.

“If this is the standpoint of the decision-makers or the workers in the infrastructure, then the technology, data and analyses can be as good as you want, but they cannot be utilised in practice. So, I would say that it is the culture of the staff that is the biggest barrier.

“Sharing the data from all of the available sources is absolutely key. Furthermore, he adds, GPR data, when used in conjunction with other linear data is a ‘valuable tool’ for strategic renewal planning: “We at Rail Net Denmark are very keen to share our experiences with anyone who is interested.”

Peter Juel Jensen, Project Manager at Banedanmark, presents on the 2nd day of the Intelligent Rail Summit, which takes place in Naples, Italy, from November 22-24. 

Author: Simon Weedy

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