Robotics and drones used in SNCF’s biggest maintenance workshop

source: spoorpro

Atelier 57 in Hellemmes is the largest maintenance workshop of the French rail operator SNCF. The building in northern France is no less than 28,000 square metres in size and 12.5 metres high. Maintenance engineers have the most modern techniques at their disposal to carry out heavy maintenance on the high-speed TGV train, for example.

Among other things, mechanics have smart glasses for maintenance tasks, which allow experts to guide them remotely and help them solve complex, non-routine problems. According to SNCF, this makes problems much easier to find and solve.

Atelier 57’s technicians also use automated guided vehicle (AGV) systems to place uncoupled carriages and carriage components in the right place in the workshop.

Watch a video of how that works here:

Robotic sander

Furthermore, the workshop has a robotic sanding machine to finish the surfaces of the train equipment. Because Atelier 57 is no less than 12.5 metres high, it is possible to inspect the roofs of the TGVs with drones. According to SNCF, manual inspections – and the construction of temporary walkways needed to carry them out – are therefore a thing of the past.

The robot sanding machine of Atelier 57

Preventive maintenance

Besides drones, smart devices and other technologies, new systems are used to collect data on the condition of the trains and the track. The aim is to carry out preventive rather than corrective maintenance using early warning of faults.

Other technologies used by SNCF include a Lidar system to scan the infrastructure and the track surroundings. This aims to visualise the track, bridges and vegetation via a 3D map that is accurate to within a few millimetres. The aim is to create a Digital Twin of the French railway network.

Another digital application used by the French railways is a smartphone application for train drivers that is used to monitor the vibrations of the track in real time. If there are any anomalies, track engineers are sent to the scene.

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Author: Marieke van Gompel

Marieke van Gompel is editor-in-chief of, and, online magazines for railway professionals.

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