Reducing Economic and Environmental Impacts of Railway Systems Through Optimum Condition Monitoring in Asset Management

Reducing Economic and Environmental Impacts of Railway Systems Through Optimum Condition Monitoring in Asset Management


Dr Polyvios Polyviou, Asset Integrity Management Group, TWI Ltd, Dr Ujjwal Bharadwaj, Asset Integrity Management Group, TWI Ltd


This paper will draw on on-going work for MAINLINE Project, relevant recently completed projects such as INNOTRACK (2010) and Sustainable Bridges (2007) and research of academic and industrial nature, at both national and international levels.


At a time of major budget constraints, the demands on Europe’s transport systems continue to increase and change in nature. Innovative and practical approaches are necessary to provide efficient, sustainable and cost-effective solutions to congestion, safety and travel behaviour. Providing practical answers based on experience throughout Europe, whilst transferring knowledge between research and industry are key factors to addressing this great challenge. This is particularly necessary for the design and management stages of major transport projects.

Growth in demand for transport, in particular rail transportation, across Europe is predicted to continue with midterm projections by the European Commission expecting rail freight and passenger traffic to rise by approximately 13% and 19% respectively between 2000 and 2020. Whilst new high speed lines are being built to meet this demand, most of it will be accommodated using existing lines. It is estimated, however, that some 35% of railway bridges in Europe are in excess of 100 years old and major earthworks and tunnels were constructed more than 150 years ago. This predicted increase in traffic on existing elderly rail infrastructure across Europe will result in increased rates of deterioration for the civil engineering and track assets concerned. These assets need to be maintained, and when necessary, replaced in as short time as possible to minimise the disruption of the flow of freight and passengers. In addition these maintenance and renewal interventions need to take account of the need for reduced economic and environmental impacts. It is also crucial to find a balance between the natural desire for lower cost solutions and the real need to achieve the lowest life cycle cost.

Railway assets need to be monitored and examined for damage to ensure that timely action is taken for them to remain fit for service; this process is a vital part of the design, operation and maintenance stages of any major transport project. Currently, the rail industry faces sensor technology overload with a surplus of information being generated. While many monitoring and examination systems offer great potential, a combination of concerns has resulted in very poor uptake by the rail sector as these systems have not been validated in a practical context; operators are, therefore, unsure that such systems represent good value for money.

In order to address these issues, the EU-funded FP7 project ‘MAINLINE’ (MAINtenance, renewal and Improvement of rail transport iNfrastructure to reduce Economic and environmental impacts) has been prepared by a consortium of 19 European partners. This on-going project brings together leading railways, contractors, consultants, researchers and governmental bodies from both Eastern Europe and the emerging European economies. The development of a tool to assist railway administrators to contribute to a more efficient and cost-effective improvement of European railway infrastructure based on whole life considerations is the principal objective of the MAINLINE project.

This paper will provide a realistic and holistic overview of currently available monitoring and examination techniques in relation to the degradation process of railway assets as well as recommend practical answers to gaps in compatibility between monitoring and examination systems and degradation models. Each of the monitoring and examination techniques that will be included in this paper offers a number of different capabilities and their applications vary significantly in terms of time, cost, applicability, compatibility, validation and credibility. Despite recent advances in sensor technologies and the wide use of non-destructive testing methods, visual inspection plays a crucial role in the railway operation and maintenance process and in most cases forms the most widely applied technique.

This paper will also look at what inputs the degradation models may require and benefit from structural health monitoring systems and detailed examination techniques; it will draw attention on how these can be obtained in the most cost-effective and reliable way such that structural health monitoring and degradation models can form a part of an integrated asset life management system for the rail industry.

Compatibility issues with regards to data from monitoring and examination systems and data required as input to reliability models will be addressed in this paper, whilst solutions for identified key gaps will be recommended to enhance a reliable, sustainable and cost-efficient inspection of railway assets. This paper will draw on the experience of members of MAINLINE’s consortium, relevant recently completed research projects such as INNOTRACK (2010) and Sustainable Bridges (2007) and on-going work of academic and industrial nature, at both national and international levels. Cost-effectiveness, optimum performance, sustainable approaches and practical solutions will be the foremost objectives of the paper.


Association for European Transport