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  • Innovation and suggestions

  • Challenge Statements

    Challenge statements have been created to support our technical strategy and the Railway’s future vison set out in the Rail Technical Strategy.

    Our challenge statements set out the size of challenge, technical details behind them and the value of opportunity.

    Our initial priority challenges have been populated and we would like feedback on the content. Just click on the challenge statement title to see more detail. We will be adding additional detail and further challenge statements in the New Year. 

    If you have any questions or think you might have a solution that could contribute to the challenges please contact us via R&

  • Track

  • Reliable and resilient track geometry

    Maintaining track geometry is a problem resulting in excessive workload for our maintenance teams and loss of financial efficiency.

    R&D activities are needed to develop:

    • Predictive track deterioration modelling for design and decision support.
    •  New methods of measuring geometry using in-service vehicles in real-time supported by standardised reporting structures to inform maintenance engineers well in advance of significant faults arising.
    • Detailed research into rate of change of trackform stiffness and associated monitoring systems to deliver improvements in track geometry understanding and repair techniques.

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    Reliable and resilient track geometry

    Plain line rail head squats

    Rail head squats cause a large volume of corrective maintenance which costs us millions of pounds every year. As squats grow they can result in speed restrictions being imposed due to the risk of rail breaks. These affect the service we are able to offer to customers.
    Given the potential consequences of squats deteriorating into rail breaks if left unrepaired, there is a need to understand the cause of squat defects in order to minimise or eliminate these and the subsequent costs implications required to remove them.  

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    Plain line rail head squats

    Speed restrictions

    Temporary Speed Restrictions (TSRs) have reached an 8 year high. The main causes of Track TSRs are cyclic top faults resulting in performance related delays to passenger and freight services.

    We need to improve our ability to identify cyclic top faults and other significant geometry faults to reduce unplanned temporary speed restrictions.

    In order to enhance this capability further research is required on the wheel/rail interface and vehicle dynamic modelling (vampire®) to develop an updated threshold report for cyclic top. This will enable the development of predictive algorithms for cyclic top deterioration.

    This will provide decision support information to maintenance engineers to assess the condition and repairs required to eliminate the fault and therefore the risk of a speed restriction being imposed.

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    Speed restrictions

    Rail stress management

    Track buckles resulting from rail stress are one of the highest track risks on the network and, despite understanding the controls required to maintain and manage a safe and reliable railway, we continue to experience track buckles each year.

    To address this challenge it is expected that we will need to address the following questions:

    • Are there alternative non-destructive means of measuring rail stress, including residual stresses in the rail from manufacture?
    • Can the current systems be better aligned to provide predictive and trend analysis of how the asset performs in certain conditions/with certain features (on high cant curves or in complex switches and crossings)?
    • Do we have sufficient understanding of ballast consolidation rates and how this links with compressive stress disturbance in rails?
    • Can we improve our understanding of the gradual rate of loss of compressive stress in rail over the life cycle of the asset?
    • Are there ways of automating inspections to provide accurate measurements of deficiencies in the track asset that may result in weaknesses that could lead to track buckles?

    Want more detail?
    Rail stress management

  • Switches and Crossings

  • Reliable and resilient switches

    Switch failures can create major safety risks and generate huge annual costs.

    Switch and Points Operating Equipment (POE) represent one of the most safety critical aspects of our infrastructure. Failures can expose workers to hazardous operational railway environments or transfer risks to operations who manage using caution speeds and driver observations causing reduction in service to the customer.

    • How can alternative materials or coatings be utilised to enhance the performance of switches?
    • How can improved inspection methods (both automated and manual) help predictive maintenance?
    • What improvements to wheel/rail and slide plate friction management can be made?
    • How can alternative and innovative actuation, locking and detection systems improve reliability, reduce whole life cost and result in a reduction in maintenance?
    • How can enhancements to existing actuation, locking and detection technologies improve reliability, reduce whole life cost and result in reductions in maintenance?
    • What improvements can be made to monitoring and maintenance of switches including Remote Condition Monitoring (RCM)?

    Want more detail?
    Reliable and resilient switches

  • Asset Information

  • Data quality, confidence and assurance

    How an organisation uses and manages the data is just as important as the mechanisms used to bring it into the business. Having the right data of appropriate quality enables the organisation to perform processes well and to determine which processes have the greatest impact. We see substantial value in the way we use and manage data.

     To address this challenge it is expected that R&D activity will need to address the following aspects:

    • How can we assign meaningful value to data and data quality that enables us to determine a business case to drive improvements and enhancements?
    • How do we calculate the whole life cost of data so we can continue to operate at lowest whole life cost? How do we prevent errors before they occur?
    • We need to professionalise our data management discipline to offer people a career in data or a platform to move across the Organisational disciplines. What do our Information Engineers of the future look like?

    Want more detail?
    Asset Information – Data quality, confidence and assurance

  • Structures - Tunnels

  • High output tunnel repairs and enlargement

    Access time for inspection and repair of railway assets is reducing as railway traffic continues to rise, forecast to grow 34% for passenger traffic and 40% for freight traffic by 2030 compared to a 2005 baseline. Reduced possession availability to accomplish tunnel remediation will result in more extensive time, cost consuming, complex repairs as assets get older.

    To address this challenge we are looking to focus on the following questions:

    • How can tunnel relining be carried out with minimum impact to rail traffic, taking into account the need for a continuous power supply to train traffic from both overhead line and 3rd rail?
    • What alternative method of gauge enhancement and tunnel lining replacement could be implemented to arrest condition of an ageing and degrading asset?
    • How can large scale maintenance be carried out to brick lined tunnels, whilst having the minimum impact to services?

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    High output tunnel repairs and enlargement

    Capability assessment tool for tunnel masonry linings

    We are responsible for 630 tunnels throughout the network; these are predominantly masonry lined and equate to over 335 Km of tunnel bores. Currently there are no prescribed methods for assessment of lining capacity across the tunnel portfolio. 

    We need to establish qualitative and quantitative assessment methodologies for masonry lined tunnels.
    To support this challenge and appropriately manage the risks associated with tunnel assets, it will be necessary to develop techniques to undertake tunnel ‘assessments’ and develop the tools to adequately analyse and assess lining capacity.

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    Capability assessment tool for tunnel masonry linings

    Alternative methods for patch repairs in tunnels

    Access time for inspection and repair is reducing as railway passenger and freight traffic continues to rise. We need to improve the efficiency in tunnel repairs through quickly and safely deployable materials that aren’t reliant on specialists skills. This will reduce the number of and length of possessions required to carry out maintenance work.

    •  How can repairs be carried out faster and safer inside shorter possessions?
    •  How can innovative repair materials be applied and delivered efficiently?
    •  Are there innovative solutions that can negate the need for temporary works? What can be done or what alternatives can be used to optimise materials and equipment needed in the tunnels for repairs?

    Want more detail?
    Alternative methods for patch repairs in tunnels

  • Drainage

  • Understanding drainage system capability

    The effective management of our drainage system requires a complete understanding of its capability. This is based upon a holistic approach in which drainage is viewed and managed as a system from the infall to outfall, rather than as individual components.

    A full understanding of the system capability is dependent on the capture and knowledge of some key components:

    • A complete and accurate asset inventory
    • Location, Condition, and performance data
    • A measure of the capacity of the system
    • Current and future demand
    • Competency
    • Systems Approach

    This challenge is looking to achieve a better understanding of these key components, alongside the enablers to capture the required data will provide allow for the drainage system capability to be measured.

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    Understanding drainage system capability

    Improving drainage system performance

    Improving drainage system performance is not simply focused on effective maintenance or intervention technique, but rather considers a holistic view of the effects of the system.  Failure in a drainage system is flooding, and the impacts of that reach to operational disruption, social and economic disruption, environmental impact, reputational loss and business costs (e.g. repairs, responses, asset degradation, parent asset performance affect).

    To address this challenge it is expected that R&D actions will need to address the following aspects:

    • Qualitative and quantitative demand analysis tools.
    • Drainage system whole life models
    • Holistic system performance measure

    Want more detail?
    Improving drainage system performance

    Safe and efficient drainage inspections and monitoring

    The effective management of our drainage system requires a complete well maintained and up-to date asset inventory.  This is achieved by regularly inspecting the assets to capture the core attributes that are required to effectively manage the drainage systems.  The data captured by routine inspection and monitoring activities is used in decision making tools and processes to help manage the asset base in the most cost effective and safest manner.

    This challenge is looking to improve our drainage inspections and monitoring through:

    • Automated technology e.g. Train borne, robotics, drones etc.
    • Manual technology e.g. handheld, desk based tools etc.
    • Locating and accessing assets
    • Tools and datasets to manage, view and map drainage as a system

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    Safe and efficient drainage inspections and monitoring

    Efficient and effective drainage interventions

    Interventions can range in size and scope from dealing with the maintenance of one chamber to the refurbishment of a whole crest drain.  However, they should be approached from a holistic view with its suitability and value measured by the performance of the whole system. 

    Currently the majority of interventions are delivered by traditional methods. 

     To improve we need:

    • Innovation around construction tools and methods
    • Innovation with regards to use of low maintenance materials
    • Improved communication channels
    • State of the art drainage designs

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    Efficient and effective interventions

  • Geotechnical

  • Detection of failure by means other than train drivers

    We manage over 190,000 earthwork 5 chain assets on a cyclical inspection regime. We want to explore how quantitative datasets can be collected and synthesised so that prioritised intervention can take place prior to failure.

    To address this challenge it is expected that R&D activity will need to address the following aspects:

    • Using datasets from across different disciplines to analyse cross level features on embankments.
    • Carry out more frequent LiDAR flights to enable comparison of data. Proof of concept required to visualise changes, automated flagging of changes and efficient data management and visualisation of large datasets
    • Novel techniques and cost effective technologies to consistently acquire and store ground investigation data to better understand soil characteristics across the asset base
    • Techniques to assess and monitor geotechnical assets outside our boundary

    Want more detail?
    Detection of asset failure by means other than train drivers

  • Maintenance

  • Enabling transition to predict and prevent maintenance regimes

    We want to explore where sensor technology and analytics can be combined to enable a transition to predictive and preventative maintenance.

     Activities required to deliver this include:

    • Deployment of technology to provide cost-effective data capture and transfer, utilising both fixed and mobile sensors.
    • Software to support rapid deployment of demonstrators for technology, analysis and prognosis.
    • Cost effective data management and analysis of monitoring systems fitted to service trains.
    • Deployment of enhanced analytics on existing data sources to develop prognostic capability.
    • Development of a system, fully integrated with our fault and asset management systems, to enable data technicians to monitor asset health and prescribe maintenance regimes.

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    Enabling transition to predict & prevent maintenance regimes

  • Telecoms

  • Exploiting the telecoms network to improve remote condition monitoring

    We are interested in exploring the potential of distributed sensing in our deployed fibre infrastructure and sensing applications of wireless signals present in the railway environment e.g. GSM-R, 3G, and 4G.

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    Exploiting the telecoms network to improve remote condition monitoring

    Patchy and un-scalable digital train and trackside connectivity

    Current generation mobile radio communication technologies are challenged from data-rate, spectrum regulation, security, cost and coverage for meeting operational railway and passenger demands for high integrity, reliable and high bandwidth connectivity. The telecoms community are developing high bandwidth communication solutions e.g. 5G, for the future, yet these activities are not targeting solutions suitable for ‘railway’.

    Our challenge is to improve digital trackside connectivity through Ground to Train (G2T) Research & Development (R&D) activities needed to complement current initiatives such as “5G” in mobile communications research.

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    Patchy and un-scalable digital train & trackside connectivity