Rail Industry Focus

01.01.16

Revolutionising track fault recording

Mark Swift, technical design director at Infrastructure Measurement Solutions Ltd, describes how a new innovation could lead to a revolution in monitoring changes in rail vehicle performance and identifying track faults. 

Around 60% of passenger delays in the UK are attributed to Network Rail, with infrastructure faults accounting for a major proportion of these.

And at Railtex, David Goddard, head of Data Collection Service Enhancement at Network Rail, admitted that the company’s current infrastructure maintenance (IM) fleet service will be ‘unsustainable’ in the future. 

As RTM reported in our June/July 2015 edition, Goddard said that Network Rail is starting to consider the feasibility of moving equipment from its fleet over to other forms of collection platforms, potentially including passenger and freight trains. 

We caught up with Mark Swift, director at Infrastructure Measurement Solutions Ltd (IMS), who has designed a potential revolutionary solution, the BumpBox, to identify and record common track faults. 

The BumpBox, in development for the last five years, is a ruggedised Linux-based system that measures and records the shock and vibration characteristics generated in a rail vehicle during its journey. It is also fitted with GPS, GPRS and wi-fi. 

Genesis 

Discussing the early stages of the project, Swift told us that back in 2011 Virgin Trains was experiencing a lot of “rough rides” on the West Coast Main Line. So the TOC and Network Rail wanted to determine whether a unit installed on passenger trains could identify issues associated with track, the vehicle, and their interaction. 

After installing a prototype on a Pendolino, the box was recording vast amounts of  data that was too complex to readily interpret because of the frequencies involved.

But after refining the concept, Swift designed the box in such a way that  filtering techniques and algorithms removed  all the unwanted information leaving a signature that was “repeatable and reproducible when you went over particular types of incidents”. 

Once this had been achieved, Network Rail asked if Swift could develop the technology further in terms of how the data could be readily accessed, reported and how track defects or vehicle performance issues could be located. This involved re-engineering the box into a computer-based system. 

“We designed the system on a Linux OS based platform and integrated into it a GPS location system, which uses accelerometers and gyroscopes, to locate areas of interest/defects on the track,” he said. 

“When it identifies defects it generates a ‘defect area’, determined by a GPS, and every train that goes through that area records salient characteristics building up a picture of what is happening over time. Is it getting worse? Have Network Rail been out and improved that area?” 

Data collection 

Swift told us that the data can be accessed in two ways. Firstly, people can do it on-board the train via wi-fi using a laptop computer, allowing them to view stored event data or undertake real-time continuous on-board monitoring. 

But secondly, as Network Rail was interested in trying to report this data in real-time remotely, the data is uploaded and stored on a cloud server. 

“What we’ve done is incorporated into the unit a GPRS link and the information, effectively, goes straight across to the web and is stored on a cloud server,” said Swift. “Once we get an event on the track, within 15 seconds that information is available for Network Rail to view.”

data details edit

 Data showing all BumpBoxes that travelled over the same GPS track defect

He added that Network Rail can access this information remotely from any computer, as can the TOCs, which represents a “significant” move forward with the project. 

Additionally, users can tailor reports which are downloadable in Excel or PDF formats. 

Pre-programmed triggers 

Swift added that the system can be programmed to trigger on pre-defined vibration levels, which means it can identify areas within the track that have exceeded maintenance threshold criteria. 

“I know that the unit has identified one broken rail – which is a significant safety aspect but also a fantastic saving as well,” he said. “If there was an incident we are talking about millions of pounds if a train comes off the track and the infrastructure is damaged, potentially even loss of life and lawsuits.” 

Since developing the concept, the BumpBox has been installed on six Virgin Pendolinos, five have been fitted on East Midlands Trains, one is on a Siemens vehicle in the south of London, and two are just been installed on GTR and Chiltern Railways. 

Virgin has been installing more units. “That tells me they are keen on it and they are obtaining information that is both useful and timely.” he said. “Sometimes it is difficult to define the savings and costs, but engineers on the ground are using the tools – The web enabled software interface is a key feature, that engineers have readily embraced, since it enables them to not only track the location of the vehicles but also access the data.  Software has been written which enables the measured data to be collected and processed in real-time, permanently stored in a database, filtered and sorted according to selected criteria, reported graphically or tabularly, as well as exported to different formats. 

Although the box is being used for vehicle and track defect monitoring, Swift has also used the unit for East Midlands Trains to determine the vehicle suspension characteristics and the effect of component changes. 

“That is a new application for the BumpBox, I’ve analysed the data, issued a report and now they want me to do further work for them,” he said.

Challenges 

Asked what some of the challenges have been during the development, Swift admitted that trying to make a ‘universal’ unit to fit different trains has been “interesting”. 

“Power supplies across trains are very different,” said Swift. “The newer Pendolinos have got very stable regulators and clean power supplies. But something like the East Midlands Trains, which are the old HSTs from the 1980s, have very dirty and ‘spiky’ power supplies. In fact, they were starting to blow the front-end of the electronics up! So we have had to do work to put protection in and clean it up.” 

Having spent 35 years in the rail industry designing and installing measurement systems, Swift is confident the BumpBox, which has cost around £500,000 to develop, can deliver benefits across the sector. 

“The beauty about the box is I wanted to design something that was small, compact, lightweight, very easy and quick to install and with no user intervention once configured” he said. “These systems can be installed within one day! Whereas some of the bigger and more advanced systems would take – with testing and commissioning – two to three months to install.” 

Although IMS provides customers with the “entire package” for the BumpBox, including mechanical/electrical installation schemes, associated drawings and supporting documentation, TOCs are asked for their engineers to install the BumpBox, antenna’s and associated connectivity into the train. 

The BumpBox is certified to EN50155 and is currently going through the process of becoming a Network Rail approved product. 

Swift added that Network Rail, Virgin Trains and East Midlands Trains have been very supportive during the development of the BumpBox. 

“One of the things that Network Rail has been trying to do is promote working with small businesses,” Swift told us. “I’m a very small business and the support from them and Virgin has been paramount to this project. Without their input I wouldn’t be able to do this.” 

The BumpBox system is owned by IMS and Swift is keen for both infrastructure and train operators to discuss further with him how the system can be adapted to monitor track and on-board rolling stock issues going forward.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

W: www.bumpbox.eu

E: mark.swift@infrastructuremeasurementsolutions.co.uk

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