Keeping rail operators on the right side of the track

Source: RTM Apr/May 16

Philip Buchan, commercial director at Cyberhawk Innovations, explains how the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology has delivered cost and time savings for Network Rail.

Safe, punctual and reliable delivery of train timetables is centred on efficient asset management. However, the volume of assets owned by rail providers means that this can be a highly challenging task. 

One particular issue is the monitoring of overhead line equipment (OLE). OLE must be routinely inspected and monitored in order to identify any problem areas which may require maintenance or repair. 

Traditionally, this form of inspection has taken place on foot, from ground level (often with binoculars), by helicopter or working at height. However, Cyberhawk Innovations is changing the landscape using Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology. 

First-class innovation  

Cyberhawk, a leader in aerial inspection and survey using UAVs, has established a strong track record in industries including oil and gas, renewables and electricity utilities, and was quick to see how drone technology could be effectively applied to the rail sector. 

In December 2014, Cyberhawk was issued a framework agreement by Network Rail to provide UAV services across its UK network in recognition of the vast benefits on offer. 

For OLE inspection, most importantly, this includes dramatic safety advantages by minimising the requirement to work at height or in dangerous environments, such as trackside and/or during the night. 

Furthermore, disruption to timetables is also reduced as UAVs avoid the need for track possessions and offer a far quicker and more cost-effective method of inspection. 

These benefits also extend to survey projects, where UAVs are used to provide geo-referenced orthophotos, topographic data and aerial oblique and panoramic imagery. Importantly, UAVs have the ability to cover more than 100 hectares in a day, which is dramatically more efficient than traditional ground-based survey techniques. 

Next generation of asset management 

Cyberhawk has combined its drone inspection technique with its engineering expertise and intuitive asset management software to develop an innovative solution for OLE asset management.

iHawk is a software platform which provides easy access to the condition of assets and underlying inspection images (not only from drones but also other sources) in the cloud. The platform uses a map-based interface and a traffic light system to intuitively show asset condition, which allows asset managers to make quick and effective decisions. As a cloud-based solution, iHawk is particularly effective in the rail industry where terabytes of high-definition images are required to make effective asset management decisions. 

Network Rail’s framework agreement with Cyberhawk demonstrates confidence in UAV technology and is recognition of the significant cost, time and safety benefits on offer. This inspection technique is on a trajectory to become the go-to inspection method in the rail sector, keeping operators on the right side of the track. 

Flying Scotsman

A welcome lift at Deptford Creek 

In August 2015, Cyberhawk conducted a full visual inspection of Deptford Creek lifting bridge on behalf of Network Rail. Due to the unknown condition of the elevated areas of the structure, Network Rail’s priority was for the inspection to be executed safely and efficiently. 

With the ageing Deptford Creek and the railway being operational, it would not have been safe for a rope access team to carry out the work scope. Cyberhawk’s solution mitigated the need for a full-site setup and meant the team could continue operations throughout the inspection, improving safety while saving time and money. Cyberhawk’s highly skilled team of inspection engineers carried out this project in a single day with Network Rail reporting cost savings of up to £30,000. 

A drone’s eye view at Dover sea wall 

During late December 2015 a severe storm caused damage to a sea wall protecting the Dover to Folkestone railway line. The damage to the wall caused undermining of the rail lines and caused the closure of the line. In order to acquire detailed survey information and up-to-date aerial imagery, Cyberhawk surveyed the site using one of its multi-rotor UAV platforms. The survey area extended to 900m along the coast and was completed within one day. 

Cyberhawk delivered geo-referenced orthophoto imagery, a digital elevation model, a 3D pointcloud and vector survey data with a verified level accuracy of 20mm RMS (Root Mean Square). The team also supplied oblique inspection imagery of the sea wall, aerial spherical imagery and aerial video footage showing the wave action. Additionally, Cyberhawk flew at low tide to collect topographic information of the beach which had changed profile due to the storm.

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