Digitalising the railway

Digitalising the railway

With the five-year funding cycle of Control Period 6 (CP6) due to start in April 2019, Network Rail is laying the foundations for a digital approach to asset management. ABB’s Industry Solutions Expert for Enterprise Software, Robert Alonso explains how the operator will use ABB AbilityTM Ellipse® to support safety, performance and cost.

Network Rail is implementing a digital approach to asset management as it approaches the start of CP6.

Safety, performance and cost control are Network Rail’s key drivers. The operator is keen to reduce risk to staff as well as the number of planned and unplanned interventions. Maintaining and creating capacity is critical as passenger numbers have increased significantly over recent years, with 4.7m journeys now made every day. In addition, benchmarking with other national railway networks has identified potential for more efficient operations.

Predict and prevent

A ‘predict and prevent’ approach to maintenance will be key. Under this, targeted and effective maintenance will ensure that infrastructure is available to meet the working timetable, avoiding the need for trackside work and minimising the number of maintenance jobs.

Network Rail has already implemented ABB Ability Ellipse as the software behind its digital asset management strategy and will build on it during CP6 through the Intelligent Infrastructure Programme.

Caroline Lowe is Network Rail’s advanced analytics improvement strategy manager and oversees the operator’s approach to big data. She said: “As with many asset management companies we have an IT landscape that combines old and new technologies and today only a few of these integrate with Ellipse, our core asset management system. We use Ellipse to actively manage our asset register, scheduled maintenance and reactive work-orders. We currently close in excess of 90,000 work orders a week.

“We want to make greater use of the rich data in Ellipse by coupling it with other information systems such as our fixed sensor networks and train-borne sensors. We will then be able to make more intelligent use of our data to enable predictive risk-based management. This will provide a greater understanding of asset condition, degradation and the relationship to the drivers of railway performance – passenger delays, safety and cost.”

TIGER project

With plans for CP6 in place, progress towards digital asset management is already underway. For example, the TIGER (Track Integrated Geometry Engineers’ Reports) project is replacing paper-based records with Ellipse. It will provide a single solution for track geometry faults as well as regulatory reporting data for the Office of Rail & Road.

Ken Lambert, Network Rail’s Head of Maintenance Systems, recognises that transitioning to a predict and prevent maintenance regime is harder than it looks, with changes needed across data, tools and people.

He said: “The TIGER project is one of our first to remove a legacy process and is progressing well. We collect data in many different formats and ways such as aerial surveys, train- mounted equipment, sensors and manual inspections. The key requirements were to ensure ‘one version of the truth’ and a user interface that makes data from all of our sources come to life without having to search line by line.”

High quality data is essential, so there has been a significant effort in data cleansing, which relies on detailed asset knowledge. Therefore, engaging field staff was important – as was putting in place data entry tools to support clean and simple data entry in the field.

Ken added: “Previous programmes have focussed on the technology and not on the people. That’s why this is a transformational programme with 80 percent of the work being transformational and 20 being technology.

“Looking ahead, the Intelligent Infrastructure Programme will improve the way we collect, record and use data. This will enable us to make better decisions by understanding the whole life of our assets and their related failure modes. Ultimately it will improve stakeholder and passenger experience.”

Enhancing the tools

ABB is continuing to work with Network Rail to enhance Ellipse. For example, an Asset Performance Monitoring (APM) module has been developed to provide information about the health of assets and help to prioritise maintenance and renewals. It integrates with other modules in Ellipse and is monitoring electrical assets including circuit breakers and transformers and Network Rail and ABB are now collaborating to develop APM for Point Operating Equipment.

This will help Caroline Lowe in her goal to drive new levels of insight: “The current systems for monitoring health of critical point operating assets provide limited automation. Historically, false alert rates were too high and could only be managed by carefully calibrating each device: a major challenge as there are thousands of devices in operation. Therefore, such systems still rely on expert engineering knowledge to interpret alerts. Consequently, the work that we are doing has the potential to provide very significant value.”

The success of the TIGER project has been down to collaboration, rapid design and solutions, involvement of ABB as the software supplier and strong project management, as well as working towards the ISO 55000 Asset Management Standard.

According to Ken: “For Control Period 6 the challenge is to build on the success of the TIGER project to drive change across people, data, investment and projects.”

Caroline concluded : “By working together we achieved in three months what other projects achieved in 18 — so I am very comfortable with the rate of progress.”

Principles of Intelligent Infrastructure Programme

  • Sensor data acquisition to monitor the state of assets
  • Exploitation and integration of legacy systems
  • Use of analytics to realise more valuable information from mining data and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Alignedplanningandworksdeliveryprocesses
  • Collaborative approach with key suppliers and OEMs.


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