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Turnout systems are one of the most critical components of the railway infrastructure. They play a vital role in achieving a reliable system. They consist of switches and crossings with specific complexity that is exposed to several defects. Turnouts are some of the largest sinners when it comes to component failures on the railway infrastructure.

In order to meet strict requirements, turnouts are manufactured in accordance with railway regulations and high quality standards. They are designed to perform best possible in different environmental conditions -from dry to very wet and from extremely cold to very hot.

If it quacks like a duck, swims like a duck.. It’s a duck…?

On the surface, two identically turnout systems may look the same. They have the same components and the same functionalities. Based on this, one would think that their level of performance would be the same. Perhaps in theory, but not in reality. Fact is that you can’t assume that two turnouts installed on two different locations will operate in the exact same way.

As any other part connected to the railway, their performance is highly influenced by conditions of the location on which they have been installed. Temperature, precipitation, geology, traffic (load, traffic volume and speed) etc. all affect the functionalities of your turnout.

Proactive vs. reactive – failures in turnouts

Failures in turnouts are, unfortunately, no stranger to railway infrastructure owners and operators. Some choose to conduct reactive maintenance in which repairs are done after the equipment has failed. It might make sense from the first sight (repairing only when failures occur) but shouldn’t be your main strategy.

At first glance, reactive maintenance might seem appealing. In theory, using spare parts and labor on a turnout that is still running doesn’t seem logic. Reactive maintenance doesn’t require any initial costs or maintenance planning. However, it is a very shortlisted approach and in the long term, it will have negative results.

Consider the life expectancy of your turnout. Investing in new equipment is very expensive and naturally, you want to maximize the lifetime of your asset as much as possible. In order to maximize your initial investment in your turnout, you must keep it running in the most optimal way. This includes conducting maintenance on your assets before failures occur. This can increase the life expectancy of your assets.

Why predictive maintenance?

In order to maintain a well-functioning railway, the reliability and continuous availability of the railway network must be ensured. To achieve this, degradation processes in turnouts must be monitored.

Predictive maintenance is about getting ahead of problems before they happen. It is aimed at reducing the likelihood of failures and, as a result, lower your maintenance costs. In order to be predictive, you must become proactive. Predictive maintenance requires a proactive mindset. You need proactive processes that support your maintenance efforts.

Securing the availability of components requires in depth knowledge. By continuously monitoring your turnout and its components, it will be possible to compare the present functionality with the desired functionality. By monitoring the performance of your turnout (or any asset for that matter), predictive maintenance can drastically reduce downtime.

In predictive maintenance you monitor different parameters and compare the differences. You can monitor the rail temperature, track movements, gap and the position of the switch rail. These data can then be combined into predictive data. Predictive data enables you to see how things evolve and whether they’re evolving in a negative direction.

An example: It’s summer and you’ve noticed that the switch of your turnout doesn’t run as smoothly as it usually does. As the summer evolves and the temperature rises, you notice that the switch runs worse. You install a temperature sensor. Through the data it collects, you can see that there is a correlation between the high temperatures and the movements of your switch. Now you know that high temperatures in this location are something you must consider in your maintenance planning. It enables your maintenance crew to see when problems are forming and give them time to address them early on.

You have now become proactive rather than reactive in your maintenance actions.

Conclusion

No, a turnout is not just a turnout – it’s much more. Certain turnouts have been specifically built to perform best at locations with extreme conditions. Before installing a turnout to your railway, it’s important to consider the surrounding conditions of the railway.

Based on our experience, we know that each turnout has its own set of fingerprints. Naturally, there are similarities, but you must monitor each turnout individually. Failures in one turnout, may not necessarily be the same failure in another turnout. In order to determine the root cause analysis of each failure, you must collect data from each turnout and compare these with the data from before the failure occurred. Only then will you be able to identify trends and plan your maintenance accordingly.

Predictive data gives you the cutting edge and helps you to minimize the risk of unpleasant surprises and expensive downtime.

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