Rail inspection is an essential task in railway maintenance. The inspection is performed by trained personnel that, periodically, walk along the tracks searching for visual anomalies. The overall purpose of the inspection is to detect rail defects and potential failures.
There are several downsides to manual inspections. Firstly, working on or near a railway is a safety hazard and in worst-case scenarios, it can lead to fatal accidents. Secondly, vital processes that solely depend on manual operations are highly vulnerable. Especially in times like these where the current corona pandemic has made its entry across the globe. To minimize the risk of further spreading, COVID-19 has forced many employees to work from home as much as possible. However, for many workers in the rail industry, working from home is an impossibility.
Reduced reliance on manual inspections
Although digitalization is on the rise in the rail industry, many vital maintenance processes still depend on manual inspections. This is a vulnerability that should be addressed sooner rather than later.
Although a high number of railways have or are currently undergoing renovations, many railways are still in very poor shape. As a result, there is a need for frequent monitoring. The good news is that there is technology available that enables remote monitoring. The bad news is that it has yet to be fully implemented on many railway stretches. Therefore, many engineers are sent out to manually measure temperatures and settlements.
The reliance on manual actions can be reduced with new technology such as Internet of Things (IoT). Sensors, equipment connected via the internet, or other means of communication can make it possible for track engineers to work remotely.
Remote inspection with IoT
Manual inspections often require closing a line to let an engineer check if anything is wrong. If he detects any potential failures, another engineer is then sent to further inspect the site and see what the problem is. When the actual problem has been identified, a third engineer is then sent to resolve the problem. This is both time consuming and quite costly. However, this can be avoided.
With the help of sensors, cameras, or lasers, the rail network can be monitored from behind a desk. If any abnormalities are spotted, this can be inspected remotely. This way, engineers only need to go onto the track for actual repairs or maintenance.
The purpose of IoT technology is to provide data on physical things and provide insight into their state. By connecting these data points to the internet, new opportunities arise. Data sets can be visualized, shared, and actively used – both for optimizing efficiency, increasing safety, and reducing costs.
RailTech (2020): ‘IoT proving its worth to rail industry at a time of crisis’
Credits for picture used in the article: Network Rail