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Back in September we attended the Railway Diagnostic & Monitoring Conference in Vienna. The primary focus of the conference was monitoring and diagnostics in the railway sector. It was dedicated to answer the following 3 questions:

  • What are the latest developments in Railway Diagnostics and Monitoring Systems?
  • What prospects can be expected in the future? And,
  • What has been the experience of users so far?

It was two days packed with interesting presentations and valuable talks with our fellow attendees. It was truly a great experience to attend this conference and it was a very learning experience. We got a chance to learn much more about wayside monitoring, WILD systems, hot box detection, RFID tags and acoustic emission, just to name a few.

Improved performance with wayside monitoring

The first day at the conference was primarily dedicated to wayside monitoring. To put it rather simple, wayside train monitoring systems generally consists of various sensor systems which are installed next to the tracks. They measure the operational performance of rolling stock as well as the direct surroundings and create a so-called train profile. They provide management information to improve performance and optimize your maintenance strategy.

We were given an opportunity to visit a checkpoint in which they have applied this monitoring method for ÖBB. ÖBB is the largest mobility services provider in Austria. It was very interesting to learn more about their work and to get a chance to inspect an already installed system. It provided us with a much deeper understanding of the method. Furthermore, it provided us with a unique insight into how the infrastructure owner uses this on the daily basis to improve availability, minimize load on infrastructure and bring down cost of repair.

A whistleblower on the track

In relation to wayside monitoring, we also learned more about ‘hot box detection’. It is a technology that has been around for decades but has been revived. It consists of infrared sensors which have been installed in the track. These sensors measure the heat of the wheel bearings whenever a train pass. Acceptable temperatures and temperature variations are set beforehand, and any value deviating from the norms will trigger alarms. This enables relevant stakeholders to act before any failures are given a chance to evolve into serious security threats. In this connection, we also learned about wheel impact load detection, also known as WILD. The purpose of WILD is to measure the axel weight and shape of every wheel. This provides a precise indication of the state of the wheel and eventual time for repair.

We attended a presentation held by a representative from the Danish State Railway, DSB. They have been able to reduce their load on the Danish railway network with up to 60 percent. By using the WILD system, they have improved the way they identify failures. Furthermore, it has enabled them to repair these failures and prevent them from damaging the infrastructure.

Identify rail cars with RFID tags

The widespread use of RFID on railways seemed to be a returning topic at the conference. Adding RFID tags to rail cars serves various purposes:

  • Uniquely identify rail cars for rail car visibility: One of the most common uses for RFID tags for railways. Rail cars tagged with RFID can be uniquely identified from other cars on the same train or in the same rail yard. Tracking individual rail cars or wagons provides rail operators with enhanced visibility into the exact location of the train
  • Preventative maintenance: Tagging rail cars with RFID tags enables rail operators to keep track of service records. This way they can schedule and perform maintenance before any issues occur
  • Asset management: Many railways that use railways for the transportation of high-value resources choose to tag their cargo or goods with RFID. RFID tags on each cargo container, for example, minimizes the risk of mistakes and lowers the amount of labor time involved in identifying and distributing the cargo

In addition to visibility, RFID tags adds operational efficiencies, and extreme accuracy. As it is the case with hot box detection, this technology has been around for quite some time. Several different standards are developed and applied to the RFID-technology. A certain standard for RFID tags in rail has been given.

Although, its popularity has steadily increased the last few years, several rail companies have yet to implement the technology. The mutual message from our fellow attendees was clear: implement the technology now or miss out on getting your piece of the pie.

Acoustic Emission helps you to identify flaws at early stages

When speaking of a golden opportunity, our fellow attendees also addressed the topic ‘acoustic emission’. This type of inspection method uses high-frequency, passive piezoelectric transducers, which are mounted on the side of the rails.

The purpose of acoustic emission is to detect the stress waves generated by the various possible flaws of the wheel, bearings etc. This includes flats or other circularity defects that have an impact on the rail while the wheel is turning. It could also include crack openings or even faulty bearings from the axes.

Acoustic emission reveals exactly which train and what axel that seems to cause a problem. It enables train operators to identify flaws at early stages and is a technology which has been identified as a very promising tool.

The future in rail entails old and new technologies

Wayside monitoring, hot box detection, RFID tagging, and acoustic emission were some of the very hot topics at this year’s Railway Diagnostic & Monitoring Conference. Based on the presentations we attended and our talks with fellow attendees there is no doubt that the future in rail will entail these technologies.

Despite being a relatively new technology, acoustic emission has the potential to identify early stage failure. We are therefore certain that it is something that will be used even more frequently in the future.

In conclusion, we would like to thank everyone we met at the conference. It was our first time attending this particular event and despite high expectations beforehand, it succeeded all of them. Thank you all for a great conference.

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