New technology for operation and maintenance of railway systems

Sund & Bælt has built and operates some of northern Europe's most impressive infrastructure, including the Storebælt, Øresund and upcoming Fehmarnbelt links.

This article was published in the SIGNAL trade magazine in March 2018.

Operation, maintenance and reinvestment in the extensive facilities amount to approximately DKK 500 million annually. As a consequence, efficiency gains of just a few per cent will lead to quite considerable savings on operations. Sund & Bælt is looking to put a range of technologies into use.

Various initiatives are already underway with innovative collaborators helping to identify potential. The objective is to make the Storebælt link the focal point in Sund & Bælt’s work on developing and applying new technology with Danish and international partners.

The initiatives include the use of new technology and existing solutions from other industry sectors.

Increased investment in technology

The use of sensors on the Storebælt fixed link is an example of the increased focus on technology initiated by Sund & Bælt to meet the goal of efficiency gains.

Sund & Bælt is also looking into the potential of using Big Data and artificial intelligence This means that the technical installations themselves can “call” when maintenance is required and before a malfunction occurs.

“By setting up sensors and collecting data on the railway tracks, we can use the process in tandem with artificial intelligence to find causal relationships that are not visible to the naked eye,” says Nils Blom Salmonsen, Technical Manager of Rail Technology Systems at Sund & Bælt.

Real-time monitoring at Nyborg Station

With its partners, Sund & Bælt has run a test installation at Nyborg Station for the last few years. The installation includes sensors on the concrete rail sleepers at the station. Furthermore, Sund & Bælt placed sensors on a section of the West Bridge railway as a reference project in 2017.

The sensors collect data from the track, which means that Sund & Bælt can save time on maintenance work over the long term. This can include measuring whether any settlement or torsion changes are in the track that require maintenance.

“By placing sensors on the concrete sleepers, we can be notified directly if further track maintenance is required. This can save us hours of manual maintenance work because employees do not have to visit the track regularly to assess the location. It means that the installation can contribute to efficiency and savings over the long term,” explains Nils.

The test facility can also be used for excavations close to the track, which means that Sund & Bælt saves on manpower for monitoring the work since it is handled by the system.

A mobile facility

The test facility on the West Bridge’s railway is mobile and can be easily relocated to where Sund & Bælt wishes to take measurements on the track. In instances of mechanical track adjustment and grinding, the sensors have to be disassembled, but this is easily done due to the sensors being fixed to the concrete sleepers.

“The mobile test facility consists of sensors located in the middle of the concrete sleeper in the track, a solar panel and a gateway next to the railway. The solar panel provides power to the gateway which collects data from the sensors. This is forwarded to a Dashboard showing the measurement results,” says Nils.

Efficiency of track points heating

In winter periods it is essential that the tracks are free of snow and ice so that the trains can run on time. Sund & Bælt has historically managed this through the local traffic command post switching on the heating as and when the need arises. Sund & Bælt has now taken the decision to move from manual to automatic control – also called intelligent monitoring – of the points heating.

Two-phase implementation

The efficiency of the track points heating is achieved across a two-phase implementation. The first phase is the use of thermography equipment to control the functionality of the points. The equipment shows whether the heating is functioning correctly and thus avoids the time spent isolating the transformer box manually for inspection. The points temperature is now measured by the thermography equipment.

In the second phase, the points temperature is controlled by intelligent monitoring, called System 2000. Sund & Bælt can access the system via an internet browser, which delivers time savings in comparison to manual management. The system can also notify of technical failures as soon as they arise. This enables corrective action before traffic congestion occurs.

“By establishing System 2000, we achieve a more intelligent control of the track points heating. This saves energy, since the heating is switched on when needed or when there are warning messages about weather conditions that may have an impact. Experience shows that up to 50 per cent of the energy consumption can be saved on the points heating,” concludes Nils.

System 2000 was deployed on the Storebælt fixed link in the autumn of 2017 and is expected to be fully implemented at the Øresund Landworks during 2018, after which the points heating will be switched on and off automatically from a central server and be based on local weather data.

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