May 15, 2018

Destination Rail project unlocks enhanced decision-making tool for IMs

Written by  Michael Robson
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The Destination Rail project to provide a decision support tool for infrastructure managers has reached a successful conclusion, with the final conference held at the University of Zagreb on April 26-27. Michael Robson a member of the Destination Rail executive board, outlines the project’s objectives and benefits.

THE three-year, €3m Destination Rail project, which is funded through the European Union’s (EU) Horizon 2020 programme, was launched in May 2015 and was completed last month. The objective was to provide solutions to some of the problems faced by EU infrastructure managers by using novel techniques to identify, analyse and carry out remedial work on critical rail infrastructure.


Destin fig 1Infrastructure managers sometimes have to make safety-critical investment decisions based on poor data and an over-reliance on visual assessment due to a lack of current data on the state of the asset. This approach may result in some assets being over-maintained while some risks are not identified.

The objective of Destination Rail was to develop a decision support tool to enable infrastructure managers to make rational investment choices using reliable data with a holistic management tool based on the Find Analyse Classify Treat (Fact) principle:

  • Find - improved techniques for the assessment of existing assets have been developed and tested on the live railway
  • Analyse - advanced probabilistic models fed by performance statistics and using databases controlled by an information management system have been used to determine the level of safety of individual assets
  • Classify - the performance models allow a step-change in risk assessment, moving from the current subjective (qualitative) basis to become fundamentally based on quantifiable data; a decision support tool will take risk ratings and assess the impact on the traffic flow and whole life cycle costs of the network, and
  • Treat - novel and innovative maintenance and construction techniques for treating rail infrastructure including track, earthworks and structures have been developed and assessed.

These solutions have been tested using the decision support tool, allowing rail infrastructure managers to make rational investment choices, based on reliable data (Figure 1). Some infrastructure managers have already benefitted from Destination Rail by implementing some of the techniques developed during the project.

Ground-penetrating radar

For example, Norway’s infrastructure manager, Bane Nor, has used ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to survey its lines to establish the condition of the ballast prior to determining a ballast/track renewal programme. The use of GPR is considerably cheaper than the traditional method of taking samples. In addition, it provides a visual record of ballast deterioration over time. GPR was mounted on a track machine as part of the project and Figure 2 shows the output from the measurements retrieved.

In Croatia, HZ Infrastructure provided some of the sites for drone tests. Drones can locate and identify high-risk assets before they fail using a combination of remote monitoring and expert judgement to remotely monitor the condition of embankments and rock slopes.

Currently, standard visual assessments usually consist of personnel walking along the line under examination. With some assets, such as high or steep slopes, essential information, such as land use changes at the crest, the condition of drains and presence of cracks, are often indistinguishable. Drones fitted with high-resolution cameras along with several types of sensor such as GPS, a mobile Lidar system, thermal camera and a multispectral camera, enable surveyors to carry out a more detailed inspection.

Destin fig2By applying these types of sensors to drones, it is possible to monitor and create 3D models of hotspots along the track. These can provide cross-section volume determinations, contour lines and other parameters needed for engineering analyses. Their use is especially appropriate in the case of steep and high cuttings and other inaccessible sites where implementation of traditional survey procedures can sometimes prove hazardous (Figure 3).

Figure 3 illustrates how drones give a better perspective. In these situations, the information is passed in real-time to the office for interpretation and action if required. It is currently in use on the HZ network.

Irish Rail (IE) provided various test sites, including Drogheda viaduct on the Dublin - Belfast main line, for the work to develop a probability and multi-criteria-based system to optimise the performance of railway infrastructure. This methodology has been developed for various aspects of railway infrastructure including structures, earthworks and tracks. The developed basis provides infrastructure managers with the facility to optimise budgets and resources from the perspective of minimising costs. This work is being used by IE in conjunction with the risk management tool.

Work has also been carried out in Germany on the DB Network system looking at track stability.

These are just some of the examples of work the project has carried out to monitor and detect hot spots on the network. Full details of all the project work can be found on the Destination Rail website:

Risk assessment

Having developed techniques for finding and analysing problems, the project moved onto developing a risk assessment methodology which feeds into the decision support tool, both of which are currently undergoing trials by IE.

The risk assessment process can assess risk at four distinct levels: individual objects, individual sections, route, and at network level.

Having assessed the risk, the intervention development process allows the infrastructure manager to develop optimal work programmes. An optimal programme reduces the most risk within the constraints of a fixed budget, and can also be broken down to object, route, section and network level.

Having developed risk assessment and intervention development processes, the project needed to provide a further input for the decision support tool namely a whole life cycle cost model. Figure 4 shows the inputs and outputs required by the model.

Network level analysis can be used to determine the effects of combining the maintenance schemes (of the same and different assets) under consideration as this can reduce the overall direct and indirect costs. Schemes may be considered for combination if they meet three criteria:

  • they can be scheduled within the same financial year
  • they are separated by relatively short time intervals, for example within two years of each other, and
  • they are on the same section of the network between two nodes.

The rail network around Dublin has been chosen as the case study network for trials by IE. While the model provides an overview of the specific area, Figure 5 shows the level of detail available to infrastructure managers when using the tool.

Final conference

A number of papers on the subject were presented at the Transport Research Arena conference held in Vienna in April. In addition, the final conference of the project, which was held at the University of Zagreb on April 26-27, presented an excellent opportunity to showcase the Destination Rail outputs.
Destination Rail has delivered:

  • a number of new practical ways to monitor the infrastructure to locate hot spots
  • a probabilistic model for infrastructure
  • proven use of new materials to reduce infrastructure costs
  • a risk assessment methodology
  • a whole life cycle cost model, and
  • a decision support tool.

These measures have been trialled or implemented on a number of networks with the objective of reducing costs and improving efficiency thereby making the network more sustainable.

Destin fig5