A new solution for monitoring the condition of track circuits
Track equipment refers to the railroad devices and systems which allow trains to travel safely from one location to another. Within the VR FleetCare and Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency pilot project the focus was on a track circuit system, which is used to monitor whether the track is in use or not and, in addition, to obtain information on which railway section the train is currently running on.
Malfunctions in track equipment cause traffic restrictions and interruptions, and consequently, delays for trains. Traffic delays in part start causing increasing costs and reputational damage for stakeholders. Smart condition monitoring can minimize these losses. With the help of condition monitoring, the owner of the railway network benefits from increased operational reliability of track circuits and thus from optimal use of track capacity. In addition, traffic safety will improve and passengers are satisfied with the high level of punctuality.
“When an anomaly is detected within a track circuit, an additional inspection can be carried out and a necessary maintenance team can be directed to the site during lower traffic hours. The better the knowledge of abnormalities and early signs indicating defects are, the better they can be targeted and repaired,” says Saloheimo.
The results of a large pilot project demonstrate the effectiveness of the solution
VR FleetCare has been carrying out several digital track equipment condition monitoring development projects with the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency (FTIA) since 2019. FTIA is responsible for the maintenance and development of the Finnish railway network.
The track circuit pilot project started last year and has already recorded more than a million measurement events from around 200 track circuits. Measured track circuits are part of high traffic areas that were selected for their susceptibility for high cost disruptions. So far the pilot has been very successful and it has provided great results indicating that the potential for smart condition monitoring of track circuits is high. For example, an indication of a rail break could be detected as early as 24 hours before the first traffic disruption.
In the rail sector, maintenance work has previously been based on best practices and statistical methods. Digital condition monitoring completes the methodology with accurate and detailed information on the actual condition of track equipment. Smart measuring systems can monitor the operation of the equipment with better accuracy than personnel or current traffic control systems, and provide signals for detection and maintenance of defects before they become malfunctions and traffic disruptions.