Track maintenance is currently underpinned by routine non-destructive inspection. This process utilises dedicated inspection trains which provide coarse measurements of the rail. Handheld conventional inspection devices are then manually deployed by operators to more accurately locate and measure rail flaws. The RCF Scanner is a measurement trolley developed by a consortium of research institutes and suppliers aimed at addressing the challenge of increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of track inspection. The system comprises a self-powered, autonomous inspection cart offering a flexible payload area that can carry and integrate various inspection systems. In its current form the cart uses electromagnetic acoustic transducers (EMATs) to detect instances of rolling contact fatigue. This is appended by a robotic ACFM inspection solution which provides a detailed view of the topography of the detected flaws.
There are 215,720km of rail track in Europe, of which 4,300 broken rails are found every year. Broken tracks are the biggest cause of derailments, leading to loss of life and major disruption to services. Maintenance costs for member states of repairing broken rails are around €2bn every year. With the rapid increase in train traffic, train speeds and load carried, there is an urgent need to optimise the maintenance regime and increase reliability of rail infrastructure.
Overall integrity and safety maintenance costs in the UK alone are more than €2,276m in 2014, with 20-40% of that spent on tracks (€455m - €910m). The AutoScan system now at TRL6, is an autonomous robotic evaluation system that performs rapid NDT inspection of track, accurately detecting defects, their position and size. This allows for an accurate assessment and scheduling of repair work by the network operator.
With respect to current methods for rail track inspection, AUTOSCAN will enable more frequent inspections of rail track, which will significantly reduce lifecycle costs by enabling more efficient flaw detection and intervention. Operators will not need personnel to walk the track side, therefore improving safety. Overall inspection costs will reduce by at least 15% and probably significantly more.
Our overall objective is to increase the efficiency of track defect inspection through development of a more effective inspection system that is rapidly deployable and autonomous in its operation.
In order to achieve this we will:-
- Exploit a rapid non-contact ultrasound NDT technology to detect defects during large area scanning complemented by robotic ACFM raster scanning for detailed defect characterisation
- Enhance an existing, autonomous lightweight prototype inspection cart capable of identifying track faults through a rapid detection system.
- Demonstrate the capability to operate the cart autonomously and remotely
- Undertake real world testing at trial site representing typical railway infrastructure and challenges and validate approach.
- Demonstrate autonomous operation for the cart, with ability to detect and record a variety of defects with required accuracy of +/- 0.5mm.
- Implement a commercialisation strategy to bring the solution to the market