Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency and VR FleetCare test new technology to reduce disruptions to railway traffic

Switches play a key role in ensuring smooth railway operations. A switch is used at a railway junction to steer trains from one track to another. Last year, switch failures caused over 5,000 disruptions to traffic in Finland. To enhance the monitoring of the condition of switches, VR FleetCare, a company offering railway fleet management, and the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency (FTIA), which is in charge of Finnish railways and their development, have launched a joint pilot project focused on collecting and analysing data to obtain real-time information about the condition of switches.

For the testing stage, VR FleetCare has set up seven measurement points at interlockings located at major traffic points around the railway network. They will be used to test the operation of some 80 switches. Based on the measurement data, incipient switch failures can be detected from deviating turntable performance. Ideally, this will help prevent traffic disruptions due to such failures.

Switch maintenance accounts for a considerable share of railway network maintenance costs. Switches have a complex structure and involve many components that affect their functioning. The measurement data can be used to steer maintenance based on the condition of switches, reducing maintenance costs and increasing the life-cycle of switches. For example, the number of operations of individual switches may vary greatly, yet the same maintenance system is used for all of them.

“More detailed data helps us improve the availability of tracks and reduce switch-related disruptions to rail traffic. We aim to receive the first signals of maintenance needs before any deviations are detected in switch operations," explains Marko Lehtosaari, who is responsible for railway maintenance at FTIA. “In this respect, condition monitoring would help improve the punctuality of trains.”

The digital services of VR FleetCare seek to identify solutions for improving customers’ business. Data-controlled, predictive maintenance based on the condition of components is at the core of development. In line with its strategy, the company works with select partners to apply advanced technology for the development of railway traffic. The equipment for the present project was produced by Vire Labs, a Finnish supplier of IoT solutions based on artificial intelligence.

“Condition monitoring and predictive maintenance of Swithes benefits the owner of the railway network, the maintenance providers and the traffic operators using the railway network. This pilot project is a good stepping stone because, in the future, we plan to offer this service also on the global railway market. We believe that our solution is the best and most competitive available.

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