New Finnish technology produces real-time information on switch performance – promising pilot project results
Railway switches play a crucial role in smooth train traffic – any faults in the switches cause traffic disruptions. A significant share of all railway network maintenance costs originates from switch maintenance. Finland has successfully tested a new IoT system for monitoring and analysing the condition of point machines in real time. The pilot project of the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency, which owns the railway network, and VR FleetCare, which provides the fleet and rail infrastructure services, has yielded very promising results.
The pilot project comprised seven measurement stations that monitored the condition of 80 switches at key traffic points across the Finnish railway network. The objective was to detect signs of maintenance needs for switches before operational failures could manifest causing traffic disruptions. The project covered more than 500,000 switch operations, providing a large volume of data for analysis.
“Switch performance has not been monitored this systematically in Finland before, so we are at an early stage in this field. During the pilot, we analysed the measurement results extensively and made several observations; however, all in all, the pilot project period is short for this kind of work, and the process will continue,” says Marko Lehtosaari, Specialist in Railway Maintenance. “On the whole, the pilot project was a success. The cooperation between the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency and FleetCare went well. Many new things came up during the project, and we managed to solve everything together flexibly,” Lehtosaari continues.
“At VR FleetCare, we are proud of the results and the switch monitoring system generated during the pilot project. We have found the system to be extremely useful as it provides unprecedented transparent view to switch performance. We developed the system in close cooperation with the client, which ensured that the system and the user are optimal for both the asset manager and field personnel. Implementing the new monitoring system is simple, and initial results can be achieved very quickly,” says Sami Saloheimo, Specialist in Digital Services at VR FleetCare, who was responsible for the development.
Towards predictive maintenance
Nowadays, switch maintenance is based on scheduled and reactive maintenance. The newly developed system enables optimisation of maintenance and fault prediction. Measuring switch performance in real time makes disruption diagnosis and recovery quicker. The system was designed for a railway infrastructure environment where multiple actuators are centrally managed from one location, such as interlocking stations.
“Performance monitoring can improve the usability of critical machines. When we have more information on disruption causes, we can target maintenance measures better. In the best-case scenario, we can detect performance issues early enough to prevent malfunctions and the resulting traffic disruptions. Recovery is also quicker when we have real-time information on switch performance before the malfunction,” Lehtosaari believes.
Benefits for all parties
Switch performance monitoring and predictive failure identification benefits the owner of the railway network, maintenance providers and traffic operators using the railway network. Managing switch maintenance based on their actual condition improves the operational reliability, speeds up recovery after disruptions and improves the punctuality of train traffic. Thanks to improved transparency, the work of maintenance operators becomes easier to manage and the investment decisions by the infrastructure owner easier to implement. Naturally, all of this improves the railway safety.
“Initially, our objective was to develop equipment for monitoring of point machines because our advisers specialised in this field had noticed in their own studies that this method can improve the reliability of railway switches. The results of the pilot project were so positive that we believe this solution will benefit railway network owners also in other countries.
We are including this system in our service offering, and we want to offer the solution to the global rail traffic market. The system is scalable and highly cost-effective, and it requires no installations on the railway line or service interruptions. We believe that our service is competitive on the emerging predictive maintenance market” says Mikko Alanko, Vice President at VR FleetCare, who is responsible for the sales of SmartCare portfolio.