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Delays to be ‘stopped in their tracks’

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INNOVATIVE: Dr Farouk Balouchi unveiled the Tracksure project at the Railway Condition Monitoring conference in Birmingham

INNOVATIVE: Dr Farouk Balouchi unveiled the Tracksure project at the Railway Condition Monitoring conference in Birmingham

The future of train travel for commuters

Falling behind schedule due to a delayed train is something many of us have experienced in our lives, with the inconvenience often blamed on line repairs and broken tracks.

Thankfully, due to the efforts of a group of railway experts from the University of Huddersfield, delays could soon be a thing of the past thanks to their latest invention.

Members of the university’s Institute of Railway Research (IRR) are working with engineering giant Siemens to develop an inexpensive and easily-fitted sensor that could turn virtually every rail vehicle into a track monitor.

This would allow each train to easily detect and transmit vital information about the condition of rails and rail bed throughout the network.

Not only could this lead to improvements in safety and reliability, but also major efficiency gains and cost savings for network operators, plus improved ride quality for passengers.

The track monitoring system, named Tracksure, has been developed by Siemens in collaboration with the IRR, as part of the Remote Condition Monitoring Competition supported by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) and Network Rail.

‌Every train in the UK – and a huge proportion overseas – is fitted with a GSM-R cab radio system -Siemens itself produces one of the most widely-used devices.  It is now possible to retrofit an inexpensive Tracksure sensor card to the Siemens cab radios and by picking up vibrations they transmit information – received by a control centre - that can detect under-track voids.

These voids are gaps that have developed between sleepers and ballast. In serious cases, they can lead to an increased risk of rail breaks, along with poor vehicle ride performance.

Tracksure would therefore provide early warning of problems – especially at switches and crossings and at the transition to other high value assets such as bridges.

The system has now been described at the recent Railway Condition Monitoring conference in Birmingham organised by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).  

The project was outlined to delegates in a paper drafted and presented by Dr Farouk Balouchi and Dr Adam Bevan of the University of Huddersfield’s IRR, plus Roy Formston of Siemens UK.

The IRR’s role in the project was to develop an all-new algorithm that could be programmed into the Tracksure sensors, so that they detect under-track voids.

“It was very challenging,” said Dr Balouchi.  “Initially we used simulation to identify what type of sensors and what accuracy and sensitivity would be needed for the Tracksure prototype.  This led on to us developing a highly efficient algorithm which can process large quantities of acceleration data in a short space of time to detect the location and severity of potential track voids.”

At the conference, Roy Formston, of Siemens UK, also detailed how techniques such as machine learning, additional functionality could be included to improve the detection accuracy by making use of multiple train runs over the same section of track.

‌Now that the practicality of on-board sensors has been demonstrated, the IRR is to collaborate further with Siemens in developing a concept that has the potential to provide levels of ‘big data’ that could provide a huge boost to rail safety and cost-efficiency.

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Travel misery for rail commuters

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MASSIVE DISPARITY:  Train fares have risen by 25 per cent in the past six years, while average weekly earnings have grown by a mere 12 per cent

MASSIVE DISPARITY: Train fares have risen by 25 per cent in the past six years, while average weekly earnings have grown by a mere 12 per cent

Regulated train fares to rise by 1.9 per cent in England

Rail fares on half of UK journeys are set to increase by an average of 1.9 per cent from January next year, in line with the latest official inflation figures.

It comes as research by trade unions suggests rail fares have increased at double the speed of wages since 2010.

But the government said wages were now rising faster than fares, and the rail industry said £50 billion was being spent on improving the network.

Some routes are expected to see prices rise by £150 for an annual rail pass while the average yearly season ticket is set to cost an extra £40 next year.

The RPI inflation rate has been between 1.3 per cent and 1.6 per cent since the start of the year, suggesting that July’s figure could be in the region of 1.5 per cent.

This would see the average cost of an annual season ticket rise by £41 to about £2,777.

A yearly ticket through National Rail from Birmingham to London would rise by £151 to an eye-watering £10,231.

The Department for Transport is likely to announce the fare hikes this week, at a time of continuing disturbance from industrial action on the network.

About half of rail fares are regulated, including season fares on most commuter journeys.

Some off-peak return tickets on long distance trips and ‘anytime’ tickets around major cities are also regulated.

While the government sets the cap for the rise in regulated fares, unregulated fares, such as off-peak leisure tickets, can go up by as much as train companies like.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said rail passengers were “paying more and getting even less”, and called for rail services to be nationalised.

“Fares go up while trains remain overcrowded, stations are unstaffed, and rail companies cut the guards who ensure journeys run smoothly and safely.

“It's time for rail services to be publicly owned, saving money for passengers and taxpayers alike.”

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