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Technology | Transport & Logistics

How intelligent design is transforming rail maintenance

22 Mar 2022, by Amy Sarcevic

A defunct rail turnout can deal a heavy financial blow to any rail operator, costing busier train networks up to $1 million per hour in operational downtime. Despite this, rail operators often place undue weight on the upfront costs of turnout components or maintenance options, and overlook potential cost savings throughout the product lifecycle.

Daniel Cuddy, an Engineering Manager at voestalpine Railway Systems Australia believes quality components and maintenance should be a key priority for any operator – particularly within heavy haul, an industry with the highest axel loads on earth. His company has developed a suite of intelligent design solutions that improve the running condition of turnouts over an extended lifespan. Ahead of the Rail Turnouts Conference, hosted by Informa Connect, he details his company’s approach.

Pre-emptive design

The first solution focusses on profile machining the rail to improve the wheel-rail interface. This makes for a more favourable wear pattern on the rail with fewer defects and less metal flow.

“While grinding of this profile in track is common practice, supplying turnouts with the profile already machined-in reduces onsite works and improves the turnout life,” said Daniel.

The second involves pre-empting the wheel-rail relationship through detailed transfer analysis.

“On certain crossings or products there is a very complex interaction between the wheel and the rail and this should be analysed to ensure good running condition and avoid derailment,” Daniel added.

“Historically, people have gotten used to putting components onto the track without adjusting them to meet site conditions; and later, physically grinding them to make them work better. In the meantime, trains often hit things that they shouldn’t be hitting and incur unnecessary damage to the track.”

By contrast, wheel rail analysis allows for adjustments to be made early in the design phase so that extreme changes don’t have to be made to the track later on.

“For example, instead of grinding 6 millimetres from the nose to stop it getting hit by the train, you could simply raise the guard rail a couple of millimetres, or adjust the gauge by the same amount.”

Innovative Products

With recent flooding events in Queensland and New South Wales taking their toll on networks, the third solution looks to improve resilience to adverse weather conditions. Submerged signalling equipment and locking mechanisms in various locations throughout these states require repair or replacement – a difficult and expensive logistical exercise.

“These extreme weather events are becoming the norm and continuing to bear the cost of flood damage does not make sense. Many of the traditional technologies used in turnouts are becoming unviable under these conditions,” Daniel said.

“This valuable equipment needs to be safeguarded by utilising innovative signalling and locking equipment with IP67 ratings. Even more so as the industry accelerates towards higher speeds, heavier loads, longer trains, and less time between trains. Turnouts need to become more robust and resilient with less maintenance.”

Many track maintainers recognise the importance of ballast quality under turnouts. This resilient base provides support for the bearers and steelwork, and any degradation directly affects the life of the turnout. However, as traffic conditions increase and maintenance opportunities decrease, ballast quality is often overlooked until it is too late.

Daniel says intervention at the design phase is possible with the inclusion of Under Sleeper Pads. “This innovative product used as standard under the heaviest traffic in the world has proven critical in protecting ballast and turnout components alike, giving it great bang-for-buck value,” he said.

Innovative Services

voestalpine also uses data simulations and scanning to support intelligent design. To test existing and potential turnout designs, Dynamic Multi-body Simulation is the data-backed technology of choice. This enables design changes and innovations to be simulated accurately and quantified against expectations. These simulations are then verified against real-world conditions for accuracy.

“With safety and reliability at stake there is no room for guessing,” said Daniel. “Once a turnout is installed in track, a comprehensive measurement campaign can be used to verify and refine the model. Subsequent simulations of alternate designs will then produce accurate data to support the turnout design and implementation of innovative technologies.”

Similarly, innovations in scanning technology can allow for comprehensive before/after comparisons to remedy worn out components.

“Turnouts in track will wear over time, often in unique ways due to their location,” Daniel said. “Wear in transition areas such as crossings is particularly susceptible to accelerated deterioration if this wear is not managed properly. Track maintenance teams often follow some general practice guidelines for maintaining damage and ramping in these areas but cannot provide any quantifiable data for the works. In contrast, comparing against defined wear limits allows operators to quantify the works and provide comprehensive evidence of meeting acceptance criteria.”

Hear more from Daniel Cuddy at the Rail Turnouts Conference, hosted by Informa Connect. This year’s event will be held on April 5 at the Ritz-Carlton Perth.

Learn more and register.

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