Growing populations in metropolitan areas, along with factors such as air pollution and traffic generated by conventional fossil-fuel-based vehicles, are causing people to rely increasingly on mass transit transport solutions. In several cities around the world, demand for metro and suburban trains has exceeded forecasts in recent years. As a consequence, the pressure to increase service quality and availability while keeping risks and costs under control is ever-present in the everyday routine of rail operators.
The strategy applied by rail operators to perform maintenance on the infrastructure plays an important role in preventing disruptions in services and schedules, which are increasingly less tolerated by passengers and railway operators. Track maintenance and renewal activities are usually based on visual inspections and scheduled maintenance to keep tracks in good condition. That approach is long-established but quite costly. Track inspectors can walk the tracks only when trains aren’t running, and dedicated track-inspection vehicles are expensive and usually slow, so updates on the condition of the tracks are also slow.
To improve this situation, SKF has developed a technology to apply its consolidated solutions and know-how to vibration analysis, providing rail operators with tools to monitor the condition of the rail tracks through the use of their trains in normal operations. SKF has been researching this technology in recent years, and field validation tests have been performed specifically in Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB) in Spain, as well as in other metro operations around the globe. The technology uses vibration sensors mounted onboard standard trains to monitor vibration generated when the train is travelling over the tracks. This enables operators not only to detect track defects, but also to forecast future maintenance needs and targets to keep the rail track quality controlled.