Previous situation.

Previously, maintenance staff would inspect the rails by eye. A track construction vehicle with a special measuring device would also drive along the tracks once a year. This resulted in high costs for Zentralbahn’s 100-kilometre-long network.

Since 2014, new technology has been in use on the train route between Moscow and St. Petersburg. It offers potential cost savings, as it is no longer necessary to send additional trains and personnel along the tracks or to close routes for surveying.

Check of infrastructure condition by employees.

Objectives, benefits and implementation.

The aim of this project was to achieve simpler, more efficient and faster data collection as well as automated evaluation of the collected data. The project leaders also intended to reduce the costs and workload for maintenance staff. As the data is recorded while the vehicle is transporting passengers, it is possible to measure constantly while reducing special track closures.

When implementing any digitalisation project, Zentralbahn promotes the following behaviours:

  • Being curious.
    A new system brings new applications. For rail maintenance managers, curiosity was a prerequisite for successful implementation of the project.
  • Taking it step by step.
    The measurements currently relate to the rail infrastructure. As a second step, the lasers will monitor the interaction between the wheel and the rail head in order to reduce screeching in bends, for example.
  • Doing the right thing.
    The system has been in use since 2019. Since then, laser measurements have proved very successful and complement the manual inspections that are still carried out by employees.

So what happens now?

The passenger train runs according to the normal timetable.  If, for example, construction work is carried out along the route network, the laser train detects any changes to the rails. This allows those responsible to intervene quickly in the event of subsidence and initiate measures. An inspection is also carried out following renovation work to determine whether the implemented construction work has brought about the necessary improvements as desired. The data is analysed approximately once a month. This analysis is used, among other things, to plan the next round of renovations. Today and in the future, renovations will be condition-based. This provides planning security and ensures that funds can be invested in the right place at the right time.

A changing job profile.

The laser train can be used to automate repetitive tasks such as creating reports and updating data. This means that employees no longer need to perform these tasks, enabling them to devote their resources to more valuable tasks. The job requires in-depth knowledge of technology and how to apply it, as well as of data analysis.

Statement from the project manager.

The project manager is enthusiastic about the laser train.

“With the laser train, we support the manual inspections conducted by maintenance staff. We can react quickly to changes in the infrastructure, thereby improving safety for our employees and our customers. We will be able to continue investing where it is needed and avoid the misallocation of funds.”