HomeDigital RailwayGetting up to speed: rail asset information hits the fast track

Getting up to speed: rail asset information hits the fast track

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Robust and timely rail asset data is essential for effective decision-making in the management of rail infrastructure – from trackbed evaluation, flood risk assessment and tunnel/bridge monitoring, to track renewal, electrification work and station modernisation.

With these and many more network management processes hungry for information, there is pressure for quicker and more flexible acquisition of survey data that is also safe and accurate, and minimises disruption to rail services.

Working closely with Network Rail and train operators, Fugro specialists are making significant strides in adapting survey technology – principally based around laser, radar and video methods – for train-mounted collection of asset information. The company has integrated track measurement, rail corridor mapping and trackbed surveys into its RILA package – as RILA Track, RILA 360 and RILA Trackbed respectively.

Industry accreditation of Fugro’s RILA systems is the latest milestone in accelerating and streamlining the data feed to UK rail’s increasingly digital operating and management systems.

Mounted on regular service trains, RILA Track carries out laser vision measurement scanning of absolute track position and geometry at line speed, incorporating high definition video. The RILA 360 system records 360 degree LiDAR point cloud data of the rail and is typically mounted on a dedicated locomotive.

In May 2016, both systems were certified by the Central System Review Panel (SRP). More recently, RILA Track (in combination with RILA 360) has been approved for use by Network Rail under Band 1A, a newly created survey accuracy classification allowing its use for a wide range of design applications.

It means the systems can now be deployed quickly and safely on a routine basis on Britain’s railways, supplying fit for purpose data whilst offering a clearly defined health and safety benefit.

Track measurement

Unprecedented accuracy in absolute track positioning is achieved using advanced RILA processing software to relate sophisticated GPS and inertial measurements to a customer defined grid. Measurement of the X, Y and Z position of each rail is achieved by a twin-laser vision system.

The volume and reliability of output is such that RILA data can be used for a wide range of purposes related to track geometry, condition and safety. Uses include measuring gauge and cant, identifying rail wear and the condition of switches and crossings, and determining ride comfort parameters. The ease and speed of data collection means that it is quite straightforward to survey before track improvement works to pinpoint where remedial action is needed and after to check its effects.

Integrated video on the RILA Track system captures geo-referenced images of track assets, adding value to the assessment of track condition and logging of inventory. Meanwhile, RILA 360 uses two rotating laser scanners recording a million survey points per second per scanner
to provide an ultra-high-density 3D point cloud of the surveyed corridor, enabling the user to analyse trackside assets and critical clearance measurements.

Together, RILA Track and RILA 360 create the ultimate form of rail geo-intelligence. This leads to a more joined-up approach to rail surveys, where all outputs can be used throughout the full life-cycle of the project or life of the asset. Data is being used for track and signal design and upgrade, electrification, vegetation and slope analysis, platform extension and many aspects of asset management.

Users can access these high quality data- streams through Fugro’s RailData portal or they can be integrated with client asset management systems, including those using BIM.


Designed to be light and portable, the RILA Track system connects to the back of a regular passenger train in less than two minutes via a custom designed coupler adaptor. Survey personnel are removed from the track environment in the collection of survey data, improving safety and making data collection significantly quicker.

The technology allows multiple data-streams to be harnessed at the same time and at lower cost than current alternatives reliant on separate surveys. By ‘piggybacking’ on scheduled trains, carbon footprint and pressure on network capacity are reduced.

3D point cloud data collected using Fugro's RILA 360 can be viewed in RILA portal and used to analyse trackside assets and critical clearance measurements.
3D point cloud data collected using Fugro’s RILA 360 can be viewed in RILA portal and used to analyse trackside assets and critical clearance measurements.

It is estimated that full RILA data capture for 100 km of track corridor saves in the region of 1200 hours’ conventional surveying time (assuming surveyors and safety personnel), while avoiding 200 hours of typical track possession.

Below the tracks

RILA is bringing a new expediency and cost- efficiency to the creation and updating of high definition, 3D models of track assets and the rail corridor. Below the tracks, data collection is also speeding up.

Fugro is having significant success with train-borne collection of ground penetrating radar (GPR), to help monitor changes in condition within the trackbed and plot the deeper subsurface, and to understand the asset and its residual life. Its rail experts have been working closely with the industry on a radar collection solution (RILA Trackbed) capable of scanning high-resolution, repeatable data at line speed that can be readily installed on different locomotives and engineering trains.

Not only reducing reliance on intrusive sampling, GPR provides a comprehensive view of trackbed construction, ballast fouling and moisture variation, with options for bespoke (slower) surveys investigating buried services, structures and potential hazards such as voids.

RILA solutions form part of a broad suite of ‘remote’ technologies for recording the location, attributes and condition of rail assets. Data from satellite, LiDAR and aerial mapping can add topographical and positional detail of assets, while targeted geophysical and intrusive site investigation can clarify the significance of suspected subsurface issues highlighted by the GPR sweep.

Together, they allow engineers to assess and evaluate entire rail networks in fine detail, ranging from sub-millimetre rail wear measurement to detailed characterisation of underlying geology and geo-hazards.

This new speed and flexibility to mix and match diverse data-streams is making an impact in the UK and further afield.

The Intercity Express Programme team is using RILA data taken from routes in Western region to support the introduction of Hitachi Class 800 trains and a region-wide project is supporting the Great Western Route Modernisation Programme and the Great Western Electrification Project. Fugro has also undertaken RILA surveys for design, QA and verification of high output track renewal sites in Scotland, acquiring survey data of 64 sites across the East Coast and West Coast main lines in just five days.

Elsewhere, RILA track and RILA 360 surveys have been completed between Bedford and Kettering and Corby, for the Midland main line electrification project, and on the London and Norwich lines as part of the ‘Norwich in 90’ journey time improvement scheme.

Across the Channel, Fugro is undertaking a four-year contract to collect GPR from some 1,500 kilometres of trackbed for French rail operator, SNCF.
In the Netherlands, RILA and FLI-MAP® surveys have provided highly accurate 3D information to determine the position and geometry of 2,000 km of track (plain line and S &C) for national railway agency, ProRail. Facing ever-tighter European legislation on railway safety, ProRail needed an affordable solution guaranteeing repeatable data, without the need for surveyors working trackside and without disruptive track possessions. These demands were more than met by Fugro technology.

Data flow

With tough performance and cost targets to meet, the industry needs to acquire, share and extract value from asset data more efficiently than ever before. Fugro’s 3D rail information can be delivered via a web-based RILA Portal, where clients can remotely store, view and download data, inspect and analyse assets and provide inputs to engineering and maintenance operations.

By providing a single point of truth (SPOT) and common dataset survey, specialists can speed up the critical data flow to engineers and network managers, helping them to reduce risk, maximise return on investment and improve operational efficiency across the whole asset life-cycle.
As UK rail prepares for its biggest investment yet with HS2, Fugro’s RILA and other survey advances have arrived just at the right time.

Written by Simon Brightwell, head of marketing and business development at Fugro GeoServices.


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