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Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction

Transforming infrastructure through smarter information
CSIC invited to ride the 'flying banana'

Members of CSIC’s research team were among a targeted group of specialists invited to ride Network Rail's new Measurement Train (NMT).

CSIC is working with Network Rail on a number of projects to provide a better analysis of existing big data sets, such as that gathered from the NMT.

The modified Intercity 125 train, affectionately referred to as The Flying Banana, carries two carriages of high-tech equipment around the rail network at more than 100mph. High-speed cameras are used in conjunction with laser and ultrasonic scanners to survey the condition of the track, sleepers, ballast and overhead lines. 

Dr Phil Catton, who was part of the CSIC team on board the NMT, said: “At the University of Cambridge, we believe the best way to influence industry is to work directly with them. Seeing existing technology being used 'in the flesh' allows us to understand existing issues and aspirations and the NMT is a great example of this. Network Rail have invested heavily in the equipment and it is great to see it being used to such a good effect. But, it could deliver even more value to the engineers responsible for keeping the country’s trains running.”

The output offered by the NMT is of such high quality that slight and gradual undulations in the rails can be measured and individual clips on sleepers can be assessed - even at the train's top speed of 125mph. Engineers use this data to help plan maintenance activities to ensure optimum use of the limited access to the tracks in the most effective way possible.

Dr Catton explained the relevance of CSIC’s involvement on the NMT project: “While CSIC did not work on the current model, this invitation indicates Network Rail’s willingness to co-operate and further develop the company’s technical capabilities.

“We need to strive to constantly improve technology and this visit helped identify areas that could benefit from recent advances in other fields such as new sensor systems and 'big data' analytics developed at CSIC. Looking at 'live' data as it is gathered provides engineers with excellent information about the current state of their assets, but an in-depth statistical analysis of all the data previously collected, one of CSIC’s strengths, will allow for patterns to be identified and help predict deterioration before it occurs, thereby allowing preventative actions to be taken ahead of time.

“By working closely with organisations like Network Rail, CSIC is able to deliver its vision to transform infrastructure and construction through the innovative use of smart technologies.”

Philip Keenan, CSIC Business Development Manager; Nicky de Battista, Research Associate at the Department or Engineering; Heba Bevan, Matthew Wilcock and Simon Stent, PhD Researchers at CSIC, were all aboard the NMT which travelled from London to Exeter.

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