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Expert View: Track maintenance in increasingly shortening windows of opportunity.

Posted by Strukton Rail on Jul 11, 2017

Track maintenance in increasingly shortening windows of opportunity with Strukton Rail (Picture One) Imagine one of the busiest national railway networks in the world. It’s a heavy rail network, so intensely used and with such density of track, it actually more closely resembles a country-wide metro system. Now add an increasing number of trains each year plus a privatized market for daily maintenance with performance driven contracts and you will have a picture of the complex 3000km daily reality for Strukton Rail in the Netherlands. Their challenge is a significant one and we are today able to share with you the second of three exclusive insights into their work. The company has had to deal with ever stringent contractual requirements to guarantee better track performance and safer working conditions in less time, and yet continued to make money out of the contract. They have managed to reduce their total maintenance costs by 30% since 2008 and reach a 90% reduction on rail safety related exceedances. Their daily reality is the cradle for many proven, tested and implemented innovations by Strukton Rail, so let’s find out more about how they've done this in the second in a series of sepcial features on the network...   

One of the main challenges Strukton Rail faces on a regular basis is the ever shortening windows of opportunity to do maintenance in the track. This is a challenge for all maintainers of heavily used urban networks. The time to do work in the track is just barely enough and this includes giving the track back in service without a costly speed restriction. Making effective use of the time given is key; in and out quickly while leaving a job well done for which you do not need to return.

The need for tamping and whether or not it is useful has been a subject of discussion for some time now. However, in our daily reality tamping is still seen as necessary. The need to shorten the amount of time needed for tamping then becomes a point of focus. Pre tamp measuring work is time consuming because in many cases it requires a low measuring speed and track possessions. Most pre-tamp measuring work for maintenance tamping in the Netherlands is done by hand at night in the track creating an unsafe environment for workers. The need to eliminate the need for workers in the track initiated the idea to use the measurements of a measurement train as direct input for the tamper.

Track maintenance in increasingly shortening windows of opportunity with Strukton Rail (Picture Two)

Manufacturer of tamping machines and measuring trains Plasser & Theurer equipped several 09-3X tamping machines with their inertial measuring system (POS TG) which allows contactless measuring of track geometry at 100 km/h with a tamping machine. The measuring data recorded with POS TG then guides that same tamping machine. Strukton Rail however does not have a tamping machine equipped with an expensive POS TG system.

From a track geometry point of view the principle remains the same. The POS TG system on the UFM120 (Plasser &Theurer) is used for guiding a 09-3X tamping machine. In the case of Strukton Rail they have to use two different machines. However what they added was the use of GNSS to localize the measuring data and to position the tamping machine. The UFM120 track geometry data is localized using GNSS post processing which gives every measurement a geodetic position. The tamping machine is located at the right starting point with the use of GNSS Real Time Kinematic. The advantage of using GNSS with post processing software is that it makes the user independent of markers in the track and of a measurement system to detect them. In the Netherlands and in many other countries such markers are not even available.

The result was the creation of a software tool which made it all possible. Test runs were very successful and even pointed out some irregularities in the existing systems which were promptly corrected, knowing that they would never have been detected without the time and effort it took to go through all the minutia of the data involved.

Track maintenance in increasingly shortening windows of opportunity with Strukton Rail (Picture Three)

This tool when thoroughly implemented will prevent having to send people into the track for pre-tamp measurements, thus creating a safer environment. It makes shorter and less track possession possible. The measurements and therefore the tamping will be of a higher quality because the measurements are more correct. The costs are brought down and inaccessible areas for pre-tamp work are no longer an issue.

Johan Verlaan, project manager Strukton Rail told us: “This plan had been lying on the shelf for many years. It was a dream come true to finally find a way to dive into all that measurement data without generating lots of research costs and with a dedicated small very talented team. I’m especially pleased with the fact that this research improved the existing systems in our machines as a bonus.” 

Although solutions are available in the market, they are usually costly and a very costly add-on to what is already there. In this case Strukton Rail ( @StruktonRail  made use of what they already had and created a solution which saved lots of investment costs, created added value for their own machinery and better revenue in their contracts. The number of people in the pilot team was kept at an absolute minimum to keep the research costs low and the pilot itself was partly financed by In2Rail which is part of the European funded program Shift2Rail. The company is now looking into ways to implement the tool and to provide others with this solution.

Strukton Rail

This article is the second of three introducing some of Strukton Rail’s innovations in track maintenance. The first was Expert view: Identifying problems before they become delays.  To learn more about how they can work with you visit or contact: Dominique Bex - 

Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of SmartRail World's Editorial team and management.

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Strukton Rail

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