By Dave Holland, Monitoring and Technical Director
Structural monitoring solutions are a valuable tool within the rail sector, used to help make sure that our railways remain safe and open for business. Sometimes though, the emphasis should perhaps be less about the technology itself and more about the data that it can provide, with a strong need for easily accessible, easily understandable data if the sector is to truly benefit from the insight monitoring can provide. Here, Dave Holland explores this further.
UK railways are a key part of our country’s vital infrastructure, with an impressive 1.7 billion rail passenger journeys undertaken in the period of 2019-2020 alone. Keeping the tracks safe and open for the railway’s commuters, leisure passengers and other rolling stock is understandably a major job. From managing regular maintenance and track improvement programmes, to ensuring nearby construction work does not detrimentally affect the track, to reacting to environmental conditions and the unexpected, such as landslides in poor weather - the list can be endless. As such, monitoring technology can have an important role to play.
While monitoring systems can be completely bespoke and complex, in essence, it involves the placement of sensors on or around infrastructure, rail tracks, buildings and construction sites in order to provide ongoing measurement of factors affecting their performance. The continuous, real-time structural data that comes from monitoring solutions can be used to assess if structures and infrastructure are performing safely and efficiently, enabling any maintenance or remedial work to be planned appropriately. Within the rail sector, common applications for monitoring solutions can be during track renewals, improvement works, in the aftermath of bridge strikes or landslides, or installed on infrastructure close to the track itself.
However, the real value of monitoring is not necessarily just the technology itself. Instead, it is the data that the technology provides, and what organisations do with this data, that is perhaps the most important. All too often, monitoring technology can be something of a wasted opportunity on construction sites, with contractors failing to take full advantage of the valuable insight that it can provide.
If you look at the data that a monitoring solution installed on a construction site or section of railway track can generate, the output can be huge, with tables upon tables of complex figures. As a result, there is the very real potential for it to become a case of information overload, with a result that can be incredibly overwhelming for those at the receiving end to understand and interpret.
At Mabey Hire, we’re determined to move away from this and to instead place the emphasis on providing data that is accessible, valuable and easily useable, not just for senior engineers but also a project’s general foreman or site manager too, rather than focusing solely on the technology itself. We believe that the complexity should be in the solution itself, rather than in understanding and interpreting it.
Perhaps, therefore, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves ‘what do I actually want from this data?”. Ultimately, what it often boils down to is: is the track satisfactory? Can trains run safely, or not? With the Mabey Hire InSite portal, you are provided with instant access to the data from any environmental or structural monitoring that it is underway. Customisable and tailored to individual project requirements, we can modify the dashboard to show only the data that you need to see, including your unique specified thresholds. Displayed in a way that makes it easy to analyse, interpret and draw conclusions, it puts you in touch with truly valuable data – not just data for the sake of it.
Put simply, when it comes to monitoring within the rail sector, there is a clear need to provide this user interface in a useful and meaningful way. Organisations, project teams, site managers and foremen need easy-to-understand data that can also be accurately and effectively cross-referenced. After all, the benefits of having access to live, in-the-moment structural data become void if no one can read or understand it. Whether the monitoring is installed in relation to a planned, reactive or emergency project, the ability to react fast is essential, especially considering the key role that our rail network has to play in our country’s infrastructure and our everyday lives.