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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/S024840/1
Title: Zero Power, Large Area Rail Track Monitoring
Principal Investigator: Zhu, Professor M
Other Investigators:
Min, Professor G Papaelias, Dr M
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Dr Z Chew Dr Y Kuang
Project Partners:
APPROVAL SWISS INTERNATIONAL Network Rail QUATTRO
Department: Engineering Computer Science and Maths
Organisation: University of Exeter
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 March 2019 Ends: 28 February 2022 Value (£): 1,383,491
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Transport Ops & Management
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Transport Systems and Vehicles
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
06 Dec 2018 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 6 and 7 December 2018 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
The delivery of efficient and safe railway operations is considered of vital importance to the UK's economy and society. Currently the UK has 4,000 trains using 20,000 miles of track and 1.7 billion passenger journeys annually. 400,000 tonnes of freight each day are transported over rail and these numbers are forecast to increase. Delays, unplanned disruption or reduction in availability due to unplanned maintenance have serious repercussions on the mobility of passengers and freight. Railway track and rolling stock interact with each other, forming a complex dynamic system which leads to structural degradation of railway assets with time. It is therefore of utmost importance that events and mechanisms causing damage initiation and propagation in the railway track are detected in real time and evaluated for translating events and mechanisms into predictive and preventive maintenance plans. In 2017 the UK Government set up a strategic vision for rail, for the short- and long-term, to address the need for: 'a more reliable, efficient, modern railway in 2019-24; a step change for railway (2024-2029); a world-class railway beyond 2030'.

One of the grand challenges for the industry has been inspecting the track and quantifying its damage on such a vast scale. Observations need to be autonomous and sustainable, defects detected at an early stage, and maintenance work optimised, to reduce the risk of failure and to increase availability, safety and reliability. One powerful means of inspection is to develop permanently installed, self-powered sensors, e.g. accelerometers, strain gauges and acoustic emission (AE) sensors on the tracks, which measure track deflection, vibration, and wheel-rail track interactions, and are wirelessly connected to an operation and management centre with automated data processing capability. The development of such self-powered, wide area rail track monitoring will lead to radical change in the management of railway infrastructure, and considerably enhanced efficiencies, economies and adaptability, improving the competitiveness of our whole railway system. Greater connectivity and sensor coverage along tracks which require no mains power or batteries for energy supply, eliminating the costs for cabling and battery replacement, and minimum gateway installations, are critical for the success of industry adoptions.

The principal novelty of this research is to develop cross-cutting, bespoke, deployable technologies and an associated demonstrator of a zero power, large geographical area rail track monitoring system. Current technological capabilities do not permit such scaling-up for high connectivity and wide area coverage, e.g. the entire UK rail network. This project will fill this technological gap by developing an integrated whole-system approach from energy harvesting (EH), power management, low power wide area networks (LPWAN), remote condition monitoring to data explanation. In the future, it will enable Network Rail to implement efficient predictive and preventive maintenance planning, thereby improving the reliability and availability of the railway, which in turn promises to promote UK economic growth through increased mobility. The project's research outputs are expected to transform rail track monitoring capability in the 21st century, in the UK and internationally.

This research will build upon the University of Exeter's track record of EH powered wireless sensor systems, and high performance computing and networking, and the University of Birmingham's expertise in rail track condition monitoring. The research will be supported by Network Rail and other industrial partners to ensure its impact readiness. The project partners are: three Divisions from Network Rail of Track Renewals (Birmingham) and Infrastructure Projects and Telecom (Milton Keynes), Quattro (London) and Swiss Approval International Group of Companies (Lanarkshire).
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