Network Rail awarded a contract to a consortium led by Thales Ground Transportation Systems to develop and trial fibre-optic technology that will support improvements in safety and performance on the railway.
The consortium comprises SMEs to deliver different parts of the technology.
The Fibre Optic Acoustic Sensing (FOAS) technology will be enriched with data fusion to enhance the listening capabilities of optical fibres, of which there are already around 20,000 km running alongside Britain’s railways.
The implementation of this technology which will effectively create a virtual microphone every few metres, has the potential to enhance remote condition monitoring of assets and provide valuable data to improve train performance and reduce disruption for passengers.
The awarding of the contract follows a design contest launched in November 2020, led by Network Rail in collaboration with ProRail, which challenged over 40 suppliers of different sizes to come up with proposals for a funded 12-month outcome-focused trial of FOAS, IoT sensors and smart CCTV cameras, amalgamated through intelligent data fusion and processing. Companies were required to address four areas of operational challenges on the railway covering train movement and position reporting, rail and wheel defects, level crossing safety management and detecting trespass and people on the trackside.
The trial work for the fibre-optic technology will be conducted at Network Rail’s RIDC Melton test track and on the mainline railway from Melton Mowbray to Leicester, commencing in Autumn 2021.
The design contest also formed part of an existing agreement between Network Rail and ProRail to collaborate on research and development opportunities. The two companies signed a MoU in March 2019 to support the delivery of Network Rail’s GBP 245 million (EUR 284.65 million) R&D portfolio up to 2024, providing opportunities to jointly develop and transfer technologies into new operating environments over five years.
The data could also be a valuable feed into the Rail Data Marketplace (RDM) providing a platform to share rail data across the industry and enabling a step towards a future data-driven railway. The RDM is expected to be introduced next year and will create new collaboration opportunities for developers, tech firms, and the rail industry.