FOAS technology will be enriched with data fusion. This is to enhance the ‘listening’ capabilities of optical fibres, of which there are already around 20,000km running alongside Britain’s railways. This technology has effectively created a virtual microphone every few metres, that has the potential to enhance remote condition monitoring of assets. This in turn can provide valuable data to improve the performance of the train and to reduce the disruption for passengers.
A Design Contest launched in November 2020. This 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 operational challenges on the railway such as, train movement and position reporting, rail and wheel defects, level crossing safety management and detecting trespass and people on the trackside.
The trial work is with Thales’. The Design Contest formed part of an existing agreement between Network Rail and ProRail. These two companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding in March 2019, illustrating a commitment to work together. Huw Evans, Network Rail’s R&D portfolio programme manager, said that this is a brilliant example of collaboration to research and develop solutions for many common problems. They are looking forward to work closely with the Thales-led consortium. RIDC Melton and the adjacent main line provide the perfect operational scenarios for them.
Karel van Gils, Director Innovation & New Technology from ProRail, said that the collaboration between Network Rail and ProRail is already a success. This will be continued in the joint development of algorithms for the various applications in the ProRail Datalab and collaboration with Thales. David Palmer, VP Main Line Rail, Thales in the UK, said that Thales are excited to be working with Network Rail. The potential applications of this technology are vast. From train movement to level-crossing safety management, everything is being covered by this project. The main objective is to allow Network Rail to evaluate how this technology can benefit their customers.
The RDM is expected to create new collaboration opportunities for developers, tech firms, and the rail industry. Network Rail’s Research and Development (R&D) portfolio expects to invest over £350m. This can greatly help in the research, development and innovation. Network Rail and ProRail signed MoU for supporting the delivery of Network Rail’s £245m R&D portfolio up to 2024. The Government announced £5m funding to kickstart the development of the Rail Data Marketplace in July 2021. This platform will be introduced in the next year.