An Intelligent On-line High-Speed Rail Condition Monitoring System Deployed via Passenger and Freight Trains

Acronym: I-RAIL
Contract: FP7-SME-2010-I-262293
Full title: An Intelligent On-line High-Speed Rail Condition Monitoring System Deployed via Passenger and Freight Trains
Website: www.i-railproject.eu
Starting date: November 1, 2010
Project Co-ordinator: D2S International, Heverlee (BE)
Duration (in months): 24
Budget: €1,474,500
EC contribution: €1,107,375


Rail networks across Europe are getting busier with trains travelling at higher speeds and carrying more passengers and heavier axle loads than ever before. The combination of these factors has put considerable pressure on the existing infrastructure, leading to increased demands in inspection and maintenance of rail assets due to the higher risk of catastrophic failure. The expenditure for inspection and maintenance has thus, grown steadily over the last few years without however being followed by a significant improvement in the industry’s safety records. As a direct consequence the immediate key challenges faced by the rail industry are the significant improvement of safety of railway systems of European Member States and the development of more sustainable railway infrastructure through the delivery of further efficiencies and exploitation of technological innovation. Although, severe rail accidents are relatively rare within the EU, their frequency of occurrence is still at an intolerable level. Classification of rail accidents depends on their causative factor, which can be either a human error, infrastructure defect or train equipment failure. A significant number of all rail accidents are infrastructure-related, while a large proportion of these take place due to rail failure. The continuous increase in train operating speeds means that catastrophic failure of a rail may result in very serious derailments, such as the one that took place in Hatfield, UK in October 2000, causing loss of life, critical injuries, severe disruption in the operation of the network, unnecessary costs, and loss of confidence in rail transport by the public.

Catastrophic rail failure due to growth of structural defects can be avoided by careful inspection and appropriately scheduled maintenance. If maintenance costs are to be optimised followed by an improvement in existing safety standards, than the detection of defects in rails at the earliest possible stage is of paramount importance to the rail industry.


  • To overcome the limitations of current inspection procedures of rail tracks through the successful implementation of an advanced high-speed rail condition monitoring system based on EMAT technology.
  • To develop advanced verification and evaluation procedures of the defects detectable by the high-speed system based on ultrasonic phased arrays techniques.
  • To achieve a 90% PoD of rail defects under critical size and practically 100% for critical sized defects, thus leading to the substantial improvement in the actual reliability of the European rail network.
  • To decrease inspection times by up to 75% through the integration of three different rail track evaluation techniques that will complement each other as part of a functional single high-speed NDE system and achieve a significant reduction in false defect indications, which would have otherwise needed to be manually verified, thanks to the higher accuracy and reliability of the I-RAIL inspection procedure.
  • To develop the required software and intelligent control unit to enable automatic and real-time analysis of the defects detected and minimise human subjectivity during the interpretation and analysis of results.

Description of Work

Besides tasks such as Demonstration (WP6), Dissemination & IPR (WP7) and Management (WP8), five WPs are dedicated to the actual research:

  • WP1 will provide the full specifications for the high-speed condition monitoring system, the ultrasonic phased array technique, and the sample rails to be used for their assessment. A selection of rail samples will be procured for the validation and demonstration of the I-RAIL technology.
  • WP2 develops an advanced high-speed rail condition monitoring system based on EMAT sensors which will be deployed on the rail network using conventional passenger and freight trains. The system will benefit of an intelligent control unit which will analyse the data obtained by the sensors automatically in real-time and once a defect is detected it will transmit them to a control centre where the condition of the whole rail network will be evaluated and updated according to the data received from the I-RAIL system.
  • WP3 develops ultrasonic phased array techniques for the verification and evaluation of rail defects which are detected with the high-speed system. The equipment will also be applicable for the inspection of welds, switches and crossings which are particularly difficult to inspect with conventional techniques. Also to develop intelligent decision support tools for the optimisation of rail infrastructure maintenance planning.
  • WP4 integrates, tests and validates the high-speed EMAT system and ultrasonic phased verification techniques. To validate the complete I-RAIL high-speed inspection and ultrasonic phased array procedures under simulated conditions.
  • WP5 involves the field trials and demonstration of the EMAT high-speed inspection system and the ultrasonic phased array defect verification technique.


The consortium will develop and implement an advanced high speed rail condition monitoring system based on the use of non-contact EMAT sensors. The system will enable the fast and reliable inspection of rail tracks at speeds up to 320 km/h. The use of non-contact EMATs removes the need for couplant, simplifying the measurements. The use of an EMAT guided wave-based technique, operated in pitch-catch (transmit-receive) mode can lift many of the current speed limitations for rail defect detection, particularly Rolling Contact Fatigue (RCF) damage, associated with conventional ultrasonic systems. Since the EMAT sensors can operate at a lift-off and do not need any coupling to the surface of the rail being inspected, the I-RAIL high-speed inspection system can be deployed using any type of rolling stock including high-speed passenger or freight trains. This means that the I-RAIL EMAT system can be fitted in virtually every train travelling on the network, thus providing accurate and reliable information regarding the condition of the structural integrity of in-service rails at all times.

The high-speed condition monitoring I-RAIL system will be complemented through the development of an ultrasonic phased array technique for the verification and evaluation of defects detected on the network.