Predictive Maintenance employing Non-intrusive Inspection & Data Analysis

Contract: SCP8-GA-2009-234299
Acronym: PM’n’IDEA
Full title: Predictive Maintenance employing Non-intrusive Inspection & Data Analysis
Project Co-ordinator: UNIFE, Brussels (BE)
Starting date: June 1, 2009
Duration (in months): 36
Budget: €4,940,007.00
EC contribution: €3,199,725.00


In addressing the generic ethos behind the SST.2008.5.1.1 call, the project addresses the need for both new and renovated tracks by developing self-monitoring track components that will provide a step change reduction in maintenance and inspection costs, increase energy and resource consumption efficiency, and longer asset lives.

Furthermore, the deployment of intelligent image analysis provides increased objectivity of inspection while reducing the need for the more unsafe manual track walking inspection. These developments will make tramway operations more reliable and cost effective and thereby reduce traffic congestion and impact on the environment.

The project consortium includes key network operators, maintainers, and constructors, which will ensure that the developed systems are demonstrated within the project and are followed by rapid exploitation.


The key challenge to meet the projected growth in demand of urban transport is to maximise the availability of the track at the required integrity for the running of passenger carrying vehicles.

PM’n’IDEA has been designed to contribute towards the achievement of this goal by addressing the two factors that can have an adverse effect on track availability:

  • Unplanned renewal and maintenance enforced by unpredictable break down;
  • Intrusive inspection to ensure integrity of the system.

It should also be emphasized that the asset condition of a number of the older tramways, particularly those in the new member states, is poor and since renewal is both costly and time consuming, it is essential that a scientifically valid basis of prioritisation of renewal and maintenance be developed. This aspect is also addressed within the project.

In view of the commonality of the technologies and the novel approaches required, the project encompasses the requirements of both main line and urban railways.

In particular, some of the key requirements that will be addressed within the scope of the project are:

  • Further development and application of image acquisition and analysis techniques for as much of the track system and its environment currently inspected by manual means. This will provide more comprehensive and objective inspection that is applicable for both mainline and urban transport systems.
  • Development of an inspection system to assess internal integrity of street running grooved rail sections. Again, no proven system is available for this purpose.
  • Development of methodologies to measure the deviation of track quality from benchmark data identified as a “signature tune” of the segments. This is applicable to both mainline and urban transport systems.
  • Developing technologies for the measurement of rail deflection, calculation of associated stresses, and the techniques for extrapolation for other vehicle types and loading conditions. Indirect assessment of the degradation of track stiffness will also be considered.
  • Establishing the criteria for assessing the structural integrity of grooved rail sections embedded in street running sections of tramway networks. This will establish the magnitude of permissible side and vertical wear and minimum thickness of the “keeper” part of grooved rail for which there are currently no agreed standards.
  • Development of techniques for the automatic assessment of degradation and integrity of fish plated, insulated block, and expansion joints, switchblades, and stretcher bars.

Description of work

The project addresses the key requirement of minimising manual inspection (“track walking”) for urban transport systems although the technologies developed are likely to be applicable to main line railways. The project focuses on the degradation of key components of the track system such as insulated block joints and stretcher bars whose integrity is fundamental to meet the objective of 24 x 7 railways and the associated increase in duty conditions. It also bridges the current gap in standards for the definition and assessment of the structural integrity of grooved rail.

WP1 – Objective Assessment of Visual Integrity

Development of an image acquisition system that provides consistent images that can be interpreted by an automated analysis system in order to eliminate the manual track walking inspection. The system must be capable of localising and classifying the deteriorations to assess the structural integrity and prevent critical failures.

WP2 – Objective Assessment of Internal Integrity

Selection of a suitable inspection method of the internal integrity of embedded rails.

Construction of a prototype to validate the methods sensors, data acquisition and diagnostic capabilities.

WP3 – Objective Assessment of Track Quality

Development of an on-board low-cost system to monitor the track quality from standard operating vehicles in real-time.

This eliminates the need of track time to perform the measurements and maintenance actions can be planned more efficiently. Controlling track irregularity has positive effects noise and vibrations.

WP4 – Defining Limits of Structural Integrity

Development of limits on vertical, gauge corner and side wear for both grooved and vignole rails in function of the loading conditions.

WP5 – Objective Assessment of Track Sub-components

  • Evaluation and further development of monitoring techniques for the rail deflection profile and wavelength under dynamic conditions, calculation of associated stresses, and their association with the rate of degradation.
  • Development of automatic assessment techniques for the degradation and integrity of selected track sub-components e.g. fish plated and insulated block joints (IBJ), expansion joints, switchblades and stretcher bars.

WP6 – Industrial & Economic Assessment

  • Assessment of the economic viability of the different solutions proposed in the previous WP by comparison with the existing and well-known current methods.
  • Determination of the optimised solution between capital investment and service rent.
  • Proposition of maintenance strategies.

WP7 – Dissemination & Exploitation of Results

  • Set up a dissemination platform to facilitate wide-spread information transfer among and beyond the members of the consortium.
  • Ensure the project outputs reach targeted decision makers who will implement them.
  • Guarantee the delivery of high-quality results and sound technical solutions though a ‘Technical Review Platform’ & facilitate the development of standards.


The project will deliver new component designs and maintenance processes, which will improve the integrity of urban rail transport networks through the deployment of intelligent design and sensor technologies into cost-effective products and targeted non-intrusive monitoring processes. In particular, the monitoring systems will combine objective automatic visual inspection with examination of internal integrity and the assessment of system and component degradation from a defined datum.