BLOG: Digital Railway Maintenance – The New Rail Paradigm

December 17, 2020

Importance of Railway Maintenance

In the old world of business, maintenance was commonly referred to as a ‘necessary evil’, something that one must contend with but does not value. It had to be done to keep the lights on but should be driven to a minimum in the name of efficiency. In safety-critical industries however, maintenance has always been regarded as one of the pillars of effective safety management and of paramount importance to keeping operations safe and secure. These opposing views of the importance of maintenance always had the potential to set Engineer and Business Manager at loggerheads.

Moving forward to modern enterprises, the challenge of reconciling asset performance, reliability, availability, maintainability and safety (PRAMS) with less money, resource and time remains. The pressures of delivering profitable operations that are safe and effective throughout the lifecycle sit front and square, regardless of the industry or operation concerned. Designers are challenged to eliminate or simplify Maintenance, Asset Managers are tasked with sweating the asset to extract every ounce of value whilst aspiring to absolute safety and Maintenance Engineers are squeezed to perform more with less – less access, less budget, less resource – with the ever-present pressure to maintain compliance, reduce budget and deal with backlog.

Engineers and Asset Managers have always known the importance of good maintenance. How a planned intervention, performed at the right time is the key to a right-time railway. But how to do this in an ever-decreasing time-window, often with ageing assets in a challenging physical and operational environment? Step forward, the role of Digital Railway Maintenance.

What is Digital Railway Maintenance?

The days of sending individuals out onto the operational railway, through traffic and hazardous terrain are limited. Exposing staff to the risks of the rail environment means working at the lowest level of the safety hierarchy. Digital Railway Maintenance moves us back to the top of the hierarchy, eliminating the risk by separating person from hazard. Using a combination of operational and information technology (OT/IT), continuing developments in materials, data science and engineering and the ever-expanding toolkit of process analysis and improvement provides opportunities for new ways of working that were previously impossible.

Benefits of Digital Railway Maintenance

Innovations in control and instrumentation, telecoms, Intelligent Infrastructure and the Digital Railway have opened-up the possibility of finally reconciling the tensions between the needs for minimal intervention, lowest cost, optimised asset performance, reliability/availability and continuous improvement in workforce and passenger safety.

Big-data Analytics

The technology available to capture, process and transmit large data payloads from trackside assets has enabled the creation of data lakes and warehouses for big-data analytics.

AI and Machine Learning

The processing power now available to enable systems to triangulate multiple data streams simultaneously and align complex computations with cutting-edge process analytics is enabling the move to AI and Machine Learning.

Integrated Monitoring

The ability to distribute hardware and create secure networks to perform edge-processing has opened-up new architecture and storage models for overlay or integrated monitoring of systems.

Maintain All Areas of Rail Infrastructure

And the development of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) instrumentation, low bit-rate backhaul and easy dashboarding have provided the opportunity to reach areas of the rail infrastructure previously locked-out due to cost.

Digital Railway Maintenance with Viper Innovations

Viper Innovations have brought together all of the benefits of data science, technology and process to introduce Digital products and systems that change the railway maintenance paradigm. Eliminating the need to put boots on ballast, eliminating road traffic accidents, improving electrical safety and ultimately forcing a step change in PRAMS – all whilst affording clients the chance to greatly reduce capital and operational expenditure.

Amongst our many innovations, the CableGuardian system for trackside distribution cables combines Spread-Spectrum Time-Domain Reflectometry (SSTDR) with continuous Insulation Resistance (IR) monitoring to create a step-change in the digitisation of lineside maintenance monitoring. Providing a service across the whole lifecycle, the system enables the client to manage lineside power distribution safely, efficiently and effectively without having to access track at all. Installing CableGuardian allows the Project Engineer to monitor cables during the build phase of a project or the Maintenance Engineer to manage an existing system to protect against faulty installation, poor cable quality, cable theft, cable damage and cable degradation and avoid having to manually test cables for statutory periodic inspection and test based on NR/L2/SIGELP/50000.

The Asset Manager can gain compliance to standards, maintain KPIs relative to service affecting failures, monitor the performance of the asset at any time, looking backward over time or predicting future degradation from our machine learning algorithms to accurately plan interventions and future works. The operator gains train performance improvements from reduced power failure incidents overall and hugely improved delay per incident for cable theft or physical damage. Workforce Safety is transformed by removing the need to travel to site, access the trackside environment and work on electrical equipment, with the whole range of hazards associated with this.

Using our advanced analytics system, we are also enabling a transformation in the way raw data is converted into useful information for the whole rail data-marketplace. Our progressive machine learning algorithms – bolstered and continually improved by expert insight from clients and our in-house technologists – are delivering new insights into cable failure and degradation, paving the way for AI to be introduced. By providing bespoke, tailored data and insights, engineers and asset managers can take action to predict and prevent failures in lineside and signalling power and distribution, build their asset condition knowledge and identify trends and patterns with the environment around the system being monitored, without having to leave the office. This information is available to the right person at the right time to enable decisive interventions, and the knowledge and experience around the system is fed back to develop new and stronger Machine Learning algorithms.

Our cutting-edge model of providing a data analysis and provision service ensures users can benefit from machine learning algorithms developed utilising data-lake-and-warehouse analytics derived from big data gathered from a wide array of rail assets. This approach builds anonymised asset data across a wide area and allows patterns and trends to be recognised at the attribute level. This strengthens machine learning algorithms that can then be applied specifically to a user’s own assets to identify degradation patterns well in advance of a failure occurring. This data lake arrangement also allows other attributes of the data to be used for merging with a wider data array, to cater for the emerging data marketplace. This can be used to identify patterns in data collection that, when combined with other systems bolsters train detection, trespass prevention, power supply analytics and rail breaks.

Through our developing partnership with our rail clients, Viper are committed to continuing their investment in rail innovation to enable the new digital paradigm, to bring forward a broad selection of innovations in digital technology that support the railway’s drive for a right time 24-hour railway, to enable whole-life cost savings and improvements in financial efficiency measures and above all, to transform workforce safety with the implementation of Digital systems for Railway Maintenance. We’re looking forward to working with you to solve your problems.


Electrical Power Distribution Integrity Monitoring.

The first platform to offer proactive monitoring, detection and location of both insulator and conductor faults on live low voltage unearthed power distribution systems.