Real-time monitoring of UK locomotives and freight wagons

More than 15,000 UK locomotives and freight wagons are to be fitted with technology to monitor the condition of their axles in real time.

If left untreated, faulty or worn axles (a pair of wheels mounted on an axle) can break rails and damage rail cars. They can also cause safety issues and delays on the railway for passenger and freight trains.

The two-year project is part of the £22 million Cargo Security Improvement Portfolio (FSIP) fund to deliver security improvements over the period 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2024.

30,000 radio frequency identification (RFID) tags are installed on both sides of locomotives and freight cars. As a tagged train passes a reader on the side of the track at any of the 22 sites, information about each axle is captured.

This is transmitted to engineers via cloud-based technology to see if any maintenance work is needed.

James Mather, Freightliner employee, member of the crew installing RFID tags at the Crewe maintenance facility. Credit: Network Rail.

The program has been well received by freight operating companies and freight customers, and Freightliner Group has already affixed tags to 73% of its locomotives and railcars.

Steve Rhymes, Head of Network Management at Network Rail, said:

“This is a great example of how the rail freight industry is working together to continue to innovate and prioritize safety using technology.

“Every freight operator installs them on either side of their railcars and locomotives, which means we collect data every time a train or vehicle operates – most of which was not visible before. It’s a collaborative effort that provides common benefits.

“We are introducing improved systems and processes for sharing data with freight operators and freight customers to provide a consistent approach to railcar maintenance leading to even greater safety for our railroad and ultimately , unless there are disruptions and delays to passengers and freight trains.”

Deanne Haseltine, the company’s technical compliance officer, said:

“This program has already made a positive difference to the entire industry by helping us to accurately locate and identify individual axle faults at the earliest opportunity.

“Having the ability to identify faults and plan axle repairs in advance means we can safely remove a railcar from service if necessary and avoid unnecessary disruption to the network and to our customers.”

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