The University of Huddersfield has partnered with an innovative technology company to work with Network Rail on the development of a safer and more reliable track lubrication measurement system.
The collaboration will see the University’s award-winning Institute of Railway Research (IRR) work with small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) Tribosonics Ltd of Sheffield to develop a novel solution to the problem of detecting the presence of a shape critical lubrication between a railroad wheel and the track.
In partnership with Network Rail and funded through its commitment to the European Horizon 2020 Shift2Rail research programme, the advanced sensor solution will use ultrasonic technology, which is relatively new to the rail industry, as the basis of the detection method.
Professor Paul Allen, Deputy Director of IRR at the University who developed the concept, stressed the need for such technology.
“This measurement technology will provide an automated vehicle-mounted system that will communicate to Network Rail the presence of lubrication and, importantly, where it is absent, thereby reducing maintenance costs and improving rail safety,” explained Professor Allen. .
“It is not commonly known outside railway circles,” he continued, “that in curved tracks a special type of grease is applied between the wheel and the rail. This lubrication is applied to reduce wear but also the risk of derailment, the wheel being able in certain circumstances to climb on the head of the rail.
“Network Rail currently uses manual inspection techniques to determine if lubrication is present. This approach requires maintenance staff to carry out track work and this is a scenario that Network Rail is looking to reduce,” he said.
According to Matthew Harmon of Tribosonics, the use of ultrasonic technology for the detection of lubricating films is new to the railway industry, but it is widely used in other industries and is well suited for this application.
“The integration of ultrasonic sensors into the wheel offers the possibility of continuous monitoring of the effectiveness of lubrication and allows preventive measures to be applied before problems arise,” he said.
“Processing the data outputs to ensure that the key and relevant metric is obtained and presented in an accessible way is a big part of this development.
“The detection system and associated hardware will be developed by Tribosonics Ltd, with testing and sensor development carried out using IRR’s HAROLD full-scale bogie test facility. Experimental trials will be carried out under real conditions, with axle loads of up to 25 tonnes and an operating target of 200 km/h. Network Rail project manager James Lineton said the proposed sensor solution has the potential not not only to transform the way Network Rail manages its rail lubrication programmes, but also rail infrastructure managers around the world.
“By reducing downtime for maintenance activities, we can increase capacity, thereby improving train availability for passengers,” he said.