19 JUN 2019


A project to ‘listen’ to rail lines and spot problems before they delay passengers is one of the initiatives coming out of Network Rail’s £245m investment in research and development (R&D) during Control Period 6 (2019-24).

Network Rails says its R&D portfolio is finding “new and imaginative ways to deliver a better railway for passengers and freight.” It will also receive further investment from sources including suppliers and central government.

Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, is helping Network Rail deliver its R&D portfolio and broaden the range of companies that can get involved in expanding the rail network and respond to growing demand.

Several projects that will contribute to the R&D portfolio were recently awarded a share of £7.8m government funding as part of the Department for Transport’s First of a Kind competition. The projects aim to strengthen the resilience of railway infrastructure and operations for passengers, enhance rail freight services and reduce environmental and noise impacts for lineside neighbours.

They include:

  • Alternative Gauging Methodology: the use of probabilistic methods of gauging to maximise space on the rail network. It will assess areas of the West Highlands Line in Scotland and allow rail staff to review the traditional gauging approach against this new method and demonstrate what savings could be achieved in terms of clearance, stepping and intervention.
  • SPECTRAIL: a low-cost IoT sensing platform which enables truly intelligence infrastructure to ‘listen’ to the railway and detect problems like wheel flats, cable theft and trespass before they delay passengers. It will support Network Rail’s predict-and-prevent maintenance strategy by enabling data collection at sites previously inaccessible to power or connectivity, or at those deemed too high-cost.
  • Hubble: an artificial intelligence-assisted lineside inspection and maintenance planning solution that will help Network Rail boost the resilience of railway infrastructure, help reduce delays for passengers and freight users and reduce maintenance costs.
  • BVLOS Aerial Robotics: improving safety of railway staff by automating track inspections, surveys and response to incidents, avoiding the need for staff to physically set foot onto the infrastructure. It will also significantly reduce costs.

Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said: “We are supporting a number of companies who are developing great new ideas to deliver a better service for passengers. For example, SpectRail is a low-cost intelligent infrastructure project to ‘listen’ to the railway and detect problems like wheel flats, cable theft and trespass before they delay passengers. And I’m looking forward to seeing the development of artificial intelligence-assisted lineside inspections to help us do a better and quicker job of reducing delays caused by falling leaves and trees.”

Network Rail plans to invest £245m, alongside £112m investment by third parties, for research and development in Control Period 6 which runs from 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2024. 


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