A 1st-class solution: DB Systemtechnik reserves HBK a permanent seat on regular trains

Every day, 40,000 trains ride up and down more than 33,000 kilometers of track belonging to the Deutsche Bahn German railroad company. Altogether, they travel one billion kilometers a year. In view of climate protection and the associated growing shift in passenger and freight traffic from road to rail, this annual distance is set to increase still further in the years to come – with the same rail infrastructure.

Therefore, as the load increases, the safety and performance of the rail infrastructure is of the utmost priority. This area is the responsibility of DB Systemtechnik. This company is contracted by DB Netze to monitor the railroad tracks, in order to guarantee their maximum availability and safety. It therefore also makes a valuable contribution to ensuring a strong rail, which is an international issue against the backdrop of climate change. As part of its legal obligation to repair and maintain the rail network, DB Netz AG uses its own measuring trains, such as the RAILab. However, for some time now the rail infrastructure company has been adding new methods to the traditional monitoring process. It now carries out continuous track monitoring using regular trains, equipped with reliable measurement technology from HBK.

Problem

The increase in traffic poses a major challenge to the rail network, given that the infrastructure is scarcely growing or is staying the same. In view of this development, DB Netz AG doesn’t have much time for monitoring the infrastructure with inspection vehicles. The shutdown times for repairs are also being reduced.

Solution

To supplement its existing inspection systems, DB Systemtechnik GmbH had already equipped a regular train with measurement technology for continuous track monitoring in the early 2000s. The company chose tried and tested, rugged and reliable standard technology from HBK, which autonomously conducts measurements in regular rail traffic safely, reliably, and without the need for personnel.

Result

The measurement technology used in several regular trains for operational and status monitoring is convincing. The quality of the measurement results from regular rail traffic is as good as that from specialist measuring trains and RAILabs. The findings they deliver concerning the status of the monitored infrastructure are a valuable complement to routine inspections. They have enabled considerable improvements overall to track quality.

Example of extensive track systems that need monitoring

DB Systemtechnik GmbH is working for a strong rail

DB Systemtechnik GmbH is playing a vital role in improving the reliability and availability of Germany’s rail network. To achieve this, the Deutsche Bahn subsidiary is contracted by DB Netze to inspect the track situation with measuring vehicles at regular intervals. The aim of continuous track monitoring is to identify faults as early as possible and to rectify them before major damage ensues. In addition, the findings help with the targeted maintenance and upkeep of existing tracks.

In this way, the company makes a valuable contribution to a safe and high-performance rail infrastructure. This topic continues to grow in importance internationally as passenger and freight traffic around the globe increasingly shifts from road to rail, and given the major role of climate-neutral transport in protecting the climate.

Further options for continuous track monitoring wanted

For monitoring and inspecting the track, DB Systemtechnik GmbH uses measuring trains to survey the track geometry. Inspections are carried out at fixed intervals, depending on the maximum speed and load on each section. Continuous status monitoring of the rail infrastructure is virtually impossible.

What’s more, with climate change and growing volumes of people and freight switching to rail, the infrastructure – already scarcely growing – is seeing higher and greater traffic loads. At the same time, the increased traffic on the track means that there is less time available for infrastructure repairs and maintenance. Therefore, the company was on the lookout for a powerful solution to optimize its own measuring infrastructure.

The idea was born to use regular regional and long-distance trains as a supplement to routine inspections. Thanks to the mileage they cover daily in any case, and equipped with suitably rugged measurement technology, they would enable comprehensive monitoring of the entire rail infrastructure. For example, installing measurement technology in one high-speed ICE train per series – which covers an average distance of 1,500 kilometers a day – would suffice to completely cover all 10,000 kilometers of the ICE network.

The company launched its own innovation project to test the feasibility of this idea of using regular trains for continuous track monitoring. The project, “Status monitoring with regular trains”, rapidly demonstrated that the data acquired in regular rail traffic was equivalent in quality to that obtained by measuring trains. And this was the case even though the data was gathered completely autonomously and automatically without additional personnel, unlike with the old measuring method.

HBK buys a train ticket with rugged and precise standard technology

To get this innovation project on the rails, DB Systemtechnik GmbH was on the lookout for rugged standard measurement technology that would reliably deliver precise result under tough operating conditions – and fully autonomously, without the need for additional personnel. As well as being able to conduct fully autonomous measurements and automatically assign the measured data, maximum fire safety and electromagnetic compatibility with existing train systems were further criteria in the selection of suitable technology. Last but not least, the measurement technology had to be capable of collecting and analyzing one gigabyte of data per day and per train, and making this available immediately in usable form.

With HBK, the experts at DB Systemtechnik GmbH found what they were looking for. The measurement technology experts at Darmstadt delivered the amplifiers they needed. These play a crucial role by measuring vertical acceleration in the axle box which, after a single calibration, allows reliable conclusions to be drawn about the track condition. To do this, the longitudinal levels are calculated from the supplied measured data using an algorithm developed by DB Systemtechnik, and made available to its experts for immediate analysis.

In these regular regional and long-distance trains used for additional measurement, a high-performance QuantumX CX 22B-W data recorder and data acquisition software catman®AP and Quantum MX840B are employed. To simplify the process, the measurement systems on the trains are parameterized just once. After this, the measurement technology can reliably run independently.

On the train, the acceleration is measured for each position as part of the track monitoring process, and then made directly available online. The company uses its own NTP server to synchronize the systems. This provides each measurement with a time stamp, therefore ensuring that the measured status data can clearly be referenced to each section of track.

First-class results open up new opportunities in track monitoring

The innovation project showed that regular trains can help to inspire the Deutsche Bahn’s entire railroad network, at low cost. So far, they have delivered reliable data in quality that is on a par with that of regular inspections, over several million kilometers. Moreover, during the test considerable improvements to track quality were achieved.

The process has now been perfected and has received the official approval of DB Netz AG. In future, continuous monitoring of railroad quality will supplement the regular inspection and supply up-to-date information on the condition of the tracks. This will enable better planning of rail infrastructure repair and maintenance and increase the network’s operational quality and performance. The use of further smart maintenance features is conceivable in future.

Rail inspection is performed by regular trains like the IC 2

Precise, reliable and rugged – HBK

DB Systemtechnik has already put its trust in HBK’s measurement technology in the past. The positive experience it gained then with the products, services and experts from Darmstadt has now been confirmed once again. The technical measurement components used still satisfy all the necessary criteria and reliably deliver precise status data. Furthermore, they excel through their ease of operation and a connectivity that offers a range of possibilities for the future, too. In addition, the company was impressed with the expertise of the HBK specialists involved in the project, the solution-oriented approach to the work, and the excellent support from these measurement technology professionals.

“The standard measurement technology from HBK that we’ve used in regular trains for the continuous track monitoring of the DB rail network has been reliably delivering the desired measured data for years now. This information gives us an accurate overview of the condition of the rail infrastructure, making a vital contribution to a strong rail and highly available track systems – which are becoming more and more important as rail traffic increases.”

Dr.-Ing. Klaus Ulrich Wolter, DB Systemtechnik GmbH

About DB Systemtechnik GmbH

DB Systemtechnik GmbH is a subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn AG. Since 2011, the company has been providing a wide range of engineering services relating to technical rail operations for the Group and other companies, both in Germany and around the world. DB Systemtechnik’s portfolio includes services in the fields of vehicle technology, infrastructure, maintenance, and construction. To provide these services, among other things the company has its own rail vehicles for measuring and test runs. The rail subsidiary also tests and approves technical solutions it has developed itself.