High Speed Data Acquisition for Railway Monitoring

| Information and Communication Technology

An antenna gathers data over a 5G network and streams it live to Network Rail servers

McLaren Applied is helping Network Rail to maintain the railway system with the latest 5G connectivity and a new active antenna

Technology transfer from the motorsport industry has provided countless enhancements to the automotive industry and has found its applications in other sectors of the economy. In the latest example of how Formula 1 technology is being used in other fields, the railway industry is now being assisted by the high speed data acquisition, transfer, recording and analysis capabilities of the motor racing world.

It is managing to achieve this through race technology experts at McLaren Applied. McLaren has spend more than thirty years at the top of Formula 1 motor sport and the independent “McLaren Applied” company is using its expertise in electrification, connectivity, control and sensing to applications in automotive, rail and mining industries to deliver technology to improve performance.

Rail Network Maintenance

Now, McLaren Applied is helping the UK railway infrastructure company, Network Rail to maintain the railway network using a combination of software, the latest network technology and some hardware attached to the company’s maintenance and monitoring trains.

McLaren Applied has installed its F1-derived Fleet Connect software and 5G Edge Active Antenna hardware on 14 of the railway operator’s infrastructure monitoring trains. This is the first such implementation of Active Antenna’ technology in the UK and brings a new, simplified approach to on-train connectivity infrastructure and an advanced capability for data acquisition on the move.

Performance Improvement

By combining the high speed, low latency connectivity benefits of 5G with the active antenna hardware and Fleet Connect software, McLaren Applied as been able to deliver far greater connectivity and performance.

The result is that Network Rail is now registering upload data improvements of up to one thousand times faster than previous systems, meaning upload speeds of up to 70MB/s per train are currently being achieved versus the previous data transfer rate of just 76kB/s.
Infrastructure Monitoring

The fleet of infrastructure monitoring trains that operate in the UK travel up and down the country to check the condition of bridges, tunnels and viaducts, as well as 20,000 miles of track including signals and level crossings.

The instantly recognisable yellow “New Measurement Train” takes the helm of Network Rail’s infrastructure monitoring trains and single-handedly manages to acquire data across as much as 60,000 miles of rail distance a year. Operators of the train and users of the data are now able to easily offload the acquired data via the McLaren Applied software system.

Maintenance Improvement Plan

The improvement in technology for the New Measurement Train and other data gathering equipment at Network Rail is in line with the UK rail network’s plans on improving its aging telecommunications infrastructure. Enhancing wireless connectivity and improving data driven performance and maintenance operations support the overall objective of improving connectivity by rail.

With speedier access to infrastructure data, maintenance operations can be improved, network and train availability can be increased and overall costs reduced by preventing some levels of unplanned corrective maintenance. Remote and automated monitoring helps to target maintenance work and run a safe and reliable railway for passengers and goods.

This maintenance support is enabled through access to better and more stable connectivity with the monitoring trains reporting back using live data streams, including sensor readings on the track, foliage and network monitoring stations. Live streams prevent delays due to the batching of data, its local storage and periodic transfer for analysis. This kind of “always-on” data access brings the industry in line with other industries in terms of how monitoring operations are managed.

Fleet Connect Software

The main enabler for streaming the data used by Network Rail is McLaren Applied’s patented Fleet Connect software, which was originally developed to cope with the data demands of Formula 1 at the pinnacle of motorsport.

The software works by splitting data across networks in real time and then reassembling it in the cloud whilst it’s being transferred to its destination. Splitting the data in this way acts to reduce blackspots and provide a consistent connectivity stream for any moving vehicle in any environment.

According to Pablo Garcia Lopez, Director of the Connected Intelligence Business Unit at McLaren Applied, the roll out of Fleet Connect software and cutting-edge Active Antenna hardware on Network Rail’s equipment is a great example of how British ingenuity and engineering, along with cross industry knowledge, can solve prominent challenges in the transport sector.

“The combined technology ensures that infrastructure monitoring trains can quickly and reliably transmit data throughout their journeys up and down the UK,” he says.

The installation and commissioning of the equipment by McLaren Applied isn’t a one-off exercise. The company will also support Network Rail in making the most of the technology that will be available to them. To this end, the two organisations have entered into a partnership agreement that lasts for five years.

“Network Rail has demonstrated an open, collaborative mindset in bringing Formula 1-derived software to the rail industry, and we expect further gains over the five-year partnership,” Garcia Lopez concludes.

Jonathan Newell
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