‘Railway sector must face challenge of loss of expertise with digitalisation’

All over the world, human resource management strategies have lead to a loss of experts in the field of railway infrastructure management, according to research and teaching associate Johannes Neuhold at Graz University of Technology. “The only chance to face this challenge is by combining expert knowledge with data analytics.”

In what way is digitalisation important for the railway industry?

“Real-time and algorithm-based processing of data will help the railway industry to reduce costs and improve efficiency and reliability. It enables to implement predictive maintenance for both rolling stock and fixed assets. Moreover, it provides real-time information on train movements. Artificial intelligence will change established methodologies regarding project management and support decision making towards cost-efficient management of railway assets. Digitalisation will also encourage new players – especially start-ups – to enter the railway industry, which will lead to more innovations and forward-thinking.

However, handling data will not be enough in order to improve the performance of the railway sector. We have to combine in-depth knowledge of infrastructure asset management with up-to-date data science. The goal is to turn data into information, and information into a sustainable asset management.”

What will happen if the railway sector does not move forward in monitoring, IoT and predictive maintenance?

“Lots of people – outside the railway sector – link the sector with a dusty and conservative image. Digitalisation offers a great possibility to revolutionise the industry and to offer useful and innovative service to the customer. In terms of asset management, we get the chance to cope with decreasing financial resources by implementing data-aided and therefore efficient processes. Moreover, past strategies in terms of human resource management lead to a vital loss of experts in the field of railway infrastructure management. This development can be observed in many countries all over the world. The only chance to face this challenge is by combining expert knowledge with data analytics.”

What are the latest innovations in intelligent rail that will be presented during the conference?

“Intelligent Rail Summit 2018 will cover the latest innovations in the field of artificial intelligence and machine learning for infrastructure asset management as well as for wayside train monitoring systems. The summit will also focus on the area of life cycle management combining the derivation of maintenance and renewal measures by data analytics with evaluations based on life cycle costing. These considerations are not only crucial for the prognosis of maintenance and renewal measures, but also for communicating the demands to the various stakeholders.

Up to now, most of these considerations focus on straight railway track, as it is difficult to establish reliable data analytics in the area of turnouts. This is why during this conference, we will also focus on the newest developments in terms of condition evaluation and maintenance prognosis in turnouts. A very new and promising data resource are fibre optic cables installed alongside the track. The methodology of fibre optic sensing can analyse these data leading to information on train movements and infrastructure condition, which will be also presented during the summit.”

What can delegates learn from attending the Intelligent Rail Summit 2018?

“Data science can be a crucial step forward for the railway sector, but only if it is combined with in-depth knowledge of railway engineering. Intelligent Railway Summit 2018 focuses specifically on deriving meaningful information out of data so that big data are not locked into a black box without any use. Intelligent Rail Summit 2018 covers the measurement, analyses, storage and application of data within the railway infrastructure. Within this two-day conference we want to discuss the following questions:

  • Why is data important for Railway Infrastructure Management?
  • How to measure Railway Infrastructure Assets?
  • How to analyse data in order to turn it into crucial information?
  • How to collect, store and manage data?
  • How to establish a proper Railway Asset and Life Cycle Management?

Day one is dealing with “Digitalisation in Railway Infrastructure Monitoring”. There, we will discuss the need for big data as well as different measurement systems and innovative data analyses. The second day comprises “Railway Infrastructure Asset Management”. This includes data management and turning data into crucial information for evaluating the asset condition. This will serve as an input for a proper asset and lifecycle management strategy. Afterwards, we will hear how other transport modes are managing their assets, which may also lead to innovative approaches in the railway sector.”

What do you personally like about this kind of networking event?

“We as a sector have to make sure, that any developments are discussed on an international platform. This is the only chance to improve the sector as a whole and to use all the fantastic tools provided by the age of digitalisation. In our opinion, especially these kind of events are the perfect chance to start such collaborations because getting to know each other is much easier in a personal conversation compared to digital communication. Moreover, hearing an expert talking about his/her research and development is worth much more than reading about it.”

Johannes Neuhold is a research and teaching associate at the Institute of Railway Engineering and Transport Economy at Graz University of Technology. He will give a presentation at the Intelligent Rail Summit 2018. The Summit takes place 27-29 November in Malmö, Sweden. Discover the programme here.


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