When it open’s, Britain’s new high-speed rail network, HS2, will be one of the world’s most reliable railways.
A combination of virtual reality and real-time monitoring, using sensors built into the line’s infrastructure including rails, bridges, and overhead power lines, will ensure the desired reliability.
Detailed designs for the new line are being developed using advanced computer design programmes. The data produced will provide information for constructing the line, and data to build a digital twin of the railway, which is a virtual reality 3D replica of the line that is as detailed as the real thing.
During construction, thousands of remote condition-monitoring sensors, similar to those used in Formula One and aviation, are being built into the physical line’s infrastructure, just as if it were the railway’s version of the body’s nervous system. These sensors will monitor the performance of the railway’s assets and components to predict and prevent failure. In doing so, they will help to underpin the line’s reliability, and ultimately the punctuality of its passenger services.
Data collected from sensors onboard the high-speed trains will be transmitted directly to HS2’s Network Integrated Control Centre (NICC) at Washwood Heath in Birmingham. Here, engineers and maintenance teams will use Artificial Intelligence to analyse data to monitor asset performance trends across the network.
Any downward trend in asset performance will trigger HS2’s predict-and-prevent maintenance programme. However, before engineers go out on-site, they will use virtual reality headsets to investigate issues from the safety of the NICC. The technology will enable maintenance teams to understand, and in some cases resolve them, without the need to physically go out on location.
The benefit of operating a “predict and prevent” system means that parts can be repaired and replaced when the asset provides the information, rather than relying on a rolling programme of maintenance and renewals.
Even without its digital twin-based maintenance operation, HS2 will be one of the most reliable railways in the world, and virtual reality technology will have an important part to play in keeping maintenance teams familiar with the railway.
Head of Strategic Planning and Asset Management, David White said: “With HS2’s digital twin-based predict and prevent approach to maintenance we have the ability to prevent failures and replace assets when the system indicates a decline in performance – as opposed to relying on a rolling programme of asset replacement.
“Harnessing the power of the digital twin and its predictive capability could see an asset’s operational life extended by months or even years. This will enable us to reduce cost, cut waste and shrink the environmental footprint of HS2’s maintenance operation and maintain a consistently high level of customer service.”
“HS2 will be very safe and reliable, not least because it will be new and built to the latest standards. This in itself creates the challenge of keeping staff trained and competent to run and maintain both the railway and its stations. So we will create new tools through the use of virtual and Augmented Reality technologies to maintain and enhance the skills of our maintenance and station teams.”