Britain’s Digital Railways

Find out about Britain's railways - from signals and trains to tracks and safety!

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How are faults detected on Network Rail train lines? Find out more about the New Measurement Train!

Bex and Dan are on a journey, finding out more about Britain's railways.

There has always been a need to take good care of the railways but the ways that maintenance is undertaken are changing.

Bex and Dan find out more about how faults on the network are detected.

Maintaining the track is and always has been a very important part of managing the railways. The engineers that check the tracks today use a bit more technology than those men with spanners and shovels!

They travel across the country on ultrasonic rail testing trains that use ground penetrating radar to detect irregularities in the ballast and track formation.

Ultrasonic waves are beamed into the ground, and the way the waves reflect back provides information about what’s going on underground and if there might be weaknesses in the rails or the ground.

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The special trains also use lasers to scan the rails – this helps to see if the track is becoming worn out of shape and need grinding.

Now whilst these trains don’t stop engineers from needing to get out there and walking the track, they make sure these walks are kept just for the areas needing inspection.

The New Measurement Train is a converted High Speed Train that monitors the condition of the track without the need for visual inspection in the time-honoured way of walking the line.

It is packed with technology – four lasers, seven linescan cameras and a number of thermal imaging cameras. Its high-speed cameras can take 70,000 pictures per second, meaning it gets a picture of every millimetre of track!

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It’s not just the rail condition that is important. Knowing the overall alignment of the track and its position in relation to other structures is another element of measurement, making sure that trains aren’t likely to hit things.

When something that needs maintenance is found, a notice is sent to track workers who are increasingly equipped with tablets which reduces the need to carry paper charts.

Knowing the exact location of each fault is very important and this is done with GPS readers, tachometers from a starting reference point, an inertial system that knows when the train has changed tracks and a map!

The New Measurement Train concentrates on the principal main lines.

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Network Rail also has a number of locomotive hauled measurement trains which survey other lines outside the South East, whilst London Underground also has a track inspection train in a converted tube train.

All operational lines are surveyed at least once every year, with main lines surveyed every two weeks.

Where things have changed, engineers can be called on to put things right.

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As well as checking the track, Network Rail’s measurement train use video cameras to check the overhead electric wires for height, position and wear.

This is something that’s really important especially with tilting trains as they can only operate when everything is exactly right.

Inside each train, there are banks of screens allowing engineers to view all of the data being measured, and banks of computers storing all of the new data which can then be compared to data from previous runs!

Find out more about Britain’s railways!

Bex and Dan from Fun Kids learn all about the future of Britain’s railways, from signals to trains and tracks, in this new podcast series!

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MOBILE: Kids Guide to Transport: Rail and Road

Bex and Dan learn all about the future of Britain's roads and railways!

Explore all the free Fun Kids podcasts!

Download a series to listen to on your phone, tablet or in the car!


Britain’s Digital Railways, in association with the Royal Academy of Engineering Ingenious scheme

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Britain’s Digital Railways

Find out about Britain's railways - from signals and trains to tracks and safety!

More From Britain’s Digital Railways