Lessons learned from INNOTRACK

Posted: 6 April 2011 | | No comments yet

The EU co-funded INNOTRACK project has been a joint response of the major stakeholders in the rail sector – infrastructure managers (IM), railway supply industry and research bodies – to further develop a cost-effective highperformance track infrastructure by providing innovative solutions towards significant reduction of both investments and maintenance related infrastructure costs. Martin Platzer, Chairman […]

The EU co-funded INNOTRACK project has been a joint response of the major stakeholders in the rail sector – infrastructure managers (IM), railway supply industry and research bodies – to further develop a cost-effective highperformance track infrastructure by providing innovative solutions towards significant reduction of both investments and maintenance related infrastructure costs. Martin Platzer, Chairman of UNIRAILINFRA, the Infrastructure Committee of UNIFE, highlights the main conclusions of the INNOTRACK Executive Summary Report edited by Björn Paulsson, Senior Advisor of UIC, and Anders Ekberg of Chalmers University of Technology.

The philosophy of INNOTRACK

Today the railways are facing new demands. Examples are higher speeds and higher axle loads (often in combination), higher availability, fewer disturbances and reduced life-cycle costs (LCC). At the same time, environmental demands and safety requirements must be fulfilled.

Also, most railways have many bottlenecks where there are very small margins for disturbances. If these new demands can be met, the future importance of the railways can increase. The results from INNOTRACK will help the railways tackle these issues in the important area of track and substructure. This part represents 50-60% of the maintenance and renewal costs of a typical railway.

This means that the results from INNOTRACK have a significant impact on the overall cost reduction for the railways. Some selected solutions are presented as ‘highlights’ in this article in order to give an overview of the contents of INNOTRACK.

Most cost drivers are international

INNOTRACK has, for the first time, identified the European track related cost drivers and their root causes in the areas of substructure, track and switches & crossings. Further, INNOTRACK has been, and is actively engaged in, aiding and coordinating implementation on a European level.

Innovative research and development (R&D) in the railway area is a necessity to achieve cost reduction and better performance. It is also a good way to cooperate between IM’s and the industry so that the needs of the IM can be matched to the product development in the industry, and to ensure that the developed products/services/processes fit in the system and perform in the intended manner. This is still more important since a larger part of R&D today is performed in different environments where the industry’s part is successively increasing and today is considered to have passed the IM’s in volume.

Implementation of new knowledge is difficult but a necessity

It has traditionally been difficult to implement new knowledge in the railways. It is today the Achilles heel of R&D. Here the IMs must become more efficient and assure that if a new product is introduced, this introduction is carried out in an ordered fashion and that the knowledge related to this product is incorporated in the organisation. In INNOTRACK, considerable resources have been allocated from UIC and UNIFE to support implementation in a more professional manner.

INNOTRACK – a brief summary of highlights

A guideline for optimum selection of rail steel grades

Cost driver

The undifferentiated use of conventional (non-heat treated standard carbon) rail steels in curves up to 5,000m results in avoidable excessive maintenance cost and/or premature re-investment cost for exchanging the rails.


Based on a multitude of long-term track measurements, INNOTRACK has been able to develop and calibrate predictive models for overall rail degradation in terms of wear and rolling contact fatigue (RCF). Compared to standard rail grades, heat-treated rails show a superior wear RCF resistance. Two different rail grade selection recommendations – a ‘radii based’ recommendation and a ‘deteriora – tion based’ approach – were worked out. Both methods have led to consistent results that confirm the technical and economic advantages of the extensive utilisation of heattreated premium steel grades.


The improved rail durability by a shift towards heat-treated premium steel leads to a significantly extended service life, substantially reduced lifecycle-cost and, at the same time, to an increased operational availability of the track. Also the payback of the incremental investment can be achieved in a very short time. Respective cost-savings can be specifically calculated by using the LCC model developed in INNOTRACK, as has been shown in the project.

Next steps

The guideline developed in INNOTRACK is proposed to form the basis for a UIC/UNIFE TecRec (replacing the UIC leaflet 721).

Rail cracks

Cost driver

Cracks in rails are ultimately a safety problem. In order to prevent cracks to grow to failure, they need to be detected and mitigated in the early stages of growth. Further excessive overloads need to be avoided. Lack of accuracy in preventive measures, including the permissible passing loads, leads to increased costs and/or decreased levels of safety.


The growth of rail cracks has been studied in INNOTRACK with the aim of quantifying the influence of operational parameters and in predicting inspection and maintenance needs. An example of use is the identification of allowable load magnitudes induced by wheel flats.


With the work in INNOTRACK, the accuracy of operational decisions and mitigating actions has increased. A particular benefit is that existing ‘minimum actions’ can be examined and verified/revised using scientifically proven techniques.

Next steps

The results from INNOTRACK have already been employed for better regulations regarding operational loads. Harmonisation on a European scale is needed. Furthermore, the work related to inspection intervals needs to be implemented in ‘minimum action’ handbooks and codes and the technique extended to other key defects encountered on European networks.

Inspection methods and equipment to detect rail cracks

Cost driver

Inability to detect rail cracks at an early stage of growth hinders the planning of mitigating actions such as grinding. It may also mean that cracks are allowed to grow too long before removal, which leads to higher grinding costs and more operational disturbances, and also to a shorter rail life. In severe cases this may even be a safety issue.


 A significant number of inspection methods and equipment to detect rail cracks have been tested in INNOTRACK. The different methods have been compared with respect to accuracy for different types of cracks. The equipment has been evaluated in laboratory conditions, as well as in field.


The work in INNOTRACK provides an IM with a good basis to select suitable equipment to detect rail cracks.

Next steps

The work is continuing in the European projects INTERAIL and PM‘n’IDEA.

Grinding procedures

 Cost driver

Grinding is a necessary maintenance method used to increase rail life and reduce costs. Today, grinding costs are high. Two reasons for this are poor logistics planning and a lack of network grinding strategies.


INNOTRACK has delivered a guideline on optimised grinding procedures. This guideline includes not only technical specifications (e.g. profile tolerances), but also logistical and strategic considerations.


 The INNOTRACK guideline gives support in deciding target profiles. It also aids an IM in optimising grinding from a logistics perspective and to impose a clear grinding strategy for the whole network.

Next steps

 The work is continued in a group that will make a TecRec based on the INNOTRACK guideline. The new TecRec shall be expanded as compared to the guideline in the following areas: How a strategy shall be implemented, logistics aspects, economical aspects, coordination with other maintenance activities, and harmonisation of target profiles.

LCC evaluation methodology

Cost driver

One of the most significant complications in the introduction of innovative solutions in the track sector is the assessment of their LCC impact. This may lead to incorrect decisions and related increases in costs.


INNOTRACK has developed a stringent, unified methodology for LCC evaluations on a European level. The method provides the ability to evaluate the LCC impact of different scenarios. It further results in well-defined analyses that clearly define which factors have been taken into account.


Apart from providing an objective tool for decision making, the LCC model developed in INNOTRACK will be used for comparisons between different scenarios. Further it can highlight parametric influences such as the effect of adopting different discount rates or delaying interventions.

Next steps

 The methodology is currently in operational use e.g. at the DB. The further European use is foreseen to lead to improvements such as a more extensive analysis of the influence of statistical scatter and the inclusion of improved models to predict deterioration.

Logistics solutions

Cost driver

The logistics cost drivers comprise management/ organisational, strategic and technical issues, such as:

  • Full or partial lack of track possession policy with a clear plant and staff deployment, and identified minimum disturbance strategies and procedures
  • Insufficient long-term planning and funding with commitments from governments  Deficiencies in work programming and project management
  • Further, local rules and regulations are often key barriers to the opening of national markets.

However, within INNOTRACK, only technical cost drivers were dealt with.


INNOTRACK has derived solutions which minimise track possession times, allow for maintenance without traffic disruption, provide high output rates, minimise the impact of rules and regulations by the use of standard machinery. Examples of these are:

  • For Track Support and Superstructure: inclined cement columns, embedded slab track, and two layer steel slab track
  • For Switches & Crossings: implementation of a modular S&C, ‘plug-and-play’ solutions, and steel slab track 
  • For Rails & Welding: use of ultra-long rails (up to 120m weld-free), less welding, ‘justin- time’ direct transportation to construction site, reduced manipulation and stock keeping.


Estimated savings in LCC is 30%. This includes qualitative estimations, which are, however, based on a tangible reality and thus are considered reasonable.

Next steps

Key issues often relate to processes, people and culture. A key to success is to build a closer and more open relationship between infra – structure managers, industrial companies and contractors. Important next steps are the joint work groups that have formed between EIM/CER/EFRTC and other associations.

Evaluating the effects of INNOTRACK

Technical and economical assessment

Evaluating the life-cycle cost (LCC) of the asset is an important tool in the decision process. In INNOTRACK this has been addressed in a dedicated subproject. An important result is that a harmonised LCC calculation method at a European level has been established. This method enables to identify cost drivers, assess the costs of track components/modules and to make country-by-country comparisons. In the evaluations it is found that the discount rate has a significant impact on LCC as described and quantified for different situations.

Several complications in carrying out LCCcalculations are clarified. Examples are the relation between technical and economical aspects and how service life is dependent on failure rates for different components in the railway system. Other factors like availability and influence of repair rate are also considered.

Since the significant part of LCC is fixed before the installation phase, it is here the largest parts of the savings can be made. This also means that it is very important that IMs give feedback to the suppliers in order to reduce LCC.

RAMS (Reliability, Availability, Maintain – ability and Safety) evaluations have also been addressed in INNOTRACK. Use of RAMS in the area of track and structures was found to be in an early stage. Therefore some basic considerations were done and proposals for future development presented.

Overall cost reduction

The objectives of overall cost reductions from INNOTRACK are explained in detail in the INNOTRACK Concluding Technical Report. The work in INNOTRACK has demonstrated that it is not possible to present a common international figure of the total cost reduction related to the solutions developed in INNOTRACK. The reason for this is mainly that every IM has a different maintenance policy and that the costs for maintenance and renewal vary a lot.

Of more interest is perhaps which reduction that can be achieved for a specific railway. This is an important question since the full implementation of result from INNOTRACK is a process that will take many years. Which parts and areas shall a specific railway prioritise in this process? The INNOTRACK Concluding Technical Report presents a summary of the evaluation of the potential overall reduction in LCC obtained by implementation of a range of INNOTRACK innovations at four IMs.

These evaluations show that the potential LCC reductions are on the order of the set objective. This result is also backed by detailed analyses of some innovative solutions using a standardised LCC process that has been developed within INNOTRACK.

Dissemination and implementation Many EU-projects end when the project is formally finalised. The reason is simply that there are no economic benefits for many participating members to carry on with the implementation work. For this reason, too many EU-projects produce ‘shelf warmers’ that are not operationally implemented. In INNOTRACK it has been an ambition from the beginning to have a focus on implementation. This is the reason for the engagement and contribution with extra resources from the UIC. During and after the formal end of the project, an extensive work has been carried out to prepare and support implementation of the INNOTRACK results. This work has engaged many railways both within and outside the INNOTRACK consortium as well as several organisations and regulatory bodies. In addition, an Implementation Group has been established based on the INNOTRACK Steering Committee and Coordination Group. The aim of this group is to promote and coordinate the Europe-wide implementation of INNOTRACK results. This makes INNOTRACK a unique project also in the way implementation is organised.