Spanish rail companies focus on new track systems technology to future-proof the industry

Posted: 17 September 2019 | | No comments yet

Aware of the new challenges and the need to provide the most advanced methodology, the Spanish railway industry has, in recent years, focused on R&D to provide the market with the most innovative solutions with which to guarantee the optimal operation of rail infrastructure. Pedro Fortea, Director of Mafex – the association representing the Spanish railway industry – explains more.


Railroad construction projects are moving forward by incorporating new techniques and systems. The construction of new rail lines and the modernisation of existing infrastructure requires significant investments, meaning it is therefore highly necessary to have an optimal configuration of the infrastructure from the outset. For this reason, transport administration managers, rail operators and network managers are committed to developing the latest innovations related to engineering and design. The aim is to increase their lifecycle and achieve a safe, accessible and profitable railway, for both high-speed and medium-distance networks, as well as in regional and urban transport systems.

Faced with the new challenges and the need to provide the most advanced methodology, the Spanish rail industry has focused on R&D to provide the market with the most avant-garde solutions with which to guarantee the optimal operation of any type of rail line.

Inspection techniques

The inspection techniques used by Spanish companies in the production processes boast state-of-the-art tools and systems. For example, Cetest, an accredited specialist laboratory in the railway sector, develops systems for monitoring the condition of tracks and overhead lines (catenary) through vehicles in service, not only from a geometric viewpoint, but also from interaction between the vehicle and the infrastructure.  

The Forest Trafic company, designer and manufacturer of technical boards, consider the critical nature of the components, especially in their structural use as railway decks. All manufactured boards are checked together with an ultrasonic delaminate control system, which provides a comprehensive map of structural integrity for manufactured panels.

Telice, a supplier and systems integrator of electrification, signalling and communication solutions, has been using LiDAR-based devices for the measurement of geometric parameters associated with catenary for many years.

Likewise, the use of big data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques will soon allow for the evolution from the current maintenance model, both preventive and corrective, to a predictive technique. This will improve planning and increase success which therefore will result in greater efficiency in the field of maintenance. To this end, in the Transforming Transport project, led by Indra, different fault prediction algorithms on high-speed rail lines have been able to predict the faults that require attention with 85 per cent accuracy.

Another clear example in this case is that of COMSA, who employs dynamic methods to survey track condition from geometric track auscultation, carried out by specific rolling stock, walking and cabin trips, ultrasound tests and welding tasks. The main inspections are primarily visual, the discrepancies that can be seen from a distance, while the auscultations and ultrasound activities detect wear and tear that is too intricate for the human eye.

Data automation

Spanish railway industry companies are also ensuring that aspects such as data automation are a high priority which will, in turn, make sure higher levels of safety on track projects are adhered to.

Cetest uses big data platforms which improve the global process of inspection and maintenance of track and catenary lines. As records are transmitted continuously from vehicles in operations based on aligned data, the generation of historical records, trends, infrastructure degradation models, and even automated work orders, allows for precautionary measures to be taken.

Dynamic and geometric auscultations data is currently the main source of information for Indra to find the location of maintenance work. This is obtained automatically by installing sensors or control equipment on-board specific vehicles or even within passenger service trains themselves, which are obtained by skilled employees travelling on the train and collecting data manually. These methods are complemented by the indicators of reliability and availability of the assets that comprise the system. In order to automate all data, it would be necessary to make an investment in monitoring equipment, so that the data is obtained digitally, greatly improving the scheduling and accuracy of maintenance.

In Telice, it is considered vitally important to adopt a model that standardises the representation of data associated with the infrastructure, which, in turn, would allow for the establishment of data exchange schemes between companies, railway administrator managers and railway agencies.

For COMSA, amongst the aspects that are considered most relevant for the automation of the processes are those associated with points, variations and tendency of each of the geometric parameters of the track, absolute data and variation in the time of lane deterioration, alongside the state of the sleepers’ welds and supports.

With regard to geometric inspection, it is assumed that the main data that refers to the repair of the track are the outer parameters of each of the signifiers, be that alignment, levelling, width, warping, etc. The inspection of materials, however, is measured with absolute data meaning that this is the exact condition of the materials that have been inspected. It also reveals how the wear and tear of the materials has developed over time, be that condition of the welds or the sleepers’ supports.

The future is linked to new techniques

As Spanish professionals and experts point out, the future of railway infrastructure and rail systems is linked to new techniques, as well as the unstoppable incorporation of technological aspects such as big data, which will greatly help to design and implement the most modern transport networks worldwide.

Mafex, the Spanish Railway Association, is the association that represents the Spanish railway industry, currently bringing together 85 companies that account for 80 per cent of rail exports in Spain. Established in 2004, Mafex implement activities around four major areas: Internationalisation, competitiveness and innovation, institutional relations and strategic positioning, and marketing and communications.

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