Network Rail’s infrastructure monitoring surveys from the sky
Network Rail’s Air Operations Team use a variety of visual and thermal imaging techniques, plus drone technology, to safely and efficiently inspect infrastructure, whilst minimising disruption for passengers. As part of the team, Sean Leahy, National Aerial Survey Specialist, explains the work involved in gathering images and data, and the benefits of this activity.
There are almost five million passenger journeys on Britain’s railway every day. Those people choosing to travel by train – whether they’re travelling to and from work, or visiting friends and family – rely on us to deliver a safe and reliable railway, as do the freight operators who move 200,000 tonnes of goods and materials across the country each day.
It may seem strange to some that Network Rail has its own dedicated Air Operations Team. However, based in Milton Keynes is the Head of Air Operations, Drone Manager, three dedicated Aerial Survey Specialists and two admin support staff who work closely together to monitor the condition of our assets more safely and efficiently than our teams on the ground are able to. That includes 20,000 miles of track, 30,000 bridges, tunnels and viaducts, and thousands of signals, level crossings and stations.
Inspecting our rail infrastructure takes boots off the ballast – reducing the need to send colleagues trackside to inspect railway equipment. It is important to emphasise that we are not here to replace front line staff. We are here to support them and make sure that they have the right information to work in the limited possession times they get. With more and more areas becoming Red Zone Working prohibited – an area where trains still run whilst engineering activity takes place – the need to check these areas is ideally suited to an airborne platform.