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Partnership develops cameras to inspect railway tracks

A technology lead scheme is currently being carried out by a partnership of Omnicom Balfour Beatty and the University of York, supported by the organisation Innovate UK, to develop cameras which can inspect railway tracks in minute detail so that railway companies know when repairs and preventative maintenance needs to take place.

According to calculations by the developers of this technology, the cameras will be able to save train companies approximately £10M per year on repair works, operating by taking high-definition pictures of the train tracks which are then analysed to alert maintenance officers where urgent repairs are needed while also predicting where faults will soon occur.

The Project Leader and the Head of Operations for Omnicom Balfour Beatty, Stephen Tait stated: “We are developing digital technologies that are rapidly changing our industry; from ‘predict and prevent’ technology and advanced digital surveying techniques through to data science. All of our solutions are underpinned by a long legacy of design and construction expertise.

“Our collaboration with the University of York has been invaluable; this latest innovation is an excellent example of how Balfour Beatty continues to deliver our commitment to reduce our onsite work by 25 per cent by 2025 as we progress against our commitment to develop technologies to evolve the digital railway for a more reliable, cost efficient and safe network for all users”

The Lead Researcher on the project, from the Department of Computer Science at the University of York, Professor Richard Wilson commented: “These machine vision technologies for high speed rail inspection will improve the reliability of the railway network, reduce costs and increase the safety of manual inspection. The computer vision and machine learning technologies provide automated inspection of complex assets such as junctions and crossings”.

The Knowledge Transfer Adviser for the Knowledge Transfer Network, delivering the programme for Innovate UK, Ian Blakemore added: “This Knowledge Transfer Partnership has significantly improved the potential to automate rail inspection to an accuracy that will vastly improve the productivity of the whole checking process – something which is critical to the operation of the rail network.

“The partnership between Omnicom Balfour Beatty and the University of York flourished as a result of the discoveries and innovation that the close working delivered, adding real value to the business.”

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