Simulation software for the railway industry: bringing rail data to life

Professor Terrence Fernando, Director of the THINKlab.

Network Rail Laser Data Mapper using RILA

Today Network Rail services carry 50 per cent more passengers than ten years ago, equating to about four million people a day. Passenger numbers have increased at a fast pace and are expected to continue to rise. With demand increasing it is essential to carry out improvements and modernisations with smarter ways of working to deliver more frequent, more reliable, safer services and brighter and better stations, without causing major disruption to passengers. Much care needs to be taken in designing and planning major track renewal programmes to keep the disruption to a minimum. One way of minimising such disruption is to use virtual simulation technologies to go through the entire construction process and eliminate any design faults, and check the availability of machines and the validity of the construction sequence while ensuring the health and safety aspects of the workers.

Inspired by the virtual simulation and visualisation technology platforms developed by the THINKlab as a part of the EPSRC-funded FIRM project, Network Rail approached the THINKlab team to create a range of real world 3D and 4D simulation modules which can be used to support track renewal programmes. This work included:

  • Design Review Module: To allow teams to collectively explore the emerging designs to avoid any design faults.
  • 4D Simulation Module: To allow the planners to translate 2D schedules into an interactive animation sequence to illustrate deconstruction & construction operations within a given site in 3D.
  • Laser Data Mapper Module: To allow the positioning of laser scanned track data onto a 3D GIS environment and make accurate measurements to support operation and maintenance.

This work has now been used to support four live track renewal programmes including the West Coast Main Line, Watford Junction, Colton Crossover and Wichnor Crossover.

It has been a great opportunity for the THINKlab team to apply our modelling and visualisation skills in supporting a complex project such as track renewal programmes. This complex simulation environment has been designed and delivered to the Network Rail team within a short period of time and it has now been used to simulate four sites so far.

These modules have replaced the previous planning meetings around a simple whiteboard and now provide an interactive system that allows the teams to navigate the schedules in real time moving between tasks seamlessly in order to brief teams, plan labour, materials and equipment requirements, and to visualise potential scheduling issues.

"Senior management have realised the potential for the platform in supporting future track renewal programmes and as a result Network Rail have deployed the simulation environment developed by THINKlab to ten major track renewal programmes across the UK. Through this implementation we hope to deploy this platform as key catalyst to introduce an innovative way of planning future track renewal programmes."

Nick Millington, Project Director, Network Rail

"The models have assisted the delivery team in the preparation of core works and also have considerable health and safety benefits; they have been well received by all the parties utilising the outputs."

Basharat Mahfooz, Scheme Project Manager, Network Rail

"Network Rail, working in collaboration with Fugro Raildata and Salford University THINKlab have developed 4D geospatially-accurate modelling designs for today, building a better railway for a better Britain."

Roy Hickman, Network Rail

"The 4D modelling helped us with the staging of our works, so as to reduce any clashes before we go on site. Without it, we would have incurred additional cost and time in the delivery of the works! It has become an integral tool in the way we deliver railway jobs."

Ameet Masania, Network Rail

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