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Network Rail to use automation and analytics in tunnel examinations and station security

Operator Network Rail will tap into its £357m R&D fund to back innovation competitions aimed to improve assessment of more than 600 rail tunnels and station surveillance

Network Rail will invest up to £3m in two innovation competitions aimed at improving the examination of rail tunnels and station security with data analytics and automation.

Funding for the two competitions form part of Network Rail’s £357m research and development spending plans for the next five years. They are the first Small Business Research Initiatives (SBRI) the company has launched via UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI’s) InnovateUK.

The initiatives are part of the company’s efforts to simplify its commercial engagements, particularly around work with small and medium-sized partners in areas that include technology.

“We aim to reduce the cost of running the railway through new technology and working smarter, increase our effectiveness, and become a more dependable partner that’s easier to engage with,” said Network Rail programme manager, Janine Fountain.

One of the competitions aims to improve the efficiency safety of the examinations of more than 600 tunnels Network Rail is responsible for, which is approximately 335km of structures.

The majority of tunnels currently need manual examinations on a yearly basis. Examinations performed by humans are time consuming, costly and can be dangerous for workers.

According to Network Rail, project aims include the automation of such manual examinations, while reducing the need for the workforce to access existing infrastructure.

This builds on work the operator had already carried out around the development of autonomous robotic examination systems, and analytical tools to better capture and manage examination data.

Another competition focuses on the development of new security analytics for railway stations, so security surveillance systems and data systems that can work in a station without causing disruption.

The goal is to install surveillance analytics to enhance existing Network Rail systems, increasing security and reducing delay minutes resulting from station incidents caused by suspicious behaviour.

Innovate UK expects projects to win contracts in the range of £350,000-£500,000. Both competitions opened on 16 September 2019 and the registration deadline is midday on 6 November 2019.

As part of Control Period 6 (CP6), a five-year scheme aimed at improving efficiency, trust and quality of services for users, Network Rail has an IT budget of nearly £1bn. The company is shifting to a digital factory approach, which will emphasise collaborative ways of working and trying out new innovations.

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