GWR’s fleet of 93 intercity trains have been fitted with what’s described as a world-first live monitoring system that will reduce how long each train is out of service for routine maintenance.

Wireless sensors are being attached to monitor the wheelsets and bogies on the trains, allowing real-time data to be collected about the condition and performance of the gearboxes, traction motors, bearings and wheels. This is significant as typically, bogie overhaul accounts for about a third of maintenance costs, with trains requiring an average of seven days to carry out a manual inspection or component replacement in a depot.

The continuous monitoring of the wheels and systems should flag up problems as they happen, so there will eventually be less need to take trains out of service for routine inspections to see if there are unknown problems that need to be fixed.

Hitachi, which supplied the trains and the monitoring says that replacing routine inspections with live monitoring will be able to halve bogie overhaul downtime. On the GWR fleet of 93 trains, this will deliver over 100 extra days of train availability every year. Apart from having the trains available for passengers instead of being in a depot, it will also reduce maintenance costs.

This will be the first time Hitachi’s ‘Perpetuum Onboard’ wireless technology will monitor the full-suite of wheelset and bogie parts on high-speed passenger trains. The digital monitoring technology has been installed on some initial GWR units, with rollout across the rest of the fleet taking place over the coming year during scheduled maintenance overhauls of the fleet.

The monitoring sensors also have the additional capability of monitoring the condition of the track and train axles should that be enabled in the future. Ultimately, as in, for example, the airline world, the rail industry could move to a point where they can build “digital twins” of each train that’s in service and proactively spot problems before they cause a breakdown, hence reducing train cancellations that affect passengers.

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