Know your linear assets, and manage for them
Rail authorities know that asset management is a critical part of delivering a quality service, operating safely and maintaining customer satisfaction. Every day, rail network riders benefit from experiencing clean and safe stations and trains (the ‘above rail’ assets) along their journey. Equally important, however, are the myriad of ‘below rail’ assets including linear infrastructure (track), which provide the strong foundation upon which your system is built.
Linear infrastructure exists across a variety of asset-intensive industries and typically serves the purpose of moving people, water, air or power from one place to another. Examples include railways, pipelines and roads.
In the rail industry, most linear infrastructure falls into the general category of ‘fixed guideway’, and includes the following assets: track (mainline, yard and so on), tunnels, bridges and electrical/power system elements such as overhead catenary wire, third rail and cabling.
In contrast, stationary or non-linear assets are generally confined to a single location, such as rail stations, signals or switches. Railcars, locomotives, carriages and support vehicles are all examples of rolling stock (non-linear) assets.
Managing complex assets
Public rail networks are faced with the unique challenges of ensuring their assets are operating safely while contending with strict timetabling and customer service expectations. These challenges are magnified significantly due to the complex nature of the network’s large number of linear assets, which often include nested, multilevel hierarchies of ‘child’ assets. For example, rail lines typically have mainline track with interlockings (a ‘parent’ asset) that are made up of a collection of interrelated signals and switches (‘child’ assets).
The sheer size of rail networks also makes the task of maintaining all your infrastructure data incredibly intricate. The Trans-Asian Railway network comprises 117,500km (73,000 miles) of railway lines throughout 28 countries. In the United States alone, there is almost 224,000km (139,000 miles) of railway track and over 21 million people passing through the busiest station each year. The ongoing data management challenges for maintenance are clear.
Creating an effective linear asset management program requires that you understand what makes linear assets unique – length – and have tools designed for that purpose. From a data perspective, linear assets can be quite complex, spanning hundreds (even thousands) of kilometres. Different segments along a rail network may face significantly different utilisation and wear and tear. As a result, each section may require different levels of monitoring and maintenance.
Furthermore, the geographically-dispersed nature of rail assets makes it challenging for end users to effectively manage the data and workflows on a daily basis. It is virtually impossible to keep track of all these variables without a rail management system that caters to the uniqueness of linear assets.
Fortunately, specialised tools exist to manage these challenges.
Simplifying with software
Effective asset management requires all assets to be defined and reported on in a systematic method. Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) solutions manage all maintenance activities (preventative and corrective) and operating costs (labour and materials). They have many benefits including tracking all rail infrastructure, their component ‘child’ assets, as well as all work and materials management workflows.
Rail managers use EAM to coordinate the resources required to handle scheduled and emergency repairs to minimise service disruption. Other common functions include inspection scheduling so you always know when the next service is due, inventory level tracking, parts request management and procurement workflow support.
Time and again though, experience has shown that the complexity posed by the rail environment requires even more: an EAM solution that is purpose-built for the industry.
There are many Tier 2 and 3 EAM software packages on the market that perform basic maintenance functions. However, only a few have the specialised Tier 1 features required to effectively manage rail infrastructure.
How will you know if it’s right for rail?
For starters, look for a system designed to be your single, master repository of all wayside assets (linear and non-linear) over their entire lifecycle. One key feature is asset configuration management functionality, to ensure that equipment can be updated to the approved engineering configuration while remaining in service.
Secondly, the system must have a Linear Reference System (LRS). This is the underlying data structure that characterises a linear system (segments, markers and offsets), and to which all asset and event data such as work orders is referenced.
Third, due to the geographically-dispersed nature of rail networks, leading solutions offer advanced tools for field workers: mobile solutions, GPS real-time location and native GIS/mapping visualisation.
Additionally, advanced EAM systems are designed to take full advantage of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) trend by importing track geometry, as well as rail defect/fault data from ‘smart infrastructure’ and vehicle-mounted systems like geometry cars, ultrasounds and ground penetrating radar. Integrating this data into EAM provides real-time alerts to maintenance staff so they are more aware, proactive and efficient in identifying and solving problems.
Lastly, look for proven solutions that continue to evolve with the industry, such as the ability to track asset condition, performance and risk to comply with ISO55000 or the Transit Asset Management regulations in North America.
Rail asset managers utilising a system that puts this sort of comprehensive linear data at their fingertips are at a clear advantage. The data helps to improve safety through inspection compliance, failure analysis and service history. Keeping assets in good condition also minimises service delays due to unexpected equipment failures, while extending their useful life. A purpose-built rail asset management system will help ensure you remain in compliance with all regulations while maximising safety, asset maintenance and customer satisfaction.
 UNESCAP, Trans-Asian railway (2017), http://www.unescap.org/our-work/transport/trans-asian-railway/about
 AARP, America’s awe-inspiring railroad terminals (2013), https://travel.aarp.org/articles-tips/articles/info-11-2013/