Network Rail is using helicopters to inspect the south western rail network, in a bid to improve performance without disrupting train services.
The helicopters use high-tech thermal and visual imaging equipment to identify the smallest of faults and inspect a wide area of infrastructure in a short space of time, Network Rail said.
The helicopters are capable of covering the route from London Waterloo station to Weymouth station in Dorset in around three hours, including hovering over equipment to capture the critical thermal and high definition images.
Deploying eyes in the sky also reduces the need to send members of the workforce onto the track when trains are operating.
Network Rail chief operating officer Jason Bridges said: “We are using all of the tools at our disposal to improve performance across the south western rail network to provide a better railway for passengers – these new aerial surveys are a great example of this.
“Using this technique, as part of our Railway Upgrade Plan, we can identify and fix potential issues before they affect train services, complete thorough inspections of our infrastructure in a short space of time and improve safety for our people.”
The helicopter is equipped with a full high-definition camera system that provides a gyro-stabilised image with embedded location data in the digital video.
It said a “fault spotter” on the flight, would review the live footage and could feed information back to maintenance teams on the ground, who could respond within minutes to inspect and repair the infrastructure.
Network Rail hookswitch at Hampton Court Junction