”It is about embracing digital technology so we can capture data and make intelligent responses.”
The definition of smart asset management slips off Mark Morris’s tongue like it is nothing new and something he has spent a lot of time thinking about.
But then he is High Speed 2 (HS2) promoter HS2 Ltd’s director of asset management. And with up to 18 trains per hour travelling at a whopping 360km/h, 135km/h faster than on HS1 between London and the Channel Tunnel, HS2 will have to work hard.
So managing its assets well will be key.
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Preparatory work for phase one of the line between London and Birmingham has already started on site. Full scale construction begins in 2018. Services on this stretch will run from 2026 and the competition to award the £2.75bn contract to design, build and maintain its trains is already underway. Since the service will only permit at most five hours of downtime every night to carry out maintenance, the railway needs a resilient asset management regime to make sure it runs on time. This means rolling stock and rail systems maintenance is being considered during design development.
“We have extremely high performance requirements for reliability, comfort and safety. We are only allowed a 30 second delay between Birmingham and London Euston,” says Morris. That journey will take 45 minutes on HS2, compared to 1 hour 24 minutes currently.
It comes from the need for getting information quicker, and taking individuals away [from track] makes it safer
HS2 Ltd’s director of asset management Mark Morris
The line will also be subjected to relatively high loads. Morris explains this by putting into context HS2’s Equivalent Million Gross Tonnes per Annum (EMGTPA). This is a measure of the annual tonnage carried over a section of track that takes into account variations in track wear caused by different types of rolling stock. This value is 62 on HS2, about 20 on French railways and 10 on HS1, he says.
“It [HS2] will be under a lot of pressure, so it’s important that we understand its condition. For us, it’s about embracing technology that’s already there and using it and enhancing it with the analytic technology available”. Morris is familiar with the ISO55000 standard for asset management and its benefits, as well as the way the oil, gas and aviation industries view maintenance and operation as symbiotic activities. He is clear about the need to focus on identifying the performance-critical components of HS2 and ensuring that these never fail. This echoes Rolls Royce’s service model where the engine manufacturer leases out engines to carriers under a “care” package.
With the engine considered the most critical component on the aircraft, making sure it is performing optimally gives assurance to the carrier that the plane will meet all its flying obligations. Rolls Royce, the original engine manufacturer supplying the engine, knows its design and workings so intimately that it makes sense that it is responsible for maintenance and uses sensors to monitor engine condition. The data collected from these sensors allow it to plan, resource and cost when and how components need attention. This means it can be confident of its engine’s health and so the aircraft will always be flight-ready. This is really the main concern for airlines such as Lufthansa and BA.
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A similar approach is being taken by HS2 Ltd. “We’re taking the rail-related assets with the higher likelihood of failure by design, andwill have them fitted with condition monitoring at the point of supply,” says Morris.
The equivalent of a plane’s engine in rail terms is a train’s command control and signalling system, says Morris. If this fails, the trains cannot run, so key elements of the system will need to be monitored to understand their condition – from the outset and long-term. The system will use sensors and software to develop maintenance plans that fit in with operation requirements and enhance the asset to extend its life.
“It’s important to stress we’re adopting an asset management policy and the cradle to grave benefits that come with managing an asset’s condition. We want to derive value from them, instead of just adhering to maintenance and renewal criteria. Using assets in this way will extend the life of the asset and get more value for money,” says Morris.
We’re working with other organisations to increase capture and quality of data and combining [various] technologies
HS2 Ltd’s director of asset management Mark Morris
HS2 will adopt European Train Control System (ETCS) level 2, the radio-controlled in-cab system, which allows trains to run closer together and at optimum speed.
Fewer cables and less equipment trackside will have two advantages: from the safety perspective it will remove the workforce from the dangerous rail environment. From a reliability perspective, components can be room.
Track is traditionally inspected on foot, but HS2’s policy for improved safety and efficiency will shift this activity to equipment mounted onto rolling stock.
“It comes from the need for getting information quicker, and taking individuals away [from track] makes it safer,” says Morris.
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“We’re working with other organisations to increase capture and quality of data and combining [various] technologies. It will be other organisations who will implement these systems through autonomous equipment,” he says. Morris goes on to say that overhead catenary systems are the next critical component on the list and that these will be monitored using remote imaging equipment mounted to trains, adding, “We need to understand how they are wearing.”
“Using high speed, high resolution imagery, or thermal imaging we can pick up any breaks to send an amber alert to the control room.”
Using more smart technology and less human intervention sounds a world away from the way railways currently operate. So are the skills there? Will the industry ever be ‘smart enough’? “It’s not far off. We have the systems in place,” replies Morris.