Intelligent Infrastructure - The Missing Link for Transforming Data into Intelligent Asset Information


Australia has ventured into a large amount of rail infrastructure projects aimed to improve the railway network and in turn, assist in shaping the future of the economy, businesses, country, and cities. These investment projects, worth billions of dollars and funded out of the state and federal government budgets, range from expansions to existing infrastructure, through to the development of new metro, regional, and cross-country rail links with the number of projects running concurrently.

To ensure the projects are delivered on time and within budget, more rigorous project management processes have been put in place. However, there is evidence not all projects are considering the future operational capability of the infrastructure, with limited consideration on how the asset will be maintained or analysis of whole-of-life maintenance approach improvements that would benefit from incorporation in project definition, and in turn, assist in a step-change in operational performance improvement. It is vital that operational requirements for the asset are developed at the early stages of the project and before the design stage as Operation and Maintenance (O&M) requirements can significantly change the scope of what is designed for delivery and provides the basis for an Asset Management Plan (AMP).

The Network Rail UK original concept of “Intelligent Infrastructure” programme focused on an embedded monitoring approach, fixed to the railway providing specific insight on a subset of assets (for example current draw on point operating equipment). The new Intelligent Infrastructure programme has since moved firmly into improving the performance of the assets. This ensures that the cost of ownership is reduced, whilst maintaining safety and reducing how many service affecting failures are experienced. The new Intelligent Infrastructure programme embraces an end-to-end view of business processes, and therefore ensuring that the business transformation being delivered is sustainable via a transition into “business as usual”. Intelligent Infrastructure addresses how Network Rail plan and manage risk on the railway through standards, inspections, and collection of data via monitoring, analysing data, planning what to do and taking action to maintain or improve the railway.

The Intelligent Infrastructure framework approach transforms how maintenance is planned and conducted and assists significantly in supporting the decision-making process about how/where to invest money on improving and maintaining the infrastructure.

As part of the development of the O&M strategy, front end loaded preparation must be driven by clear business objectives and mitigation of key risks for future operability and that Intelligent Infrastructure is the next building block on the journey to become a digital, modern, and safer railway. Intelligent Infrastructure has fundamentally changed the way that the UK railway works, enabling teams to see how assets are performing in real time; moving the industry to predict and prevent maintenance working safer, smarter, and more efficiently using data and intelligence to inform decisions.

The network within many areas of the UK is vastly similar to that in Australia especially around busy metro areas and heavy freight lines in rural areas. Network Rail have successfully developed and delivered programmes at a national and regional level to ensure all methods of collecting intelligent data are captured in one single cloud-based system that reports out through one platform available to the business.

Intelligent Infrastructure has enabled Network Rail to take a risk-based maintenance management approach, that prioritises the maintenance of assets that carry the most risk if they were to fail. This approach, through decision support tools, allows engineers and maintenance managers to determine the most economical use of limited maintenance resources to minimise the total risk of failure across the infrastructure. This is supported using Intelligent Infrastructure that has drawn data from the monitoring source to allow the engineers to make those decisions based on volume and weight of traffic, accelerated deterioration rates, failure rates etc.

Studies performed by asset management consultancies have identified that reaching a world class predictive, risk-based maintenance strategies can achieve the following benefits:

  • 25-35% reduction in maintenance costs;
  • 70%+ reduction in the number of services affecting failures;
  • 35-45% reduction in down time following affecting failures; and
  • 20%+ increase in workforce productivity.

Network Rail are using technology to turn data into intelligent information so teams can work smarter and more safely to deliver improved services for passengers and freight customers.

As a result, at Network Rail Consulting, we have a unique set of rail sector skills to support clients in the evaluation of their network strategies, current operations, and projects, that focuses on moving data integration into a single platform approach, aligning and optimising renewals and maintenance plans to drive efficiency and effectiveness. The approach to design considerations is based on our extensive “tried and tested” real-life experience in a complex and fast paced railway environment which brings clarity to key decisions that influence the business, not just the project. We know that by adopting an enhanced focus on the implementation of a robust AMP to include Intelligent Infrastructure in front end development, we can bring significant value to our clients and remind everyone that taking the time to think smart is always worth the effort.

Richard Tullo
Director Asset Management & Maintenance, Australia
Network Rail Consulting