The UK’s railway manager Network Rail has signed an agreement with Swiss rail company SBB to work on a number of technologies as part of its international partnership programme. 

The two organisations will initially work together on the use of AI technology to inspect steel bridges and railway track under Network Rail’s newly formed International Research and Development Partnership Programme (IRDPP). 

The organisation’s chief technology officer Robert Ampomah said: “This partnership marks a major step for us as an organisation, partnering with the international rail community, to share experiences in operating a railway. 

“Looking at what works and what doesn’t will help us shape and develop innovative technology that will go towards modernising the railway.” 

The partnership with SBB will also be looking at light-rail remote condition monitoring with collaboration initially taking the form of online and in-person workshops that will see responsibility for resources shared between the two parties. 

SBB’s head of technology Roland Mosner described the agreement as a “giant step” in moving towards more innovative ideas for the two rail networks: “It has been fundamental to us as an organisation to continue to look forward in terms of sharing best practices and advances in applied research and development. 

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“By jointly improving our operational excellence, we strive for the best returns for our passengers and customers.” 

Network Rail’s interest in using AI technology to inspect steel structures on its track is particularly interesting after concerns voiced by the UK’s rail regulator the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) earlier this year. 

The ORR had expressed concern about the organisation’s backlog of examinations needed to ensure the structures around the UK’s rail network were in a safe condition, though the regulator acknowledged some progress made through the body’s agreed work plan to address the issue. 

Network Rail’s newly formed IRDPP marks the next step in its international collaborations following its involvement in the Shift2Rail programme, which sees a number of European rail organisations working on technology, research and development to benefit the continent’s rail industry.