Compound Semiconductor Applications (CSA) Catapult has announced it will collaborate with an Innovate UK-backed consortium to provide Network Rail with a predict-and-prevent maintenance system in a bid to boost safety and security in the UK.

Known as Spectrail, the project will help Network Rail collect data in an energy-efficient way through the ‘sensorisation’ of track areas that have previously been inaccessible due to lack of power, connectivity or high costs.

The consortium, which includes AP Sensing, Pyreos and Lightricity, recently received funding from the Department for Transport as part of Network Rail’s R&D programme, CSA Catapult said.

Through its Internet of Things-powered (IoT) multi-sensing platform, Spectrail monitors complex railway data, including track obstructions, human trespassing, track temperature changes, soil saturation and pollution levels.

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The sensors will tap into Network Rail’s existing fibre optic cable network using AP Sensing’s Distributed Acoustic/Vibration Sensing (DAS/DVS) – a system that detects vibrations and captures acoustic energy by identifying changes in light transmission caused by disturbances on fibre cables.

Combining the technologies provided by its partners, CSA Catapult will integrate the sensor nodes to transmit data through the cable network. These nodes will then interact with the pyroelectric infrared sensors provided by Pyreos, which will able detect fire, temperature changes, motion and graffiti activities.

The entire system rests on renewable energy, as it will be powered by Lightricity’s ultra-efficient solar cells.

CSA Catapult said that field trials of the system will begin in 2020 at Network Rail Melton – where the infrastructure manager’s Rail Innovation & Development Centre is based – with the objective of detecting problems like fire and trespass whilst enhancing line safety and security management.

Commenting on the partnership, CSA Catapult chief commercial officer Amar Abid-Ali said the project will “deliver a better railway for both passengers and freight”.

“This proof of concept will unlock an entirely new way of collecting and utilising data in order to more accurately predict and detect causes of disruption to the railway, therefore enabling Network Rail to better maintain tracks and manage rail assets.

“Compound semiconductor technology will be key in enabling the fast transmission of sensor-collected data to railway network control rooms – demonstrating one of the ways in which compound semiconductors can be applied to accelerate the UK’s development of smart infrastructure systems,” he concluded.