UK rail operator Northern will be equipping 40 of its trains with specialist equipment to record information about rail infrastructure to create what it calls “data hoovers”. 

Part of the company’s Intelligent Trains programme, the scheme will utilise trains in public service that are able to travel across the operator’s network and record defects and issues that need to be addressed. 

Northern strategic development director Rob Warnes said: “Each of our trains travels on average 100,000km around the North of England every year and that presents an amazing opportunity for data capture.

“Those trains could provide engineers with data from the same section of track over many days, weeks and months – enabling maintenance issues to be identified and repairs scheduled whilst they are within operational safety standards.”

Each of Northern’s data hoovers will be fitted with horizon-scanning LIDAR cameras, thermal imaging software and HD CCTV cameras. 

A “digital handshake” will then be performed by the trains each night to transfer the data collected that day, which Northern says could save tens of thousands of delay minutes every year caused by unscheduled emergency maintenance. 

The company is hoping to secure funding from Network Rail for the programme which will cover Northern’s entire network, spanning 3,000km of track. 

Northern’s use of data to improve its business practices was also recently highlighted by its use of the data intelligence platform Growth Flag, which provides insight into rail supply chain businesses. 

Warnes commented on this saying: “We have always sought ways to do things smarter, safer and more efficient.” 

The condition of the UK’s rail infrastructure has not only been a concern for Northern as the government recently announced a £72m funding package to go towards improving infrastructure in the Greater Manchester area. 

Additionally, the Office of Rail and Road called on Network Rail earlier this year to do more to address the backlog in examining structures, such as bridges and tunnels, around the UK’s rail network.