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    Keeping Britain Moving: How SOCOTEC Monitoring Supports the UK Rail Network

    Tue 02/22/2022 - 12:22

    When conducting building and civil engineering works on or close to the railway, monitoring the vibration and temperature of track infrastructure, track support zone and associated earthworks is vital to ensuring the safety of workers, passengers and the general public.

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    From cuttings and embankments to tunnels, stations and viaducts, SOCOTEC Monitoring UK has designed, installed and managed monitoring systems for a range of rail assets across the UK. Equally, during the operational lifespan of rail assets, there is an increasing requirement for proactive and reactive monitoring to inform operations and maintenance. SOCOTEC Monitoring’s team of experts have over 30 years’ experience in monitoring structural and geotechnical conditions across a range of elements on the rail network.

    Monitoring during construction projects

    The biggest project that currently necessitates the monitoring of adjacent rail assets is the construction of the new High Speed rail line (HS2). The construction activities, especially in very congested London sections, run alongside and below multiple Network Rail, TfL and London Underground assets. In order to ensure that these assets can safely continue to operate during the construction phase, they require significant monitoring. This includes track, bridges and embankments and comprises a mixture of manual and automated systems.

    Our teams are also managing other significant demolition and construction projects that necessitate the monitoring of railway assets. This is often in urban and built-up areas where the congested nature means that construction activities are in close proximity to rail assets. Current ongoing projects, such as 101 Moorgate and 1 Liverpool Street, are examples where SOCOTEC Monitoring’s experts work closely with the various stakeholders to deliver a cost-effective and reliable monitoring system that supports safe construction activities.

    Ongoing monitoring during the asset’s lifecycle

    With rail assets increasing in age, the task of providing a safe and efficient rail service while also keeping costs at an acceptable level is extremely challenging. SOCOTEC Monitoring provides  rail asset owners and operators with accurate, reliable and timely information that enables critical decisions to be made with confidence.

    Examples of this are the ongoing condition monitoring of various earthworks and drainage assets across Network Rail routes and the structural monitoring of a number of rail bridges and tunnels. Although they use similar hardware to construction phase monitoring, these systems are often in place for many years and need to be designed and installed with that in mind, providing asset owners and operators with valuable information over those extended periods. This influences system design, such as the power options that are considered (solar versus battery) and how the system can be readily accessed for periodic maintenance.

    ‘The In-Betweeners’

    With monitoring sensors becoming increasingly ‘plug and play’, there is more ability for asset owners, operators and contractors to purchase and install sensors directly. In simple applications, this is increasingly becoming the best option. However, as soon as there are complexities, the benefit of employing a specialist monitoring contactor becomes clear. Complexities are things such as:

    • Multiple types of parameter to be monitored – this requires the integration of multiple sensors, often from different suppliers in order to have the most cost-efficient and fit-for-purpose system
    • Site constraints – providing a system with a reliable source of power, ensuring that it can be maintained safely and efficiently and ascertaining that subsequent data is reliably transmitted are often the most challenging aspects of a monitoring design. This is especially true when the site conditions are onerous, such as those found in the marine environments and/or at very isolated rural sites 
    • Management of multiple asset owners impacted by construction activities – the relationships and experience that SOCOTEC Monitoring has to execute installation in timeframes aligned with project requirements is vital
    • Bespoke monitoring requirement where a specific hardware solution is necessary. This includes using the latest technology from various sectors, alongside the ability to build hardware solutions in-house to meet a specific demand/asset parameter
    • Specific software/data/reporting requirements – SOCOTEC Monitoring is able to configure Calyx to meet specific client requirements. This includes bespoke user screens, automated alarms/reporting and ‘virtual sensors’ (where data is computed from other physical sensors).

    Value Engineering

    Another key element that SOCOTEC Monitoring delivers is value engineering. SOCOTEC Monitoring has demonstrable experience in the design of monitoring systems and works alongside the various stakeholders (in particular the design consultant) to develop the Designers Monitoring Plan (DMP) that ensures a fit-for-purpose system. Being involved at an early stage allows the most appropriate technology, as well as the safest and most efficient methods of installation and operation to be included in the design.

    There is also the ability to value engineer at all stages of the design and installation phases. Here once again, SOCOTEC Monitoring can support clients to ensure that the system is fit-for-purpose and value for money. In a recent example relating to a >£1M Instrumentation & Monitoring contract, four Automated Total Stations (ATS) were specified to monitor a number of London Underground assets during the demolition and construction phases of a development. However, as part of a value engineering exercise led by SOCOTEC and in conjunction with the engineer, the monitoring system was redesigned. This resulted in the number of total stations being halved, saving the client tens of thousands of pounds in material and installation costs.

    Data Visualisation

    In all elements of monitoring, the most valuable output is the insightful data and information that clients receive. Installing lots of sensors is not ‘monitoring’ – the primary objective is to have meaningful data that is constantly and automatically being compared to agreed trigger values.

    SOCOTEC Monitoring uses its exclusive web-based monitoring software, Calyx, which serves as a user-friendly data visualisation and management information platform. With the ability to be accessed anywhere, at any time and on any device, the software is tailored to meet the specific requirements of the client, with any previously obtained data cross-referenced to detect discrepancies and changes in conditions. In addition, the software automatically issues text or email alerts to multiple authorised users in the event that a trigger value is breached.

    The information that SOCOTEC Monitoring provides allows its clients to make timely and important decisions, ensuring the protection of the environment and the safety of workers and the travelling public at all times. Furthermore, the use of automated technology is proving to be highly effective in reducing ‘boots on ballast’ and permitting preventative measures to be taken during periods of extreme weather.

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