Trains are our journey to destinations near and far, connecting people, places and goods. Across urban cities, lush countryside, mountains and even under the sea, trains and their rail networks have been built over hundreds of years to create one of the most sustainable transportation solutions on the planet when compared to road and air travel.
Passenger requirements are simple; affordable, comfortable, frequent, reliable and safe rail travel. But when they stepped out of the passenger seat and onto the tracks as surveyors, they saw requirements through a different lens, focused on safety, accuracy and efficiency. While strong and well built, decade-old rails need maintenance, while new, very fast trains need railroads updated. To consistently ensure that safety regulations are complied with when designing, building and maintaining our railways, and that all actions are completed accurately, surveys are a very important element.
Surveying technology is needed to build proper tracks for high-speed trains and a safe environment for trains to travel through, both on track and through clearances, platforms and tunnels. In this blog, we take a snapshot of reality on rails to demonstrate how safety, accuracy and efficiency of rail projects can be improved through digitization, from capture and design to construction and building, and finally, to operation and maintenance.
Capture & Design for rails – from concept to reality
During the crucial concept capture and design stages, technology empowered new ideas for railroads that, simply put, would not have been possible without surveyors. What’s more, catching a train can often be completed by different professionals for different reasons, even by individuals in the same company. Each group needs access to the rail, which is time consuming and raises security concerns. This is where reality capture comes in.
A reality-capturing solution is more than just a tool – it captures entire environments even before infrastructure is built, bridging workflows with sensors, services, and software for project-wide collaboration. This ensures every stakeholder can remotely oversee and contribute to the rail project design process. Reality capture is a means to actually validate initial designs, for example, to verify concrete formations before slabs are installed.
The reality capture solution is fully adaptable to surveyors’ project requirements, providing high levels of accuracy where it is needed most. If they need speed, the Leica RTC360 3D laser scanner has a measuring range of up to 130 meters and a scanning speed of up to two million dots per second. If they need a long distance to scan at a safe distance, the survey-grade Leica ScanStation P50 laser scanner offers the highest quality 3D data and HDR imaging.
Both solutions work seamlessly with the Leica Cyclone FIELD 360 application for pre-registration and syncing of scans taken in the field. At the same time, the Leica TruView Cloud enables professionals to share project data for design elements directly with stakeholders. Users can even integrate any third-party rail software they want, such as Civil 3D for Rail Design or OpenRail Designer which are just a few examples of the many reality capture solutions accessible to the rail industry.
Regardless of the solution, the combination of reality-capturing sensors, software and services provides a complete workflow, which is critical to a data-driven design plan for project success.
Build & Build for the railroad – solutions that are accurate, precise, and prioritize safety
The build and build phase introduces new sensors, services and software that enable surveyors to meet building challenges in the digital construction world before they happen. It’s one thing to accurately calculate the volume of earthworks, but any excavation or structure near a railroad can cause movement that damages the infrastructure or affects the geometry of the track. Regular structural monitoring is a must because of the significant safety implications associated with the risk of a train derailment.
Datum Monitoring Ireland, a company specializing in remote monitoring of earthworks, structures and transport infrastructure, analyzed Dublin Area double light rail system data using two Leica Nova MS60 MultiStations, a Leica LS15 digital level, and a Leica GeoMoS monitoring solution. Using this combination, the team was able to provide an effective, accurate and reliable warning system that notifies stakeholders in near real time if a threshold is exceeded to ensure that public infrastructure and surrounding buildings remain undisturbed.
Reflecting on the MS60’s performance during continuous scans of lines that allow transit to continue uninterruptedly, Mark Hodgen, director at LDG Datum, explains, “This instrument scans multiple tramlines continuously and hosts the data directly to a secure web page for review. by related parties. ,” said Mark Hodgen, director at LDG Datum.
Once construction is nearly complete, it’s time to capture the scenery for as-built documentation. The reality capture solution allows the user to walk freely around the railroad structure, such as with the Leica Pegasus: Backpack mobile mapping solution or the handheld Leica BLK2GO imaging laser scanner. This solution can be operated by both experienced surveyors and trainees, and the Pegasus:Backpack is also good at capturing hard-to-see areas around railroad tracks, such as the top of embankments, with a longer range and a wider field of view. remove shadows.
One of our mobile mapping solutions was also used to scan one of the world’s longest tunnels – the Gotthard Base Tunnel on a new rail line through the Swiss Alps – capturing the entire rail infrastructure, signs, posts, power lines and newly built power lines. further installation and structural elements, for a complete database of 3D imagery and point clouds. Survey engineers are saved from working on dangerous construction sites. This technology reduces effort, saves costs and time, and provides rich data sets that all parties can use to do their jobs quickly and successfully.
To provide a variety of 3D dispatches and reports and perform clearance analysis on railroads, the Leica Cyclone 3DR is the office software for the job. It can automatically identify potential clearance checks between environmental point clouds and railroad cars, allowing project users to make decisions quickly and avoid disastrous consequences.
Operate & Maintain rail – automatic detection on the scene
With design and construction complete, as-built documentation submitted and the track officially opened, ongoing maintenance enables safety and efficiency. For new or old railroads, surveyors have the skills to report, assess and evaluate the state of the railways on an ongoing basis.
Inevitably, environmental influences such as landslides, rock slides, and subsidence can cause damage to infrastructure, such as bridges and tunnels. Geodetic monitoring is ideal for continuous monitoring along rail lines to keep trains and passengers safe from these threats in advance. Measurements from Leica Geosystems’ TPS and GNSS technology, combined with the aforementioned GeoMoS monitoring software can alert users to critical observations via multiple message streams, giving stakeholders plenty of time to react before a disaster occurs.
The rail yard is perhaps the most challenging asset of all rail systems, both passenger and freight. With the Leica BLK2FLY, an autonomous flying laser scanner with advanced obstacle avoidance, you can easily capture the reality of the sky, be it a rail yard or a bridge, without disturbing rail operations. Requiring no previous UAV experience, this flying laser scanner is operated by the BLK2FLY Live app. The collected 3D point cloud data is easily transferred to the Leica Cyclone REGISTER 360 PLUS (BLK Edition) for post-processing, management and shipping.
As mentioned earlier, the mapping of railroads and their environment is an important aspect of every phase of rail construction, especially for rail maintenance. Reality capture solutions such as the Leica Pegasus TRK Neo (a solution with an advanced dynamic laser scanning and scalable imaging system for recording, measuring and visualizing railroads), accompanied by industry-leading software such as the Leica Cyclone family, are becoming more and more common. important for the maintenance of the rail network. The AI capabilities of today’s technology can detect changes, such as vegetation growth over time that could affect trajectories and damage overhead power lines. Building a digital twin of the entire rail infrastructure even allows users to perform clearance checks in cyberspace – freeing professionals from repeated visits to hazardous locations.
The heart of the train journey
Putting reality-capturing technology on the rails provides more than just a way to ensure work is done easily, on time, and in full. It’s about ensuring safety, accuracy and efficiency are at the heart of the job. Not only for passengers on rail, but also for surveyors and their stakeholders who work on rail for the good of our sustainable global transportation network.
Thanks to the work done by surveyors and digitization through new technologies like the examples we provide in this blog, we can build a safer and more sustainable future for rail travel – one track at a time.
Industrial Marketing Manager, Survey Solutions