Shift2Rail: Business & Industry + Science = Innovations

Author: Henk Samson

Placed on: 21 September 2018

Tags: smart maintenance, innovations, partnerships

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Henk Samson

Technological developments are succeeding each other at lightning speed. Definitely so when companies and research institutes join forces. This is how things work at Shift2Rail, says Henk Samson, Strukton's Programme Manager at Shift2Rail.

Low-hanging fruit, quick wins, call it whatever you like. Shift2Rail makes them feasible. A good example is the first that we presented during the InnoTrans trade fair: position maintenance of the tracks, whereby we directly import data from rail inspection trains into the self-driving tamping machine. This way we avoid any interruption of service and contribute to track reliability and availability.

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Off the shelf

Strukton Rail developed this innovation together with Deutsche Bahn, a German railway company. Strukton Rail also works on other innovations, for example with the German research institute DLR. These partnerships are part of the European Shift2Rail Innovation Programme. This is a public-private partnership between the European railway sector and the European Commission. The research activities of the European railway sector come together here. Due to available grants, good ideas that were often shelved a long time ago come to life. Combining technological innovations offers all kinds of benefits. For example, collective technical solutions can increase the track's capacity and decrease the cost of tracks and track maintenance. Moreover, the rail transport itself becomes more reliable and punctual.

“'Strukton Rail is involved in the development of a Railways in 2050 vision document – that puts us close to where the action is'”


Away with the patchwork

The programme was initiated over two years ago and runs until 2022. It offers Strukton Rail numerous opportunities. It gives us the opportunity of increasingly presenting ourselves as a technology company to parties abroad. For example, we are involved in the development of a Railways in 2050 vision document – that puts us close to where the action is. Will we still be travelling by train then? And how? Our view and that of the other European partners is that we must work towards a single European railway area, instead of the country patchwork we have now. This requires technical changes, such as a uniform security system and power supply. It also requires the political will to offer railway routes across long distances and to remove country borders.

Scientific publications

Back to innovations. We reap the benefits of the innovations themselves, as well as of the process of getting there. It is not every day that Strukton Rail has the opportunity to work with scientists. Our partner DLR looked at it from an academic perspective: how can you use historical data to make maintenance-related predictions? Naturally we are working full tilt on this as well, but DLR has more academic know-how than we do. Their analysis of our data is more structured than we would be able to do ourselves. This is partly due to the fact that DLR is not distracted by day-to-day operational issues. At the same time this clearly brings out the tremendous added value of Shift2Rail: without this programme we would never have worked together with DLR. And Strukton colleagues would not have co-authored DLR's scientific publications. This is not only a wonderful experience, but it also publicises our technological knowledge.

“'The research institute DLR has more academic know-how than we do'”


On our own feet

But there are even more benefits. For example setting priorities with the other partners. We monitor each other's innovations and are asked for constructive feedback. This way it becomes immediately clear whether the rest of the world is waiting for innovations from us or other Shift2Rail partners. And in reverse: if an innovation is not useful, what is needed instead? Going through these development processes on your own is far more difficult. If an idea is taken off the shelf, dusted off and given life, such as our innovation with Deutsche Bahn, then it should be 'mature' enough to stand on its own two feet. In other words: we are going to introduce it to the railway market with Deutsche Bahn to interest other parties as well. We all benefit from this. In short, Strukton Rail means a great deal to Shift2Rail and the reverse is also true.

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