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Track switches in focus – new project addresses the problem

Many switches are too old and cause disruption to traffic. At the same time, replacing a switch is laborious and time-consuming, and many older ones still work well and should not be replaced too early. A new Mistra InfraMaint project is developing a solution to the problem – a digital twin that tells you exactly when each switch needs to be replaced.

An investigation by Swedish Radio Ekot has shown that many of the railways’ switches are worn out, break down frequently and lead to traffic delays – and that many of them should have been replaced long ago.

The review sheds light on a question that a new Mistra InfraMaint project is focusing on, namely how to maximize the capacity of each switch. The lifespan of switches is not only a matter of age, but is also affected by traffic load, previous maintenance and ground structure. It is therefore important to be able to monitor and assess the condition of each individual switch so that they are not replaced too early or too late.

– “The aim is to move from reactive and periodic maintenance to more tailored maintenance measures for individual switches, as maintenance needs vary,” says project manager Björn Pålsson, Associate Professor of Railway Mechanics at Chalmers University of Technology.

The project will use condition data in a so-called digital twin, a model of the system that predicts future maintenance needs.
– “With the help of this, we can examine the effects of different types of maintenance measures, and try to optimize maintenance to minimize costs,” says Björn Pålsson.

The goal is better reliability and fewer disruptions to traffic, at the same or hopefully lower maintenance costs than today.
The project has been launched as part of Mistra InfraMaint’s second phase, and runs until 2028. In addition to Chalmers University of Technology, VTI, the Swedish Transport Administration and NRC Group are participating. ‘This is an important project for smarter and more resource-efficient railway maintenance work,’ says Lars Thell Marklund, programme manager for Mistra InfraMaint.
– ‘Working with railway maintenance is very much about economizing on resources, so it’s important to have good forecasts for exactly when to replace individual switches, so that you can work resource-efficiently. This is why we started this project.

Here you can read more about project 1D Digital twin for more efficient maintenance of tramways.