Getting rail tracks up to speed

In many parts of the world, passengers see railways as one of the quickest, easiest and cleanest ways to travel, whether it's a daily commute, or a trip to visit family in a distant place. However, the management of rail infrastructure needs a unique approach.

Rail engineers surveying the track
Rail engineers surveying the track

The control, surveying and maintenance of railways is invariably a difficult task due partly to nature of the environment - usually an anti-social, unhygienic and hostile place to work.

Perfect partnership

In the Czech Republic, the SŽDC – the railway infrastructure administration – is responsible for all such activities. To make its work more efficient, the SŽDC has invested in a number of Geotel GG03 and GG04 rail surveying trolleys. They are used in conjunction with Topcon GPT-9001 and QS3A robotic total stations, supplied and supported by Geodis Brno, at locations including Ostrava, Brno, Olomouc, Praha and Ceske Budejovice.

The total stations and rail trolleys are used together to record not only the geospatial position of the track, but also the track geometry or cant and gauge – the height difference and distance between running rails.

Milan Talacko, a supervisor with SŽDC, uses the system on a regular basis. He said: "The trolleys are used for daily track inspections. Our teams will indicate control points along the track and the surveyors will rapidly take very accurate measurements of its spatial position."

Long-range measurements

Using this technique, survey teams can reliably measure 4.5km (2.8 miles) of track every day. If any track data indicates that it is not located correctly, or the internal geometry is out of tolerance, the deviation can then be quickly addressed by SŽDC maintenance teams. Talacko said: "The robotics' auto-tracking and pointing features dramatically speed up the process; in three years of using this system, we have measured more than 2,000km (1.25 miles) of track."

So whenever you are enjoying a silky smooth ride on a train journey, spare a thought for the guys who are out on trackside continually checking the track and ensuring its maintenance is up to speed.

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