Lidar and thermal imaging fitted to Northern trains to detect track problems

Train operator Northern has announced plans to equip as many as 40 of its trains with technology that will allow them to automatically track the state of the rail network.

The trains, which would still operate public services, will travel the network and feed information about the track and surrounding infrastructure to Network Rail.

Horizon-scanning lidar cameras, thermal-imaging software and HD CCTV footage will be used to record infrastructure defects, environmental factors and maintenance issues.

Once the train is stationary overnight, it will perform a ‘digital handshake’ so the information captured can be downloaded and analysed.

Intelligent Train 180 Degree HD Cameras

The trains have been fitted with a 180 degree camera

Image credit: Northern

The scheme is part of Northern’s ‘Intelligent Trains’ programme, which was first announced in 2022 and is a collaboration with Network Rail designed to help make journeys by rail safer, more reliable and efficient.

Rob Warnes, strategic development director at Northern, said: “We have always sought ways to do things smarter, safer and more efficient. Each of our trains travel, on average, 100,000km around the North of England every year and that presents an amazing opportunity for data capture.

“We would only need 40 of our fleet of 335 trains to be fitted with this technology to regularly sweep our entire network, which spans 3,000km of track.

“Those trains could provide engineers with data from the same section of track over many days, weeks and months – enabling maintenance issues to be identified and repairs scheduled whilst they are within operational safety standards.”

Northern is in talks with Network Rail to secure funding for the programme, which it estimates would save tens of thousands of ‘delay minutes’ caused by urgent, unscheduled maintenance each year.

Intelligent Train Thermal Imaging Camera

Thermal imaging camera

Image credit: Northern

Northern is the second-largest train operator in the UK, with 2,500 services a day to more than 500 stations across the North of England.

In 2020, franchise operators Arriva Rail North had its contract terminated early amid widespread dissatisfaction over its performance, particularly in respect to poorly implemented timetable changes.

It was then taken into public ownership and is still being effectively run by the Department for Transport until at least 2025.

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