You may not immediately connect Network Rail with aircraft or aviation, however this public sector body has an Air Operations team which uses helicopters – and increasingly Drones – to help maintain its 20,000 miles of track, 32,000 bridges and 2,500 stations.
Network Rail already uses remotely piloted aerial vehicles to carry out project site surveys, monitor overhead line equipment and identify landslips. However they recently trialled a new use for drones – to use them to inspect large structures, such as bridges with arch viaducts.
Typically these surveys required an engineer to abseil down the structure and take photographs for later analysis.
As you can immagine, this is hard and dangerous work, often carried out at night or in poor weather and images can only be captured from locations that a person can physically access.
The result of the trial has been very positive… Network rail is finding that using UAV’s to produce high definition 360 degree views, 2D elevations and 3D models using photogrammetry, greatly reduces the need for physical inspections and provides engineers with high quality information they can review from the safety of their office.
3D Models such as the one below provide engineers with a high resolution computer model of a structure which they can pan, rotate and zoom in 3 dimensions, to identify defects or areas for further investigation.
You can see more information of the Network Rail trial at their web-site: https://www.networkrail.co.uk/drones-trialled-inspection-large-railway-structures/
But you don’t need 20,000 miles of track and 37,000 employees before drones can start saving you money and making your life easier…
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