Network Rail will use drones to collect and map data from its UK-wide network so it can improve track maintenance and boost field worker's efficiency.

The network is in the midst of one of the most comprehensive network digitisation projects in the world, called Offering Rail Better Information Services (ORBIS).

Networkl Image credit: Network Rail
Networkl Image credit: Network Rail

Part of this project includes capturing detailed photographs in 3D and cross-sections so employees can pull up a map of the network, complete with minute details. This visibility will allow the firm to better deploy its field-workers for track maintenance and extensions which it believes will cut costs and improve its service.

It used data from the national Aerial Survey to produce the first version of its mapping tool,the GEO-RINM (Rail Infrastructure Network Model) Viewer, but hopes to use drones to update the maps more regularly.

ORBIS’ director, Steve Dyke, today said: “We are caught in some legislation around drones, but we would expect to deploy within this control period – we operate in five year control periods.”

He added that Network Rail had not selected a specific drone make yet.

“There are drones out there now that can do the photograph element but not the liDAR element. We are still working that through. We are on the cutting edge of technology with some of this stuff”

Network Rail is planning on extending its data tools to other organisations.

“The intent is to offer to rail, not just Network Rail. We are working closely with British transport police because they will change the way the police based on the data we can get.”

ORBIS estimates it will deliver up to £1 billion of benefits to the network over ten years, Dyke said.