Norway’s state-owned railway infrastructure company Bane NOR looks after a total of 4,000 km of rails going through 775 tunnels and across 3,000 bridges.
Stretching from Kristians and in the south as far north as Bodø, above the Arctic Circle, its no wonder that they are looking to drones to automate at least some of the daunting maintenance of the country’s rail.
They are the first in the world to adopt drone technology for rail maintenance, the company reports.
Jørgen Torgersen, of Bane NOR’s Digitalising and Technology division, says that drones have for some time been used for surveillance missions on the railway, but the company saw that this technology can be used for much more.
Within a few months, they developed a system in which an autonomous drone lubricates track exchangers (where the train move from one track to another) on their own, having been programmed a route using the map coordinates.
“We know that it is often a malfunctioning tram switch that delays or stops the train. Therefore, such safe and efficient lubrication of the exchanges is important in order to maintain and increase the punctuality of the trains,” says Torgersen.
The drones can operate without interfering with rail traffic, he argues, with suppliers reporting the use of drones in this way by Bane NOR is a world benchmark.
“According to Nordic Unmanned, one of our suppliers of drilling services, Bane NOR is the world leader in how drones can be used for safe and efficient rail maintenance,” explains Jørgen Torgersen.
Executive Vice President of Bane NOR, Sverre Kjenne, is proud that the company is now developing drone technology for easy maintenance of the railroad.
“We are in a very early phase and need to work more with development before we have a robust solution. Nevertheless, it is interesting that in this we see a world-leading application of new technology,” he says.
The use of drone technology on the railway has many benefits, he adds. “The use of drones for easy maintenance has several advantages. It gives higher security to our crews, because a drone does maintenance tasks currently being done by our employees. We usually have a high level of safety when crews perform maintenance in the railway track, but accidents have occurred. A drone can be replaced, a human cannot.”
“Furthermore, this is affordable and efficient use of resources. There is a big increase in passenger traffic on the railroad, and we have been well aware of other important maintenance tasks that must be carried out by our employees,” Kjenne argues.
Neither will it stop there, as Torgenson says there are other uses for drones on the Norwegian rail.
“We will see that drones will be used in several areas in the future. One example is inspection of trains and contact management, i.e., thermography and regular images,” says Torgersen.