Final conference

Follow us on Linkedin

Innovative user involvement and practical application of findings highlighted at SMARTRAIL project final conference

User involvement and the practical application of the scientific research findings were the key themes running through the final conference of the Smart Maintenance of Ageing Rail Infrastructure (SMARTRAIL) project held on 25-26th August in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Hosted by project partner ZAG, the event was attended by over 60 representatives from the scientific, research, railway and political arena, including infrastructure managers from Ministries of Transport and Infrastructure, SMEs, research institutes, Universities and the Europe-wide organisations United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the European Commission and the Danube Strategy.

The agenda featured presentations of the cutting edge science developed during the project within each Work Package, as well as three engaging and salient keynote speeches interspersed throughout the day focussed on:

i) The importance of reducing maintenance costs for the long term viability of railway infrastructure and maximising the social and environmental benefits accruing from investment in railway infrastructure; 
ii) The remediation of ageing rail infrastructure with the results of demostration projects on the railway networks of Croatia, Slovenia, Poland and Ireland
iii) Linking advanced meteorological approaches to provide early warning systems for weather-proofing the railway system .

It concluded with a lively round table debate on the future of the project. The second day included a visit to a building site for railway rehabilitation on the Slovenian railway network and a very interesting railway museum.
1. SMARTRAIL scientific results:

SMARTRAIL Project Coordinator Dr. Ken Gavin (UCD) opened the meeting with an overview of the project, highlighting that the consortium had been successful in bringing key experience from outside railways (the scientific and commercial arenas) to the railway infrastructure managers and the scientific problems encountered in providing better management of railway infrastructure and transferring the necessary expertise. In addition to the major technical advances achieved in the technical work packages, one of the main successes has been the innovative involvement of users in Work Package (WP) 5 (Dissemination and support of exploitation) via a platform of infrastructure managers operating since the beginning of the project. Wolfgang Steinicke (EURNEX) outlined the process taken to create a new culture of cooperation using external railway expert Michael Robson as chairman of the SMARTRAIL advisory board. The WP5 process included a questionnaire and face to face interviews with infrastructure managers to find out needs and interest, as well as workshops and the involvement of the EURNEX advisory board. They validated the scope of the project and identified the following requirements:

  • Embankment stability. 
  • Bridge life extension.
  • Bridge scour.
  • Structural Health Monitoring (SHM)
  • New Rehabilitation Technologies.
  • Track maintenance, e.g. Anchor Rail fastening (ARF).
  • LCC Database.

Using this valuable input, the technical WPs (1-4) then carried out their work to produce practical solutions and User Guidelines that set the way forward for the practical future implementation of the project.  Each WP outlined their process and results in respective WP presentations:

For WP1 (Monitoring and inspection), which aimed to bring about a step change in the traditional methods of visual inspection and ad-hoc monitoring with integrated monitoring systems which utilise the latest embedded sensor technology and optimised in-situ testing methods. WP leader Ken Gavin explained how an instrumented smart slope experiment was performed in Ireland with two types of sensors, suction probes and water content probes. The cheaper sensor proved to be the most reliable during both phases of this experimental work. A model was also developed to estimate the time until failure for a given rainfall event. Geophysical techniques were investigated and found to provide consistent data on the potential for hot-spots and laboratory tests allowed a model for the effect of moisture content on the strength and stiffness of unbound materials to be developed. Bridge scour monitoring was also an integral part of WP1, whereby a vibration-based method of assessment was evaluated for a range of conditions and scour severities. The method is based on detecting changes in the fundamental natural frequency of a structure arising due to the removal of soil by the scour process.  The method shows promise at detecting and monitoring the progression of scour around critical bridge foundation elements. Work on monitoring bridge loading (Adaptronica) and corrosion monitoring (ZAG) at demonstration sites in Poland and Slovenia were described.

Professor Eugene O Brien of Roughan and O’Donovan Innovative Solutions (ROD-IS) outlined that WP 2 (Assessment and Models) aimed to move away from the current assessment methods to extend the life and optimise rehabilitation/renewal. This included the development of a safety evaluation framework to incorporate information from SHM into performance computation which can probabilistically analyse slope stability, allowing for climate change and model track settlement and stiffness.  Each of the tasks were explained in detail by Dr. Stefan Lachinger of AIT (for the framework and assessment at the Nięporet Bridge in Poland), Arkadiusz Mroz of Adaptronica for the integration of Sensor, Inspection and NDT Data into a Structural Safety Model with a wireless system again at the Nięporet Bridge and Cormac Reale of UCD for the slope stability.

For WP 3 (New rehabilitation technologies to extend service life of existing railway infrastructure), Stanislav Lenart (ZAG) presented work on open tracks, Marko Vajdic (IGH) on Transition Zones, Duo Liu of Technical University of Munich (TUM) on Modelling, Tanja Mikulic (IGH) on Tunnels, Irina Stipanovic (University of Twente ) on Bridges and Aljosa Sajna (ZAG) on a novel application of Ultra High Performance Fibre Reinforced Concrete (UHPFRC) .Parts of WP 3 and WP 4 (Whole Life-Cycle Cost Calculation Tools) were picked up by Stanislav Lenart (ZAG) and Simon Kovačič (Slovenske Želecnice) who outlined the sustainable rehabilitations of ballasted track by the use of geosynthetic reinforced soil at the Buna Bridge test site in Croatia. This has led to the conclusion of a WP4 report on the Life Cycle Cost Model and a database now launched on which can be utilised by railway infrastructure managers and researchers alike. Karmen Fifer Bizjak (ZAG) presented this tool by appliying it to the remediation project performed at the Buna bridge demonstration sites near Zagreb.

2. Diverse and engaging keynotes:

To punctuate the agenda with externally relevant topics to the project, three keynote speakers gave a perspective from a pan-European, private sector and academic point of view. The first, Andreas Zimmer of UNECE’s Trans-European Railway (TER) Project, set the scene by outlining the importance of infrastructure for society in his key note entitled “Rail infrastructure – An asset to Society’s welfare!” He emphasised the need for better railway infrastructure to connect to the other modes (roads, airports and water) and showed the short and long-term benefits of investing in infrastructure. Using a social impact measurement and social return on investment study from the Vienna Economic School in Austria to be finalised by the end of this year, he showed that for every Euro invested, a 15 Euro return on investment will be generated over the long-term for society.
Some 40% of state assets are in transport infrastructure but the maintenance costs are high and need to be reduced, which will also help to resist climate change. Weather forecast systems, for example, are needed to secure infrastructure buildings.

This was picked up on in the afternoon keynote by Stefan Eisenbach of private company UBIMET who showed how these weather forecasting systems can help to enable a resilient rail network with an example from Austria.  He suggested one pilot project for a trans-national rail weather information system as a follow-up to SMARTRAIL.

And Prof. Meho Saša Kovačević of the University of Zagreb presented very interesting case histories of remediation on critical road and railway infrastructure in Croatia and highlighted the potential practical implementation of SMARTRAIL results. A vast range of remediation measures were considered, and these are being implemented on embankments, cuttings, tunnels, etc to fulfil all of the safety and functional aspects of the transport network.

3. Round table debate:

Day one of the event concluded with a round table discussion which provided an opportunity for the participants to raise questions on the results of the project, which solicited responses from the panel on the following subjects;

  • To help with the implementation of the various outputs, the panel confirmed that the User Guidelines produced as the key output of the project would be available shortly on
  • Two transition zones will continue to be a problem, as for some railways simply back filling with ballast will be the cheapest solution, however the full report on the measurements carried out by TUM provides information which will help infrastructure managers in assessing the best option for their particular problem.
  • The LCA database produced in WP4 provides a tool which can be used to speed up the production of Environmental Assessments for future work and this tool needs to be recognised as a standard across the EU.
  • There is a need for the various agencies such as the UNECE, Danube Strategy and the European Commission to come together in terms of pooling resources and data to improve the efficiency of projects.
  • The practical deliverables of SMARTRAIL can be summarised as geosynthetic mats, transition zones, tunnel refurbishment, Weigh in Motion, corrosion monitoring LCC and Environmental assessments, embankment stability and bridge scour modelling.  Each provides practical solutions which have the potential to be implemented and to improve cost effective maintenance of the rail network.

All the materials are available on the SMARTRAIL website here. Contact the project at for more information or see the SMARTRAIL Linked In group here.


Copyrights to all material on the SMARTrail website is reserved. Content (documents, reports, presentations, etc) can be cited, or excerpted in a sensible and proportionate manner, or e.g. included in non-commercial, on-line news digests, with proper reference (including a link) to SMARTrail as the source, and to the author, by name, of any referenced post.