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Interview: Prioritising Rail Maintenance

Nomad is an experienced provider of Remote Online Condition Monitoring (RoCM) so, I decided to talk to one of our experts and understand why we are seeing more and more operators prioritise rail maintenance.

Andrew Sarah is part of Nomad’s APAC Project Delivery Team, he joined Nomad two years ago to lead the Project to deliver the On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) and RoCM to Nomad’s customer. Andrew has over 25 years of project and asset management experience, with ten of those being transport-related! Andrew is also the Deputy Chair of the Asset Management Council (a technical society of Engineers Australia).

We sat down and took some time to digest this interesting topic.

How can Remote Online Condition Monitoring (RoCM) improve and influence rail maintenance?

“RoCM improves rail maintenance by allowing customers to create events and alerts on the performance of their Rolling Stock equipment and systems. Therefore, this allows them to understand when they have issues that will affect performance and therefore determine when maintenance is required.”

What are the fundamentals of RoCM?

“RoCM is a Web page interface concerning how the On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) of the Operators Rolling Stock display the performance of equipment and systems in real-time based upon available network connectivity.

The operator can also set up events to provide alerts for specific critical performance criteria for the equipment and systems, allowing the operator to take unsafe equipment out of service, or to alert rail maintenance planners that the train requires this equipment to be replaced within a certain period.”

What are the benefits of an effective rail maintenance regime?

“The benefits of having an effective maintenance regime are based on knowing the condition and performance of your vital operating components of your Rolling Stock. This means the maintenance department performs maintenance on units based on the condition of the equipment. This means maintenance is either deferred or expedited based on the condition of the equipment and its remaining useful life. This has two key benefits, the first being it reduces defects/breakdowns in service and disruption to passengers and also related Operation Penalties. Secondly, it delays maintenance unit its needed therefore reducing costs.”

Expert Question

How do rail operators prioritise the correct maintenance, ensuring the maximum benefit to the business’s key drivers? And, how do they measure the vailability (reliability) of the Asset (Rolling Stock), cost to maintain the Asset and the acceptable risk that the asset will fail over the time?

“The answer is having an On-Board Diagnostic system that reports the health status of key components (HVAC, Doors, Traction, Power (Invertors), event recorders and passenger information systems, bogie and gearbox bearings of the rolling stock, in near-real-time to allow the operator to make informed decisions on how to manage their rolling stock in service. By the operator setting engineering performance and passenger comfort levels, they can determine when a unit needs to be maintained ahead of time and then allow a proper maintenance planning cycle to be undertaken. They can monitor and take the unsafe units out of service.”



Are there any short-term benefits of using RoCM during Covid-19?

“Yes, with resources (financial and workforce) being in short supply due to the current business circumstances associated with Covid, RoCM allows customers to determine the essential rail maintenance required to keep the Rolling Stock delivering a safe and reliable service.”

How will RoCM continue to shape rail maintenance post-Covid?

“With financial pressure on rail operators and maintainers, the ability to know your assets’ condition and only undertake maintenance on equipment when it is required has two key benefits. The operator will save money by not undertaking unnecessary maintenance because they know their assets’ condition. Therefore, they won’t be  spending money on replacing equipment that is still fulfilling its intended function or undertaking costly overhauls of major pieces of equipment that still have many years of life left.

The other key benefit is that if the train’s condition is acceptable, you can increase the maintenance intervals between services, increasing Rolling Stock availability. Therefore, reducing the fleet’s size required to run a timetable (as trains are in maintenance less often).”

Are there any barriers that can make RoCM challenging to implement? If so, how are they overcome?

“In older train fleets, the ICDs (interface control documents) usually are not available for the older systems and equipment. The ICDs allow the train system signal to easily be read by the on-board diagnostic system. When ICDs are not available, Nomad Tech has experienced Embedded Systems Engineers who can reverse engineer the available signals coming from the equipment to allow usable signals to be read and utilised.”


How long does RoCM take to implement? How long does it shape rail maintenance once implemented?

“This depends on what the operator’s goals are. Are operators looking at just an improvement in maintenance, and what type of improvement, or are they looking to implement a comprehensive asset management strategy? If they are looking at the maintenance journey, then the stages on the RoCM journey with the end game being to create the systems and processes that allow Condition Based Maintenance (CBM) and finally Predictive Based Maintenance (PBM) to be achieved for the Operator of the Rolling Stock.

Each of these steps is a change journey and will take time to become embedded into business as usual, like any change management piece. But usually, before these processes are fully implemented, early quick successes can be achieved. For example, faulty HVAC units (poor compressor pressure) or door units that are showing the first signs of failure (high current usage).

Suppose operators are looking at the Asset Management journey. In that case, they are using the RoCM system to support the models that underline your asset management strategies and plans with the aim of achieving and managing the rolling stock assets to obtain the business objectives of balancing the triangle of asset performance being acceptable cost, for the reliability required, within the acceptable risk the operator is allowed to operate within.

There are many variables along this journey, including fleet size and age, a proof of concept required to obtain funding. It is generally an 18 to 24 month period for the system to be designed and the installation to commence. Installation time will depend on the size of the fleet. But once the first train unit is installed with OBD and sending data to RoCM from this time onwards, condition-based maintenance can begin.”


Can you describe a success you have experienced regarding RoCM?

“One of the early successes was the OBD system supplying regular Odometer readings to RoCM. Before RoCM, the operator had to go to the fleet once per month to download these readings from each individual train unit and manually enter them into their maintenance system. As current servicing and reporting regimes require these readings to be taken. Now, this process is automated through to RoCM, and the Operator does not need to send two maintainers each month to over 250 units.”

Finally, describe in one sentence why any operator should implement RoCM?

“To improve their Rolling Stock’s operating system’s reliability and safety, and therefore their customer experience.”



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