Network Rail’s eye in the sky set to provide a better railway for passengers in the south.(Network Rail/SWR)

Network Rail’s eye in the sky set to provide a better railway for passengers in the south

Helicopter at Fairoaks.(Network Rail Image)

Network Rail are now using helicopters across the south western rail network as part of the drive to provide better journeys for passengers.

Inspecting the railway by air allows Network Rail to deliver improvements to performance, reliability and safety, with no disruption to train services.

Operating high-tech thermal and visual imaging equipment, Network Rail’s aerial operations team are able to identify the smallest of faults and inspect a wide area of infrastructure in a short space of time. The helicopter is capable of covering the route from London’s Waterloo station to Weymouth station in Dorset in around three hours, including hovering over equipment to capture the critical thermal and high definition images.

The flights also reduce the need to send members of the workforce onto the track when trains are operating, improving safety for our teams.

Jason Bridges, chief operating officer for Network Rail, said:

“We are using all of the tools at our disposal to improve performance across the south western rail network to provide a better railway for passengers – these new aerial surveys are a great example of this.

“Using this technique, as part of our Railway Upgrade Plan, we can identify and fix potential issues before they affect train services, complete thorough inspections of our infrastructure in a short space of time and improve safety for our people.”

The helicopter is equipped with a full high-definition camera system that provides a gyro-stabilised image with embedded location data in the digital video.

A ‘fault spotter’ on the flight reviews the live footage and can feed information back to maintenance teams on the ground, who can respond within minutes to inspect and repair the infrastructure.

Jacqui Dey, operations and safety director for South Western Railway, said:

“We welcome this new initiative by Network Rail. Anything that can prevent disruption to our network can only be of benefit to our customers.”

Following a surveying flight this Monday, two faulty hook switches, which are used to isolate power to the conductor rail, were inspected as part of an overnight railway possession last night (Wednesday), avoiding any impact on the operational railway.

The surveying will be carried out approximately every four weeks and will provide comprehensive reviews of the state of infrastructure across the route.

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