4 ways unlocking data across your rail network drives savings and optimization

PostedWillow Team

Data is a formidable challenge for today’s rail asset managers. Whether you’re drowning in data, or flying blind, getting the right information into the right hands at the right time is the million dollar challenge. Can digital twins finally deliver the mythical predictive maintenance across your rail network?

From buildings, stations, trains, tracks, equipment, connected devices, teams and partners, railway networks across the world contain thousands of moving parts and systems, all controlled by proprietary software packages and systems that rarely talk to each other.

Data is pouring in by the minute from platforms, departments, equipment and sensors all over the network. Inconsistent, disconnected and unstructured, it’s drowning operators in indecipherable information.

From asset owners to control centres, maintenance managers to front-line engineers, critical and costly decisions are being made based on inaccurate, out of date or missing data.

The result of poor decision making is disrupted and inefficient network performance including:

– A cycle of break-and-fix reactive maintenance – increasing costs and safety risks
– Missed KPIs on network availability, on-time running and reliability
– Siloed data creates gaps of historic and live data for decision making
– Poorly considered capex/opex investments and annual renewal programs
– Poor understanding of the performance of the overall network and individual components

In an environment of hyperinflation, widespread recession, currency fluctuations and ongoing macroeconomic and geopolitical challenges, margins are squeezed and resources stretched. This is the time when leveraging technology is more important than ever to improve costs and efficiency.

Digital twins as a foundational data layer for decision-making

By aggregating, organising and managing the static, spatial and live data for all rail assets across your network, WillowTwin™ for Rail provides a single, intuitive platform that produces actionable insights for decision makers across your organisation.

Drawing on our long-term partnerships with global railway networks and infrastructure projects, let’s explore some examples of how digital twins support operators to draw on historical and contextual data to make informed decisions:

1. Live switch monitoring eliminates ‘high derailment risk’

A major resources operator in Australia faced challenges in maintaining their heavy haul rail network. As a result they had speed restrictions which were significantly slowing the throughput of ore from the pit to the port, costing millions of dollars of lost revenue.

Implementing WillowTwin™ for Rail, helped streamline asset management to reduce speed restrictions, improve maintenance efficiency and enable continuous data-driven optimization.

For example, a live switch monitor alerted a track inspector to a problem in a directional track switch following maintenance activity to change several bearers. The inspector found the pattern was deteriorating and placing signalling equipment under high stress with risk of breaking components.

With the benefit of consolidated data and maintenance history available on his mobile device in the field, the inspector could review all open work orders, tamping works and service times to urgently complete works before the fault caused a costly and potentially catastrophic incident.

His comment after the work was:

“Without WillowTwin™ for Rail analytics, this defect could have stayed in track for at least two more weeks without protection, posing a high derailment risk.”

2. Streamline maintenance and operating expenses

Using a digital twin to build up a history of contextually relevant, related and up-to-date data available in visual reports makes your data understandable and actionable even for non-engineers.

By overlaying your performance and maintenance data you can build relationships between actions and outcomes to understand and resolve the most critical problems before they become damaging.

For example, a rail operator was repeatedly sending out teams to put tampers out at a rate higher than the normal cycles, however they lacked the data which would have alerted them to an underlying issue with the ballast foundations. This activity was costing tens of thousands of dollars per shift before the root cause was identified and fixed.

By aggregating and correlating data, WillowTwin™ for Rail lets you move from reactive maintenance to planned, predictive and preventative maintenance by understanding why, where and when problems are reoccurring.

Throughout our deployments, WillowTwin™ for Rail has delivered measurable cost, reliability and safety improvements for rail networks.

WillowTwin™ for Rail – Proven results

“Data becomes truly valuable once it is aggregated, sanitized, standardized and correlated into insights that help you take action. By automating the process and presenting rich visual reports in a single dashboard, digital twins unlock massive value for rail networks.” -Marc Maathuis, Head of Rail, Willow

3. Maximize your existing technology investments

Rail networks have invested millions of dollars over many years creating the legacy systems that power the industry, so replacing these is not a realistic short-term option.

Rather than replace or disrupt your existing infrastructure, digital twins can leverage your IT investment as a layer over the top of your existing system that extracts, integrates and visualizes your data.

You can also cross-correlate and build relationships between datasets that were previously either invisible to each other or only manually connected with spreadsheets or reports.

“You are no longer beholden to specific software vendors for access to data. WillowTwin™ for Rail democratizes data by unlocking data trapped within your disconnected systems and enables you to manipulate and present it to your teams in a way that is consolidated and easy to understand so they can use it to make smarter decisions.” -Andrew Yarham, Product Manager, WillowTwin™ for Rail

4. Automated workflow and ticketing enhances speed and safety

With strict service level agreements and the cost of downtime, speed is essential whenever there is an issue reported on a track. Traditionally, the response process may look like this:

The first action is to send out a team to inspect the problem. If it turns out they’re not the right crew, another team is dispatched. After analysing the problem, this team heads to the shed to source the materials and equipment they need, shuts down the track and starts work.

Without all the data they need on site, the team is guessing. Has this happened before? How was it fixed last time? What caused the issue? Under pressure from the train control to get the track reopened, they rush a temporary fix while they analyse the problem to come up with a permanent solution. They’re flying blind.

With the benefit of a digital twin, it’s a different story. Armed with all the data they need – historical problems, previous fixes, materials used, potential causes and timelines – asset managers are in a position to send the right team, armed with the right materials, equipment and expertise to solve the problem efficiently, safely and cost-effectively with less risks.

What’s more, pre-defined tick boxes, templates and dropdown menus make it easy for engineers to track their work with standardized reporting processes for future reference.

The result is improved safety, lower costs and maximum uptime by giving every team the information they need at their fingertips to spend as little time on the track as possible.

“Using intelligent analytics, it is possible to monitor, for example, switch performance over weeks or months to identify, predict and resolve faults before they become a major disruptive issue to the network and a major cost.” -Conrad Winter, VP, Head of Strategic Projects Infrastructure, Willow

Especially in times of dramatic change and uncertainty, technology will play a growing role in protecting your margins and bottom line through operational efficiency and cost reduction when managing assets and infrastructure.


To explore exactly how WillowTwin™ for Rail can transform the creation and operation of your rail network, click here to book a demo.

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