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Railway Maintenance Must Become Smarter


One of the conclusions of Arjen Zoeteman, who will defend his thesis on 22 November at TU Delft, is that significant amounts of money could be saved on the maintenance of European railway systems, including the Netherlands. Through a carefully structured schedule and a detailed analysis of maintenance work, he was able to achieve a cost reduction of 10 percent for the Dutch railway system.

The operators of the rail networks, such as NS, are continuously increasing the demands on the administrators, such as Prorail (in the Netherlands). The type of maintenance work is therefore shifting from craftsmanship based on individual knowledge to an engineering discipline in which quantitative calculations play an important role. According to Zoeteman, most European railway administrators fall short in their analysis and scheduling of maintenance. This shows in, among other things, the lack of detailed information systems for the analysis of maintenance performance. Another aspect that Zoeteman states should be strongly developed is a ‘life-cycle’ way of thinking, in which long term cost-effectiveness is taken into account.

One of the underlying problems, according to Zoeteman, is the division of the maintenance work into separate disciplines and maintenance regions (the Netherlands, for example, has four regions). At the moment, budgets are generally granted based on requests that come from the ‘bottom up’, in other words, from the various disciplines and regions. Zoeteman thinks that a centrally managed process of quality guarantee, based on an overview of the total situation will deliver better results.

Zoeteman has tested his ideas for improvement in a number of practical situations. One of those was a study conducted at Prorail. The goal was to, for the first time, come up with a number of national guidelines for railway system renewal. The project resulted in a predicted saving of 10 percent in the costs of the renewal of the superstructure. Based on his research, Zoeteman is going to work with Prorail on a damage catalogue for large scale maintenance and renewal. Eventually this could be used in a so-called Decision Support System (DSS). A DSS is a computer system that assists administrators in making the best choices for a particular purpose, in this case the upkeep of the railway system.

Maarten van der Sanden | alfa
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