Robotic Inspection and Repair System

As passenger numbers increase the utilisation of the rail network is projected to continue to rise. This increase will lead to a higher frequency of both rail inspections and repairs being required, all in a reduced time period, to maintain system availability.

There are a number of health and safety issues with the current manual processes for inspection and repair of the track, many of these issues can be mitigated by automation:

  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Manual handling
  • Tool specific issues such as Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome and arc eye
  • Rail specific issues

There are also efficiency benefits to automation:

  • Repeatability
  • Consistency in both data and operating time
  • Reduced impact of environmental conditions such as bad weather
  • Increased work area due to travel speed

The aim of this project is to capture requirements and develop a system architecture as the first phase of a larger programme. The ultimate objective is the testing of an autonomous rail vehicle to undertake inspection and repair operations with an operator supervising remotely:

  • Navigation systems deployed in the challenging rail environment
  • Automated sensing and inspection to provide a remote operator with relevant reliable information
  • Communication links from a rail vehicle to a remote operator sufficient to supervise inspection and repair
  • Systems architecture to provide a human-machine interface and modularity for reuse
  • Safe methods of working
  • Social acceptance of autonomous systems
  • Safe system behaviour including during degraded modes of operation

Stakeholder workshops were held to develop the Operational Concept, elicit user requirements and specify system requirements. A Hazard Identification workshop was held to inform the concept demonstrator development.

Individual stakeholder engagement was undertaken to inform the system design as well as engagement with equipment suppliers for incorporation of existing technology into the design. Previous TSC work on autonomous vehicle trials has informed this work.

Support was provided for a Horizon 2020, Shift2Rail project that involves Network Rail working with a European consortium to incorporate the consortium requirements into the robotic inspection and repair system.

Next steps

The next phase of the project involves the development and realisation of the concept demonstrator design in an 18 month work programme. Implementation, integration and verification and validation testing will be the core activities within this work. The full system trails are to combine situation and real world testing to reduce the risk in developing a fully functional prototype.


The Operational Concept, System Architecture and testing plan have been agreed allowing Network Rail to progress to the next phase of the project – detailed design of the concept demonstrator.

The TSC were commissioned by Network Rail to undertake the commercial project with a six month timeline. A model based system engineering approach was taken to develop automation of rail inspection and repair.

Cookies on Catapult explained

To comply with EU directives we now provide detailed information about the cookies we use. To find out more about cookies on this site, what they do and how to remove them, see our information about cookies. Click OK to continue using this site.