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The Railway Digital Transformation Journey

In this article we shall highlight some of the maintenance challenges for the Railway industry as the Asset Management market moves to more digital and sustainable solutions. Examining how this industry can leverage more digital and sustainable solutions in order to adapt to quickly changing conditions.

The rail industry, being one of the more traditional industries orginating in England in 1758 over 2 centuries ago, has not always readily embraced technological change. In some respects, it has been seen as slow to adapt to emerging best practices of asset management and sometimes missed opportunities to make meaningful, long last change.

The main considerations and challenges for a railway company’s assets are commonly seen as:

  • Operational availability and safety are as the main drivers
  • Ageing assets and infrastructure
  • Tribal knowledge of lifelong skilled yet siloed workforce
  • Resource and investment limitations with increased demand
  • Management inefficiencies creating waste
  • Ownership and responsibility diversification
  • Let’s examine these a little further.
Operational and safe service

Most railway operators will echo that as a service the railway must operate in reliable and safe manner with little disruption to operations. In this way maintenance programs can often find themselves wide of the mark due to concessions and redundancies put in place to keep the trains running at all costs. In some circumstances operational fines can be levied for availability issues and disruption to services and this makes operations the main driving force over these assets. This can make adherence to a maintenance strategy, or regime, difficult with often reactive processes taking over on the day meaning only the bare minimum of essential works is carried out. In this way attempting to achieve the gold standard of 80% planned vs 20% reactive maintenance works can be rather unrealistic. In the UK, safety regulations must be complied with from the ORR (office of Rail regulation) or face gross penalties.

Ageing assets and infrastructure

As mentioned above, with the Railway industry being over two hundred years old, it is no wonder a large amount of its assets are coming to the end of their appointed lifecycles in the UK.

The challenge here is being able to identify these assets and replace them prior to any failures which can be costly and dangerous if involving passenger trains.

As mentioned earlier with Operations as king, track availability is key and crucial for testing and carrying out required maintenance works. This includes replacing infrastructure as well as the train units themselves which requires capital, and a robust plan for skilled resources to carry out their track works from Depot, Engineering and signals.

Tribal Knowledge of longterm workforce

As an industry it is fair to say the railways do not have a typically high turnover when it comes to engineering and operational maintenance. Traditionally workers have spent most of their lives in their vocation which gives them great knowledge of their ecosystem on the network they operate but tends to be siloed from other parts of the network. This becomes problematic when relying on this knowledge that is not recorded anywhere in any systems/repositories, making individuals potential single point failures, and posing a disproportionate risk to the successful running of the infrastructure should they depart the business.

Resource and investment limitations with increased demand

Depending on how a railway is funded, whether publicly subsidised or reliant on ticket sales or non direct ticket sales (car parks, advertising etc), revenue invested back into services is often limited. As discussed earlier, the capability to replace or repair ageing assets has a direct impact upon unscheduled events or issues, leading to reactive emergent maintenance works. However, the true cost to cover all these improvement works greatly outweighs the capital investment available. Hence in some circumstances only the minimum safety critical works are done, as it would not be viable to schedule lmaterials and Labour tom complete any additional works all the while passenger demand for services are increasing.

Management inefficiencies creating waste

Through direct experience of working in and with Railway operators in the UK, one of the greatest challenges is mismanagement of railway assets leading to increased depreciation and waste. Assets that are not maintained well are at much greater risk of failure and reduces their life cycle.
Waste in this regard refers to duplication of maintenance works by differing parties (ie Opex and Capex), poorly executed maintenance regimes and ineffectual supply chain for materials. The other main contributor to this is poor data and data upkeep of the Asset Management System, ie stock deviations between real world and digital can mean writing off millions.

Ownership and responsibility diversification

Amongst the other challenges previously mentioned, with siloed working across the business network there is also a culture of diversification which accompanies it.

This is not referring to just any unionized staff and management but from department to department. This is more evident when it comes to track possession and shared access and how this is proritised across the various groups. When the workforce segrates itself with its own specific interests rather than one cohesive, united business it becomes difficult to proactively achieve an organisation's holistic goals. This culture has been seen in other traditional industries/workforces where for example different shifts “switch off" prior to the end of their shift, thus deliberatley leaving a heavy workload for the oncoming shift. This behaviour then gets replicated by subsequent shifts leading and can lead to resentment across a workforce.

Asset Management Evolution

Across the Asset Management Community, we have seen a great deal of change, and these have a had a sizeable impact across the board. Throw into the mix economic changes and a global pandemic and it’s resulted in a different focus and approach to asset management. Let’s look at the impacts with an emphasis on the railway sector:

  • Asset and Maintenance Strategies
  • Trends and the market
  • Technology
  • Sustainability

"Plan without fear or compromise”

Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Victorian Master Engineer

Asset Management Strategies

We have come along way since ‘fix upon fail’ where maintenance was something that just happened. Having been in this space for just of shy of 20 years I always used the analogy that maintenance is like the drama and arts of the school curriculum. Historically not taken seriously and the first to go once budgets were cut.

Carrying on with the status quo can’t be that bad, can it? Maintenance just happens…

These days we know how important efficient and proactive maintenance regimes are and not only keep your assets in optimum working order but also prolong their lifecycle.

Spend a little in advance now or a lot later to correct and replace.

For the railway industry this approach has taken a while to sink in and adopt compared to other industries. As mentioned earlier, reactive maintenance rules vs planned maintenance in terms of maintenance strategy due to the nature of railway challenges such as unit movements and planned maintenance schedules. This can make it a more reactive environment than most, yet so much more can be done in this area for rail.

Trends and the market

A good robust Maintenance regime embracing condition based and predictive maintenance strategies with the right technology managed via a digital asset.

Management system, can provide very informative insights regarding performance and operational metrics feedback.

Following the latest in the Asset Management methodology we should look at aligning with the Institute of Asset Management’s 10 core competencies - an industrywide framework for Asset Management companies. (see figure 3).

Building on this we have the Industry 4.0 and 5.0 methodologies. In essence, Enterprise Asset Management trends are incorporating IoT, connecting and automating asset management through a network of sensors and two-way information flow (see tech).

Furthermore, recognizing the need for sustainability strategies and collaboration between people and machines has lead us to Industry 5.0 (see sustainability).

Asset management for maintenance works need to be efficient, easy to execute and manage whilst feeding back useful information in real time that can be used to continually improve processes.

Across asset intensive industries the focus has shifted to Asset Lifecycle management managing your assets holistically across their entire lifecycle from procure to dispose. This has included focusing on areas such as asset reliability as per Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) through Failure mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA) along with Root Cause Analysis (RCA). The latest focus in this area is concentrating on Asset Resilience – (link to doc).


In the last 10 years technology has greatly improved the ability to record, monitor and track assets, providing useful health and performance metric data.

Asset management systems have evolved greatly to become more user-friendly tools that not only cover maintenance but also Field Service with mobile enabled solutions.

Older Computer Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) concentrated on primarily recording Asset data and being able to perform maintenance regimes.

The new age of asset management systems take a broader look at Enterprise Asset management incorporating supply chain, Inventory management and other software suites.

The focus is on asset performance and strategy through Intelligent Asset Management. As discussed previously, using the latest in IoT networks can allow two-way data flow, with suppliers and OEMs for instantaneous updates. Utilising sensors and cameras allow for accurate asset condition updates and allows predictive modelling.

Such modelling to create digital models is leveraged for digital twins where scenarios can be run and analysed without affecting the live production envronment.

This is particularly useful for the engineering side of the rail industry, such as testing of infrastructure.

Drones can now be utilized to map railway assets along with cameras on train cars that record and capture linear attributes whilst mapping geographical features.

This can help build an accurate picture of all railway assets and view asset condition.

Technology is now also enabling closer collaboration with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) for rolling stock and critical assets, enabling more effective maintenance and obsolescence management.

Finally a big area of interest is asset health and conditioning. This is where accurate data is analysed to give scores of asset health and predictions for required future maintenance and when to expect potential failures and need for replacement.

Most of the big asset management solutions such as SAP, Maximo and Hexagon are offering softwares suites with algorithyms catering for this including machine learning.


Theparis treaty, along with the Covid pandemic, have all shaped the focus on carbon net zero sustainable solutions. We have all seen the changing extreme weather patterns caused by global warming so it is no wonder that all companies are now putting forward their own sustainability & environmental policies. This also means a focus on cleaner, greener assets and reducing waste with Asset Management solutions.

“a vision of industry that aims beyond efficiency and productivity as the sole goals and reinforces the role and the contribution of industry to society.”

Spokeperson of EU
(Reference to industry 5.0)

The rail industry has largely been impacted by increased passenger numbers (as the UK government incentivises us to get out of our cars and onto public transport to reduce emissions) and increased freight traffic during the Pandemic when HGV drivers were in short supply. Hydrogen fuel cell powered busses being developed in London is a good example of this as motorists are hit with ULEZ (ultra low emission zones) and congestion charges that are aso driving electrification of the Auto industry.

This leads us to Industry 5.0 which aims to address commitment of businesses to societal responsibility, putting people and the planet before profit. Encompassing more than just manufacturing, this new phase builds upon the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) and is enabled by developments in I.T. that include facets such as artificial intelligence, automation, big data analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, robotics, smart systems, and virtualization.

For the rail industry this will mean adopting a digital footprint to build on Industry 5.0 requiring greater transparency with real-time data analysis throughout the supply chain. Supply chain planners will need to be able to track and analyse data in real-time to make more informed decisions and to respond quickly to changing conditions. This will require the integration of advanced digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the Internet of Things into supply chain planning.

Whilst adoption of Robust Asset management solutions will assist in this endeavour along with big data and process automation coupled with AI options such as drone mapping and digital twin, the biggest change will require a shift in mindset from traditional planning and operations methods to more innovative and agile approaches.

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