Infrastructure managers from all over Europe have participated in the UIC “DRONE4RAIL – Harmonised methodology for drone/UAV uses for bridge inspection” project to research the use of drones (UAS – Unmanned Aerial Systems) for railway bridge inspections.
In order to ensure the long-term performance of bridges, it is necessary to record the state of the infrastructure in a periodic way. These assessments allow infrastructure managers to make safety statements and service life forecasts. Due to intensive use, environmental conditions and time passing, the load-bearing capacity of structures can decrease, together with their serviceability. Without continuous monitoring, there is a natural residual risk of undetected damage.
Regular inspections can increase the safety of structures and can also help infrastructure managers to schedule maintenance measures. When it comes to bridges, traditional inspections often require specific equipment (e.g. scaffolding or lifting platforms) and specialised personnel, which makes them very costly. Furthermore, these close-to-hand inspections are not only costly in terms of budget; they are also highly time consuming.
Consequently, digital methods are beginning to play an important role in asset maintenance. Continuous technological development allows for ever greater accuracy and a wider range of tools to perform it. The combination of high precision sensors, software and appropriate unmanned aerial systems allows efficient data acquisition and detection of damage or defects in the structure. In some cases, this detection can even be performed automatically. A more efficient inspection methodology can contribute to the safe operation of aging structures and achieve a significant increase in civil safety.
The first UIC DRONE4RAIL project group’s summarised report has already been published in the ETF shop and is available from the following link:
This report contains the most important and reliable information concerning the project, and includes the following points:
- The framework of bridge inspections using drones;
- A table of defects which can be detected by using UAS devices;
- The main limitations regarding each bridge typology inspected;
- Hardware and software: overview, weaknesses and recommendations.
There is also a section that briefly summarises the regulatory environment for this type of operation. The Specific Operations Risk Assessment that accompanies this project is available at the following link:
Special mentions must go to all members of the DRONE4RAIL group and the UIC staff involved in producing this report over the past few years.