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International infrastructure group Balfour Beatty has inaugurated a Rail Innovation Centre at its facility in Derby on Thursday with a focus on enhancing efficiency and safety on the rail network.
The centre is a 450 m2 facility the company will use for the research, development and testing of digital innovations to help improve the reliability, cost efficiency and safety of the railway sector in the UK and overseas.
Balfour Beatty’s new hub will employ over 150 technicians, engineers, data scientist and developers and will cooperate with its offices in York and Matlock.
Speaking at the launch event, Balfour Beatty director and general manager Neil Andrew explained that the centre will help meet new challenges the industry is facing, attempt to fill the gap between research and applied engineering, and develop a new generation of engineers.
The main focus will be on safety inspection, with the centre aiming to decrease the need for technicians to be exposed to trackside risk but contemporarily increasing passenger safety by reducing defects. It will also work on cost and efficiency using data maps and enhanced technologies, as well as improve rail assets such as speed, tonnage, structure gauge and access.
Opening the centre, Balfour Beatty CEO for rail and utilities Mark Bullock said: “Digital technologies are rapidly changing the rail industry, bringing new efficiencies and presenting new opportunities. The Rail Innovation Centre is at the heart of Balfour Beatty’s technology offering with the specific purpose of driving efficiencies and safety across the rail network for those who work on the railway and ultimately the travelling public.”
Data analytics will be at the core of innovation at the hub. Engineers at the centre will also focus on using machine vision and machine learning systems to improve the resolution, consistency and reliability of data input. Within this framework, Balfour Beatty presented its latest products and software, including TrueTrak, OmniVision, OmniSurveyor3D, OmniCapture3D, DataMap and AssetView. The centre will also apply robot testing in a bid to enable remote, unattended and high-speed testing of the rail infrastructure in a safe and controlled environment.
Balfour Beatty will work in cooperation with four graduates, five apprentices and three trainees across its platforms.
The company said the industry needs to transition into a world where fewer and fewer people are involved in track monitoring and maintenance while helping customers to travel safely.
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