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Airbus project helps UK’s Network Rail build & maintain safer, smarter railways

UK satellite operator and Earth observation experts Airbus Defence and Space has conducted a pilot project for Network Rail delivering land use and land use change data around the UK rail network. Project LUCI (Land Use Change Identification) was developed under ESA’s Business Applications and Space Solutions (BASS) programme. It delivers a baseline land use report tailored to Network Rail’s specifications which is updated every six months to provide accurate and timely information at a scale and resolution previously unavailable to Network Rail.

The initial project delivers baseline land use information for 25% of the UK rail network, at a resolution of 50cm.  Derived from Airbus Pleiades VHR optical imagery and using supporting datasets including ESA’s Sentinels 1 and 2, the service is updated every six months with fresh imagery.  A layer is produced highlighting areas that have undergone change, therefore identifying the changing risk profile of the area.

Visualising and analysing the land adjacent to railway infrastructure is a key factor in developing and maintaining efficient networks. Both large and small-scale land use changes can have serious and potentially dangerous implications for railway networks; geospatial data can identify and anticipate these risks, enabling operators to understand the effects and develop sustainable solutions. For example, if land adjacent to a railway has been recently developed and now contains more impervious surfaces, the area may be at increased risk of flooding. This flood risk could have an impact on the railway lines, putting lives in danger on and off the track.

“Airbus continues its partnership with Network Rail to deliver detailed land use data and change information,” said Thomas Harling at Airbus. “Our partnership, supported by ESA, highlights how Airbus imagery partnered with our AI and land use expertise can drive innovation in the geospatial industry.  LUCI demonstrates that actionable intelligence from space can make a difference to businesses and ultimately to public safety”

Airbus has shown that accurate land use information can be produced and updated at much faster frequencies than that provided by aerial survey.  Airbus has also shown that the level of detail available is much higher than from traditional land use data sources.
The results from project LUCI have been analysed and demonstrate that the data can provide valuable actionable intelligence .  This data enables Network Rail to have an up-to-date picture of the landscape around the railway boundaries and means that they can optimise the use of resources and focus them on the areas most at risk.  This is far more cost effective than  systematic inspections and can lead to quicker response times.

“Space technologies are an enabler for the digitalisation of railways. In particular, the use of satellite Earth observation data allows for  efficient management of rail infrastructure, with a reduction of operational costs” says Enrico Spinelli, ESA Technical Officer of the LUCI demonstration project. 

By leveraging geospatial data, Network Rail have the operational tools to stay on top of these changes in land use and develop plans to ensure the safety and sustainability of their networks, their employees, and the passengers they serve.

“Network Rail is proud to invest our R&D resources into this important initiative across multiple off-track disciplines,” said Stephen Brooks from Network Rail. “Maintaining safe and sustainable railway networks to best serve our clients is our top priority, and the data-driven insights delivered by Airbus will better enable us to provide transportation to the people of Great Britain. The LUCI project will enable us to better understand land use change beyond our boundary fence that may impact the operational railway.”

The processing technology behind project LUCI will allow the project to be scaled across the whole of the UK network and to other rail networks as needed.

21 May 2024
Last updated at 30 May 2024 - 15:15