Saving vital downtime on tamping trains

Balfour Beatty's Tamper Train Cover Image

reposted from August, 2011

Caption Data Limited was approached to provide a remote monitoring solution for one of Balfour Beatty’s tamping trains*.

One constant concern for any track maintenance activity is the potential for breakdowns of machinery leading to missing targets, quite often leading to significant penalties. Caption Data Limited was tasked with providing a monitoring and alarming system that would interface to a number of transducers that take vital measurements from around the train.

*A tamping machine or ballast tamper is a machine used to pack (or tamp) the track ballast under railway tracks to make the tracks more durable. Prior to the introduction of mechanical tampers, this task was done by manual labour with the help of beaters. As well as being faster, more accurate, more efficient and less labour-intensive, tamping machines are essential for the use of concrete sleepers since they are too heavy (usually over 250 kg (551 lb)) to be packed into the ballast by hand – source Wikipedia.


This application is ideally suited to the RDLWeb system for the following reasons:

Size and form factor

Size and form factors were critically important as space is in short supply. The system needed to take inputs from as many channels in as small a space as possible. The RDLWeb system is based on a modular design, the modules are narrow, allowing inputs to be densely populated within a small footprint.

A wide range of sensor input types

The RDLWeb has a wide range of module types to suit most sensor types. These can be added in ‘bite size’ chunks minimising the number of wasted inputs and therefore space.

Mobile phone connectivity and onboard storage

Due to the inconsistent mobile phone reception when the train is operational, the system needed to handle situations where the mobile phone signal ‘comes in and out. The RDLWeb system has large onboard memory and monitors the quality of the mobile phone signal, the system polices itself automatically and uploads data whenever it can, enabling the remote user to see near ‘real-time data.

Power supply

The train power supply quality could not be guaranteed so the system needed to have some way of dealing with this. The RDLWeb system was used in conjunction with a high quality DC to DC converter system cleaning the power supply, giving the RDLWeb a high level of operation up-time even when the power supply was of poor quality.

Input Types

The RDLWeb system was built up of modules that would accept RTD (temperature sensors), analogue input signals, and digital input lines.

These were interfacing to the following types of sensors and measurements:

  • G/box cleanliness oil ISO levels
  • Hydraulic cleanliness oil ISO levels
  • Noise levels
  • Humidity
  • Engine and hydraulic oil alternator Amps
  • Various hydraulic pressures
  • Battery Voltages
  • Digital status (on/off) of many systems such as lube oil, Vibration on, banks down.
  • Various temperatures including engine, gearbox, hydraulic oil.
  • In all over sixty channels are being collected, transmitted, monitored and stored.


Real time data with the CDLSMartHub

As soon as the RDLWeb is powered up the system starts logging and transmitting data to the CDLSmartHub communicating via the mobile phone network.

The CDLSmartHub is an online platform for data management, visualisation, and storage, accessible anywhere, anytime from a smart phone, tablet, laptop or PC.

Users accessing the system can view the last time the system logged in and view all sensor values either in a tabular format or a graphical trend. High and low alarm levels can be added to every channel, alarms can be sent to recipients either via SMS and/or email. All data is downloadable at any time in a standard “.csv” file format.

For this application, data volumes were intensive.  A year’s worth of data accrued more than 8 million records.  At no point were extra airtime or server storage charges raised as this was all included in the fixed monthly fee (with the exception of SMS alarms).

Success Story

One measurement that was taken was the alternator current. An alarm was raised when this compromised the high-level alarm limit.

The issue was investigated and an electrical fault on the system was found to be the reason why such a high current was drawn. This would almost certainly have caused a breakdown at some point and potentially a hefty penalty from Network Rail. From this one scenario, the system paid for itself more than five times over.

Other issues the system detected were faulty/discharged batteries which could have delayed considerably the starting of the train before a working shift.


The system worked robustly in very challenging environments and has paid for itself many times over.

Engineers have the ability to view data over periods of time and prevent any issues from occurring rather than curing them when they do happen.

Balfour Beatty's Tamper Train Cover Image
Balfour Beatty’s Tamper Train



Remote monitoring in your organisation

Since we began we’ve been involved in a range of first-of-it’s-kind remote monitoring projects and applications so whether you’re looking to update existing remote monitoring hardware and systems or introduce new technology within your organisation – we can help.

Contact our expert remote monitoring team, call us on 01905 754078 or email

Enquiry Cart