Rail Safety Week: The safety benefits of drones


With Rail Safety Week starting (25 September to 1 October), it is time to shine a spotlight on the lesser known safety benefits that drones provide.

While the commercial benefits around drone technology are sparking the imaginations of the rail industry, the technology is delivering a revolution for safety in rail.

Joan Heery, AECOM’s engineering director

Several major organisations are beginning to use drones for a broad range of applications, including survey data acquisition, asset condition assessment, construction monitoring and public consultation features.

After all, the use of drones can bring many advantages:

  • health and safety benefits and cost and time savings through removing the need to place staff in a position of risk yet also providing a visualisation tool to place people within a virtual environment for briefing and familiarisation purposes
  • technical benefits such as objective data collection, repeatability and overcoming constraints for challenging and higher risk access to difficult to reach zones
  • operational benefits through minimising disruptive access to sites

While drones can offer many safety advantages, critics of the technology believe that it cannot achieve levels of accuracy compared to traditional survey methods. However, recent results have shown otherwise. AECOM has used drone technology on projects and has achieved accuracies sufficient for design purposes.

During a drone survey of a railway depot in central London, we were able to achieve better than 15mm accuracy when the data was analysed with suitable survey control. Following the installation of ground control, the drone survey was completed in less than 6 hours flight time over an 11 hectare area.

Traditional methods would have taken eight to 10 weeks, due to the survey time required and operational constraints of the site. The drone survey also had the advantage of capturing information and measurements of track furniture, buildings and other features, not simply the ground level detail. Similar results have been achieved from surveys carried out across our rail and road networks.

As well as misconceptions around accuracy of results, there is nervousness regarding drones distracting drivers of trains and vehicles. However, drones typically operate at an altitude of greater than 50m, which removes the risk of line of sight and any distraction to drivers.

In recognition of the safety factors surrounding drone operations, AECOM has recently gained permission from the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to overfly highways.

This demonstrates that the safety risks associated to drone operations over infrastructure are low.

Although the use of drones is gaining popularity in the construction industry as a cost and labour-saving tool, adoption is not widespread. It will be essential for companies to invest in this kind of technology in order to drive risk mitigation of safety incidents. At AECOM, we have used drones to capture data for over five years in the UK as part of our digital solutions.

Register now for full access

Register just once to get unrestricted, real-time coverage of the issues and challenges facing UK transport and highways engineers.

Full website content includes the latest news, exclusive commentary from leading industry figures and detailed topical analysis of the highways, transportation, environment and place-shaping sectors. Use the link below to register your details for full, free access.

Already a registered? Login

comments powered by Disqus
highways jobs

Definitive Map Manager

Cambridgeshire County Council
£32,825 - £35,401
This role is based within the Highways Service at Cambridgeshire County Council and provides an unusual and... Cambridgeshire
Recuriter: Cambridgeshire County Council

Assistant Engineer

Cambridgeshire County Council
£21,074 - £30,756
A great opportunity for someone looking to start or develop a career in Highways Engineering including the... Cambridgeshire
Recuriter: Cambridgeshire County Council

Head of Strategic Transport

Cheshire East Council
£64,000 - £75,000 + benefits
We’re committed to “working for a brighter future together” – and we expect you to be too! Cheshire
Recuriter: Cheshire East Council

Regeneration Manager

Mole Valley District Council
£52,895 - £57,143 FTE
This is a great career opportunity to specialise in town centre regeneration and repositioning. Dorking, Surrey
Recuriter: Mole Valley District Council

Technical Services Officer (Mechanical)

Kirklees Metropolitan Council
£36,876 - £38,813
This is an exciting and challenging time for Kirklees and we want to expand our team to manage and deliver construction... Kirklees, West Yorkshire
Recuriter: Kirklees Metropolitan Council

Road and Footway Asset Engineer

Kent County Council
£28,925 per annum
An exciting opportunity has arisen to join the Road and Footway Asset Team as an Asset Engineer. Kent
Recuriter: Kent County Council

Head of Waste

Lincolnshire County Council
£65,651 - £70,725
As Head of Waste, you will be commercially focussed and forward-thinking. Lincolnshire
Recuriter: Lincolnshire County Council

Assistant Director

Reading Borough Council
Up to £92k
It’s the ideal time to take the lead on our modernisation agenda, and deliver growth in the trading of our front line services. Reading, Berkshire
Recuriter: Reading Borough Council

Assistant Director – Highways

Lincolnshire County Council
£82,264 - £107,878
Come and lead the future agenda for our highways services. Lincolnshire
Recuriter: Lincolnshire County Council

County Highways Manager

Lincolnshire County Council
£55,503 - £60,578
Seeking a highly motivated leader and an excellent communicator, who has a proven ability to build relationships and trust, leading by example. Lincolnshire
Recuriter: Lincolnshire County Council

Local Highways Manager (East) - Lincolnshire County Council

Lincolnshire County Council
G12 £43,662 - £50,430
Seeking someone who combines excellent technical knowledge with a dedication to the customer. Lincolnshire
Recuriter: Lincolnshire County Council