Supporting track renewals

THINKlab has created a 4D simulation tool to support large and small rail track renewal programmes.  Collaborating with leading rail industry service providers including Network Rail, Babcock and Atkins, the team based at the University of Salford have successfully delivered 15 projects to date across Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  The digital tool is continuously being developed by the THINKlab team made up of UX developers, digital designers, programmers and academics working with rail specialists in track renewal, overhead line equipment (OLE) and signalling to continue its research and development.  This collaboration has resulted in producing an exceptional tool which is fully accessible and effortless to use and has achieved national recognition winning BIM ‘Project of the Year’ at both the North West Regional Construction Award 2016, and the Constructing Excellence National Awards 2016.   The aim of the product is to help the rail industry better plan track renewal and installation programmes of all sizes and scale to reduce waste of resource, disruption to travellers and charges for late completion.  The 4D Simulation Tool’s functionality can be broken down into three distinct areas: Model, Plan and Simulate.

Modules & Functionality


The software makes it easy to build 3D site models of any location using an array of data sources. CAD plans or laser scanned track data is used to programmatically position virtual tracks onto a 3D digital terrain which allows users to make accurate measurements. In addition, other data including BIM models of OLE, P-Way & Signalling can be imported to more accurately represent the scene. Furthermore, the system includes a library of plant equipment which is used to visualise engineering works.


Using a library of activities, the software enables users to define resources and construct a schedule of activities using a Time and Distance diagram showing task interdependences. Users can make ongoing changes and produce multiple variants of the plan. A costing function can provide an accurate view of the financial impact of the work.  The simulation work plan can be viewed in its Time and Distance diagram form, on a track schematic and in the simulation window, in isolation or simultaneously.


While planning, the simulation automatically visualises the work in lifelike 3D form from any camera perspective, magnification and any speed. Unlike the conventional approach to computer modelling, the planning and simulation aspects of the software work together, so that outcomes  of the planning are represented immediately in the simulation. This shortens feedback loops which creates faster planning because stakeholders (engineers, designers and planners) are not reliant on computer-modelling specialists to see the implications of ongoing changes and updates to their plans.  Moreover, the resultant virtual representation of the work plan can be used to present work to senior management teams to build confidence in delivery or for public consultation to help reduce fears of disruption.


“This is different. You can see the plan and see how it will work. We have to deliver more for less as part of the railway upgrade plan and this is a planning package for now, that will take us into the future.” Steve Naybour, Head of Transformation, Network Rail South Alliance.

“Much faster planning – in the past it would take a full week to plan a weekend’s work. Today, it takes 4 hours.” Steve Naybour, Head of Transformation, Network Rail South Alliance. “

“Eliminate Waste - whereas we might have used 5 pieces of equipment for a job, we can often use 2 or 3 and with this package we can see and prove what will need in advance.” Stephen Kearney, Head of S&C, Network Rail South Alliance. (2016).

“We can see constraints of the site, and spot conflicts on-screen. We can even make last minute changes and still be confident they’ll work.” Roy Hickman, Programme Engineering Manager (2018).

“The models have assisted the delivery team in the preparation of core works and also had considerable health and safety benefits.” Basharat Mahfooz, Scheme Project Manager, Network Rail (2018).

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