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Bechtel’s Impact Report

The potential of digital twins in the rail industry

  • By
    portrait of Misha Nikulin
    Misha Nikulin, Head of Innovation, Project Innovation & Information Management (PIIM)
  • 20 April 2021
     2 Min Read

Understanding the digital twin values and requirements for a particular industry is key to impactful implementation and deployment. Large rail projects are characterised by complexity and a need for integrating operational efficiency requirements. Multiple stakeholders, balancing project delivery and daily operations, and constantly evolving technology can lead to unforeseen challenges. Engineering, procurement, and construction partners must do all we can to help customers achieve the highest possible degree of certainty with a clear focus on their priorities.

Accelerating progress with digital twins: An opportunity

Innovate UK, together with Department for Transportation (DfT), recognise the need to accelerate the adoption of emerging technologies to deliver more for less on complex public infrastructure programmes. Earlier this year, they launched a funding competition providing the rail industry an opportunity to show how innovative thinking can and will drive huge improvements and better social outcomes on megaprojects.

As part of this competition, Bechtel proposed to work with the High Speed 2 rail team to establish the requirements for an end-to-end digital twin for the rail industry that could be used as a baseline standard – in the UK and around the world. High Speed 2 is a state-of-the-art rail line being built in the UK that will provide much-needed rail capacity across the country, specifically in the North and Midlands.

How digital twins can help improve the customer experience and set new standards for the rail industry

Developing requirements for a digital twin for the rail industry, from early planning through operations and maintenance, can result in significant benefits – including increasing efficiency in the management, maintenance and operations of assets, reducing repair costs, and positively impacting customer experience. High Speed 2 believes this competition proposal has great potential to support their project as well as contribute a broader value to the rail industry.

The benefits of a digital twin for rail

An integrated digital twin can improve:

  • the consumer experience for people and rail passengers due to the enhanced operational capabilitiess. 
  • operational efficiency, including streamlining maintenance processes, optimizing costs, avoiding expensive retrofits, and improving repair time.
  • robustness and resiliency of assets and protocols, including enhanced safety, sustainability, and future-proofing of emerging technologies.
  • predictability with empirical methods and physical interfaces to reduce downtime and increase assets' utilization.

The interconnected nature of the digital twin capability bridges the requirements management, geographic information systems, and project information model elements defined throughout the project delivery stages, with the operational control and communication systems, sensors, cyber, and asset performance management components. Adding rich and intuitive visualizations, training, and simulation capabilities, empowered by artificial intelligence and analytics, provide a unique and integrated digital twin customer experience.

This new, integrated digital twin capability would continue to mature to help tackle operational scenarios and value proposition assumptions on future projects. Real-time status and accurate predictive operation and maintenance information will support better decision-making. It will also allow rail owners to focus on the simple outcomes that best serve their commuters and communities: operational efficiencies, passenger comfort and the environment.

 What is a digital twin

A digital twin can be defined in multiple ways, however, perhaps the most basic is as an interconnected realistic digital representation of its physical counterpart.

For assets across different industrial sectors or plant operators, my Bechtel colleagues have defined a digital twin as a digital model of a physical asset or system that captures the owner’s experiences during its lifecycle.  The digital twin platform can perform a variety of business applications that enable improved decision-making, as defined by the asset owner.

The concept of a digital twin has been around for more than a decade; however, there has been a renewed interest in the last few years now that technology elements have been commoditized and foundational platforms have matured. 



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