In July 2021, STRABAG used STARS-Track for the first time. The futuristic name stands for STRABAG Adjusting Robotic Slab – and track. It describes a prototype of an automated track support plate trolley, which is in use on a ÖBB high-speed line in Carinthia. On 2 x 8 kilometres of track, slabs are being laid for a solid track, as the typical ballast beds for tracks cannot be built for high-speed trains. Similar to a roadway, the tracks then lie on concrete slabs. To ensure that the connections merge seamlessly, the tracks between the sections have to be aligned very meticulously. Until now, the rails have been adjusted by hand with millimetre precision, using so-called track support plate carts. A team of four painstakingly brings the tracks to the perfect height. This process is repeated slab by slab on sometimes kilometre-long stretches of track.
The track support plate trolley, that Thomas Jantschitsch and his team from the STRABAG Civil Engineering Division came up with, has sensors that can be used to precisely measure the surroundings and position of the tracks. With small electric motors and screw threads, the trolley automatically aligns the laid tracks. Instead of four people, only one is needed to sit on board and supervise the process. Continuous surveying is not necessary; the machine orientates itself.
The surveying system is based on a theodolite. The device is enthroned high up on the driver’s cab of the wagon, like an artificial captain, and correlates the target data from the model with the actual data from the sensors. With the electric motors, the track heights are balanced via the screw thread so that the tracks are perfectly in line on all panels.
The prototype was developed in just one year together with EMH Automatisierungs GmbH, a small company for special machine construction in Austria. Also on the team were surveyor Johann Gaugl, Managing Director of the surveying department of DIR IC, STRABAG AG Austria, and external IT professional Siegfried Kraupp.
The test runs in real operation delivered good results and have advanced the development. In the meantime, the track support plate trolley is being used in day-to-day operations. The difficulty often still lies in the mindset of the people involved. They have to learn to trust the technology. The potential of his development is seen as huge, given that more and more high-speed lines are being built worldwide.