Delays and disruption to the rail network as a result of failures and unplanned maintenance work can have a significant impact on the economy. Detecting damage to the track in real time, before it is able to propagate, is therefore vitally important to ensure the smooth running of the network. To this end, researchers at the Universities of Exeter and Birmingham are working with Network Rail on an EPSRC-funded project to develop a self-powered, wide-area track condition monitoring system for the railways. The system, which will harvest energy from vibration to the rails caused by trains passing along the line, will dramatically improve maintenance efficiencies, and significantly reduce the cost of managing the UK's railway infrastructure, according to the researchers. Sensors embedded into the track itself would allow operators to predict faults forming anywhere on the network before they become a problem. Since the system will not need mains power or batteries for its energy supply, it will eliminate the cost of cabling and battery replacement. The system will consist of accelerometers, strain gauges, and acoustic emission sensors, which will measure track deflection, vibration and interactions between the rail and train wheels. The embedded sensors will be wirelessly connected to an operation and management centre, equipped with automated data processing software designed to detect signs of damage to the track.