June 14, 2023 - Ecopia AI (Ecopia) and Airbus have today announced a partnership to provide Great Britain's leading railway owner, Network Rail, with high-precision land use change data for mapping and geospatial analysis. The initiative is part of the demonstration project land use change identification (LUCI) for rail programme supported by ESA Business Applications and Space Solutions, and aims to provide Network Rail with the geospatial data needed to understand the ever-changing environment and its impact on railway infrastructure.
The LUCI project has been supported by the Network Rail Technical Authority R&D team who have facilitated the successful collaboration between Network Rail Buildings & Civils teams representing Geotechnics, Lineside, Drainage, Asset Protection, and Mining.
As the leading railway owner in Great Britain, Network Rail is responsible for 20,000+ miles of track in England, Scotland, and Wales. They also own, repair, and develop the 30,000+ bridges, tunnels, and viaducts in the region, as well as thousands of signals, level crossings and stations. Network Rail’s main objective is to run a safe, reliable and efficient railway that serves their customers and community while contributing to sustainability goals for a greener, cleaner future.
Visualizing and analyzing the land adjacent to railway infrastructure is a key component of developing and maintaining networks. Both large and small scale land use changes can have serious and potentially dangerous implications for railway networks; geospatial data can identify these risks, enabling operators to understand the effects and develop sustainable solutions. For example, if land adjacent to a railway has been recently developed and now contains more impervious surfaces, the area may be at increased risk of flooding. This flood risk could derail the tracks, putting lives in danger. By leveraging geospatial data, railway organizations have the operational tools to stay on top of these changes in land use and develop plans to ensure the safety and sustainability of their networks, their employees and the citizens they serve.
While many railway operators around the world utilize geospatial data to monitor and analyze land use, Network Rail is leading the industry in its implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) -powered insights. In a dynamically changing world, maintaining an up-to-date database of land use is often a challenge for rail networks looking to detect changes in the environment. Data can quickly become stale and obsolete if not updated frequently, but manually analyzing and digitizing geospatial imagery is a resource-intensive process - especially across Network Rail’s extensive railway system.
To provide Network Rail with the data they need to create and maintain safe and sustainable railway infrastructure in Great Britain, Ecopia and Airbus combined their expertise and developed a new solution for monitoring land use change. At a high level, the process involves ingesting ESA and Airbus’ satellite imagery into Ecopia’s AI-based mapping systems to extract high-precision building and road data, and subsequently detect change. The resulting data, combined with other land cover features provided by Airbus, is then delivered to Network Rail via an API so they can perform their own geospatial analysis and reporting.