Rail track fault-detection systems, MERMEC Group, Italy

Research and innovation in railway technology: increasing safety, security, reliability and comfort.

Total project cost:

EUR 73.1 million;

EIB loan: up to EUR 30 million, EFSI guarantee;

EU grant support: EUR 5.25 million.

Sometimes, people see Europe’s railways as just a useful service: not very exciting, maybe a little old fashioned, but good for the environment. The rails and rolling stock don’t appear to have changed much over the years. However, appearances can be deceptive. Modern rail systems are being revolutionised by the application of cutting-edge technologies to make them safer, more reliable, more predictable and more efficient. The project with MERMEC Group illustrates this perfectly. The company was originally established as Meridionale Meccanica over 30 years ago, to manufacture railway maintenance vehicles. In the 1990s, in collaboration with the Italian Research Institute, it started to develop an opto-electronic system to detect the condition of the tracks. Since then it has developed its expertise to become a leading provider of technology to the rail industry worldwide. MERMEC is R&D-led, investing the same proportion of its turnover in R&D as companies like Microsoft, and much more than many aerospace companies. The company’s current products make extensive use of contactless measuring systems, video tracking and high-speed processing to identify potential safety issues at the train’s full speed and track potential problems over time, long before they would have been identified by traditional inspection systems.

The company is also developing products for the wider rail system. One example is the use of three-dimensional video systems to identify the presence on the track of animals, people and other objects which might be at risk or pose a potential threat to the trains, and their passengers and staff.

The policy benefits of this project are clear. It is fully in line with the EU’s R&D Horizon 2020 strategy, and the creation of high-quality jobs in Puglia supports the Union’s Convergence objectives. MERMEC is also an active member of the EU’s SHIFT2RAIL research and development initiative. Without the support of the Bank, there is a risk that the rail industry, and society as a whole, would not gain the safety and security benefits that this research and development project will bring. The combination of an EIB loan and the EFSI guarantee will not only make it easier for the company to access commercial financial sector resources to fund the company’s growth, it will make travel safer and more secure for all.