Transport for London awards first long-term drone license for infrastructure surveys


Maintenance specialist Lanes Rail, part of one of the UK’s leading wastewater and drainage systems providers, Lanes Group plc, has become the first contractor to win long-term Transport for London (TfL) approval to use drones to carry out asset surveys.

Following an intensive 12-month testing and approval process, Lanes Rail can now use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones during its extensive maintenance work for TfL. By using drones, Lanes Rail expects to improve data gathering, speed up the surveying process, enhance safety, reduce the risk of operational disruption, and cut surveying costs.

Lanes Rail is responsible for maintaining and repairing a wide range of assets across the London Underground network on behalf of TfL, including above-ground routes, track drainage, station buildings, bridges, power sites and engineering depots.

Although Lanes’s drones will initially be used on TfL’s rail assets, the move paves the way for the agency to award similar licenses for road inspections and other transportation infrastructure surveys on its network. Drones are increasingly being used to carry out structural and topographical surveys across the UK. For the technology to be formally approved by TfL, Lanes Rail had to show that it met all TfL’s stringent safety, security, and operational quality standards.

Lanes Rail’s drone survey team, part of the group’s professional services division, which already had a Civil Aviation Authority UAV license in place, had to demonstrate the equipment had electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) with live rail and signaling systems, and that a procedure was in place to alert transport staff and the public that a drone was being flown by a TfL contractor.

“Using drones, combined with advanced imaging and analytical technology, will deliver significant service and sustainability benefits for us, for TfL, and for the travelling public in London,” noted Lanes Rail director Matthew Todd. “We have led the way in trialing the use of drones to survey structures for London Underground. Now we’re the first contractor to obtain formal long-term license approval for their use from TfL, which opens up exciting opportunities.”

Todd continued, “In essence, we had to go through a very detailed and structured process of answering every conceivable ‘what if’ question. We had to demonstrate that our drones would be safe to fly within the defined operational envelope set for them, that we were competent to use them, and that we had procedures in place to manage any foreseeable circumstance involving TfL staff and its customers.”

Andrew McQueen, head of Lanes Professional Services, commented, “Being able to carry out UAV surveys is a major step forward, especially for working on public transport assets that need to be in continuous operation. As data gathering becomes integrated into ever more sophisticated real-time asset control systems, supported by technologies such as big data analysis and artificial intelligence, drones will really come into their own to improve the quality, safety, and cost-effectiveness of our built environments.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).