SenSat | Innovating Early Stage Infrastructure Design


Innovating Early Stage Infrastructure Design 



To support WSP and Network Rail in developing feasibility and early stage

designs for the Ely Area Capacity Enhancement programme, SenSat have created a highly accurate digital replica of the 16 km² site. 

Kirsten Ingeneeger

05.06.2019 // 5 minute read

Appointed to undertake the GRIP 2 and GRIP 3 design for the Ely Area Capacity Enhancement (EACE) programme, WSP worked with SenSat to introduce a novel technological solution to Network Rail, innovating the design phase and avoiding the delay of the programme.  


The EACE programme itself aims to boost capacity, performance and timetable flexibility within the Ely area for passenger and rail freight. It will de-conflict the most complex areas of the Ely North Junction and Ely Dock Junction in Cambridgeshire, improve level crossing safety along the line of route, and upgrade the rail infrastructure.


To support early-stage design, Network Rail and WSP needed highly accurate survey data of a large area composed of a complicated combination of rail, road, crossings, greenfield and urban areas.

The Project and Challenges

Using a traditional topographical survey method (i.e. using a total station/laser scanning) to digitise the 16km² site could take up to five months. This would be far too time-consuming and risk delay to the EACE programme. Most UAV survey solutions, while being less time consuming and costly, would still be subject to a potentially 12-week approval process for Network Rail site access and approval.

The area also had constant traffic both on the roads and live rail, making some areas extremely hard and dangerous to access without disrupting ground activities. Moreover, some areas were completely inaccessible due to lack of landowner permissions.

Lastly, it was crucial to ascertain the impact on views from Ely Cathedral for designs and changes in the landscape.

The Solution

SenSat’s UAV capabilities removed the need for Network Rail track access approval, and brought the added benefit of removing the serious risk associated with putting workers on the ground in a live railway environment. The captured UAV data included 2.1 billion data points and 16,000 images, which were captured, processed and quality assured in 2 weeks.

As well as reducing the time to conduct the survey from 5 months down to a few weeks, it was a third of the cost of a traditional survey using a total station/laser scanning.


The visualisations SenSat have created (including point cloud, DTM, orthomosaic, and 3D mesh) and integrated into its cloud-based platform Mapp® go above and beyond the client’s initial objectives for the survey, and can be used with CAD and BIM to provide an incredibly detailed and versatile digital environment. This has added a great deal of value to Network Rail in terms of stakeholder engagement. For example, they can overlay a 3D render from any part of the survey area with a track design to give stakeholders, such as the Cambridgeshire County Council, local landowners and Network Rail, a highly visual way of determining access issues.

The Benefits 


More accessible: The digital simulation of the 16 km² site - the largest SenSat have digitised to date - is available 24/7 through SenSat’s cloud-based platform Mapp®. This provides digital access to a wide base of stakeholders using any computer, smart device or tablet. It also ensures the large amounts of data are instantly and widely useable across the team, without the need to invest in expensive hardware or software licences.

Faster: A traditional topographical survey would have taken up to five months. It would have involved a 12-week track access approval period, 12 weeks to capture the data and four weeks for processing. SenSat captured, processed and quality assured the data in 2 weeks.

Moving Forward


This was the first time SenSat’s UAV capabilities and its cloud-based application Mapp® has been applied by Network Rail; it’s success on EACE provides a useful blueprint for other rail projects in the UK to help save cost, time and even lives.  


The project’s success also shows how important it is for the rail industry to consider adopting new technology to solve old problems.

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Obtaining track access approval can be very time consuming and jeopardise programme delivery, so to completely circumvent its need in the early design stage is not only sensible from a delivery perspective, but also from a cost and safety perspective.


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