Predictive maintenance using tree-based classification techniques: A case of railway switches

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - rail, infrastructure - maintainance, planning - methods


Predictive maintenance, Decision support, Machine learning, Railway infrastructure, Data-driven, Switches and crossings, Classification, LIME


With growing service demands, rapid deterioration due to extensive usage, and limited maintenance due to budget cuts, the railway infrastructure is in a critical state and require continuous maintenance. The infrastructure managers have to come up with smart maintenance decisions in order to improve the assets’ condition, spend optimal cost and keep the network available. Currently, the infrastructure managers lack the tools and decision support models that could assist them in taking (un) planned maintenance decisions effectively and efficiently. Recently, many literature studies have proposed to employ the machine learning techniques to estimate the performance state of an asset, predict the maintenance need, possible failure modes, and such similar aspects in advance. Most of these studies have utilised additional data collection measures to record the assets’ behaviour. Though useful for experimentation, it is expensive and impractical to mount monitoring devices on multiple assets across the network. Therefore, the objective of this study is to develop predictive models that utilise existing data from a railway agency and yield interpretable results. We propose to leverage the tree-based classification techniques of machine learning in order to predict maintenance need, activity type and trigger’s status of railway switches. Using the data from an in-use business process, predictive models based on the decision tree, random forest, and gradient boosted trees are developed. Moreover, to facilitate in models interpretability, we provided a detail explanation of models’ predictions by features importance analysis and instance level details. Our solution approach of predictive models development and their results explanation have wider applicability and can be used for other asset types and different (maintenance) planning scenarios.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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