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The digital twin

The "Digital twin" programme is one of the major campaigns launched in-house by the Engineering & Projects (I & P) and Innovation Divisions. The aim is to optimise project design, service portfolio content and production functions.

A technological innovation with multiple applications to enter service by 2024

Like the ghost in video games, a digital twin is the virtual reproduction of a system as it really exists and not as it would be in an ideal world. NASA was the first to apply this principle to its industrial requirements for the Apollo mission. The technique is also widely used in the aerospace industry. SNCF Réseau is aiming to have it in service by 2024.

"The (rail) sector has taken inspiration from the aeronautics industry, a precursor in the field, particularly with the digital twins used for reactors to factor in the whole of their lifecycle operating history."

Pierre Cresci, Cabinet Oliver Wyman


Models for a better grasp of reality

A digital twin is a 3D model (or Building Information Modelling [BIM] system) that enables users such as SNCF Réseau to project how infrastructure will perform in the future by predicting incidents, wear and tear or the effects of particular phenomena on the whole or a particular part of the system.

Digital twins tap into real information systems and therefore produce and consume large volumes of data. They have the capacity to ensure the digital consistency of all the data exchanged over the entire lifecycle of a given network component. As a new feature of system and structure design tools and methods, they are also able to make accurate predictions with regard to current and future network capacity.

Impact on the railway profession

BIM is synonymous with radical changes in the railway world. The different departments are forced to work together in unprecedented fashion, each having to understand and make allowance for the other. Operatives have to develop stereoscopic vision. Digital twins are not just 3D systems but a technique for offering a complete, comprehensive and real-time system vision. They simplify interaction between projects and can be used to flag up potential conflicts between different infrastructure objects.

"BIM is about to become the instrument for infrastructure lifecycle management, the go-to solution for designers, builders, maintainers and operators." 

Claude Solard, Deputy CEO, Industrial Performance and Innovation


Strategy: from preventive to predictive

With its digital twin, SNCF Réseau will be in a position to replace parts before their defects begin to show or before a failure actually occurs. Each individual part has a digital footprint that explains its behaviour in practice and has the scope and scale to predict how it will be behave in future.

The true advantage of digital technology lies in its ability to anticipate future developments. Whatever the level of infrastructure maintenance or decision-making, digital twins are an ideal ally for test-driving solutions and observing outcomes before embarking on applications. A quick tweak and the best approach can be put into use on the actual network.


Points to remember

  • Predicting failures, training staff, optimising individual performance, developing an IoT* culture: digital twins have a multiplicity of potential applications.
  • SNCF Réseau is developing a digital mock-up of its network to provide valuable input for scheduling predictive maintenance operations, foresee behaviour, train teams and test-drive strategic solutions.
  • The digital twin is one of the many projects in hand at SNCF Réseau to meet its high-performance goals.


* IoT (or the Internet of Things) consists of using connected objects able to capture and transmit data via Internet or other technologies for processing or use with other data. Connected objects (train, rail, overhead line, etc.) can interact via sensors that measure such things as temperature, speed, humidity, vibrations, etc.

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