Digital Twin for Delivering High-speed Rail Project in Italy

Italferr, an Italian State Railways Group engineering firm, used point cloud data from LiDAR with BIM to create a Digital Twin model of the entire high-speed rail project on the Napoli-Bari rail route.

The high-speed rail project on the Napoli-Bari rail route is part of the Italian government’s ‘unlock Italy’ strategy, which includes various infrastructure initiatives for socio-economic development. This rail project runs through the length of the country from Napoli to port Bari on the Adriatic Sea, cutting down the journey time by nearly two hours. This project section is part of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) program for sustainable transport, which aims to:

  • shift 50% of the road traffic to rail mode by 2050, and
  • reduce 60% of transport emissions by connecting railways to the main seaports in Europe.

New railway lines will be established on this rail route and the existing rail link between the Tyrrhenean and Adriatic mainlines will be upgraded. Being a highly complex stretch, the existing rail route is confronted with challenging geology and slope movements. The project is slated to be completed in different phases, based on the sections allotted to different consortiums. After the expected completion in 2022 of certain sections, and the full completion of the rail route by 2027, TEN-T will commission other similar projects for sustainable modes of transportation.

Project brief

The railway line between Italy’s two major cities Napoli and Bari is a section of the Scandinavian-Mediterranean TEN-T corridor. The Napoli-Bari rail route modernization project is made up of two major components ─ an upgrade of the existing line and construction of a new railway section. The existing stretch of the route has a single track, with design speeds limited to 100-130 kmph and a maximum load handling capacity of 20 tons/axle.

The modernized section will have a mixed railway traffic line comprising both passenger and freight movement. The project is primarily expected to improve the rail services between the less developed regions on this stretch, namely, Campania and Puglia in Southern Italy, and provide intermodal transportation in the region. The project is broadly divided into the following sections:

  • 5km long Naples to Cancello stretch, covering the Casoria, Casalnuovo, Afragola, Caivano, and Acerra areas.
  • 16km Cancello to Frasso Telesino section
  • 30km Frasso Telesino to Vitulano section
  • 4km Apice to Orsara section
  • Orsara to Bovino section
  • Caserta to Foggia section

Construction works

The following sections ─ Cancello to Frasso Telesino, Frasso Telesino to Vitulano, Apice to Orsara, Caserta to Foggia, and Orsara to Bovino ─ are earmarked to be expanded to two-track. Also, a new section that will replace an existing line of 15.5 km is being constructed between Naples Central station and Cancello. An upgrade to the existing railway line across other sections will have features based on higher technical standards, doubling the current single lane tracks and increasing the existing design speed to 200 km/h.

The 150 km stretch of the high speed (HS)/high capacity (HC) railway line will have three stations, namely the Apice stop, Hirpinia station, and the Orsara station. This stretch passes through an underground tunnel, before transitioning to an open-air section that stands on reinforced concrete viaduct structures.

The new high-speed railway line is expected to reduce the journey time between Italy’s two major cities (Napoli and Bari) by 1 hour and 40 minutes. The new line is also expected to shorten travel times by fostering a modal shift from road to rail, as well as lower vehicle operating costs and deliver safety and environmental benefits. As a result, the initiative will help promote public transportation, improve sustainable transportation, lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and combat climate change in accordance with EU goals. The railway construction is expected to create nearly 2,000 jobs, thus having a positive social impact.


Some of the major challenges on the Napoli-Bari route are hazardous terrain, complicated tunnel configurations, and complex geology. The railway route crosses the Apennine Mountains, one of Italy’s primary mountain ranges, which is mostly made up of varied soil and rock masses with a high degree of complexity due to their depositional and tectonic history. Also, the process of overcoming the above challenges has resulted in the accumulation of huge amounts of significant project data, which has been shared across multidisciplinary teams. This has required streamlining the workflows and increasing data coordination between stakeholders.

Optimizing Workflow Efficiency with Real-time Information from Project Site

BIM workflows for integrated lifecycle solutions

Starting from the planning and design stage, Italferr developed a Digital Terrain model by post-processing the Point Cloud data from the LiDAR survey. This helped evaluate different route alternatives, while also assisting with hydraulic analysis, geotechnical analysis, environmental analysis, and supporting archaeological investigations.

An efficient design and build process was created using Bentley’s lifecycle BIM methodology. Additionally, a digital component library was developed with 3D models for each engineering discipline. The presence of multidisciplinary teams and varied stakeholders led the team at Italferr to establish a Connected Data Environment (CDE) with reality modeling. The use of CDE with OpenBuildings Designer enabled the creation of a single federated digital model of the entire stretch. This facilitated an easier information exchange and enabled the team to increase project sustainability and design quality, accelerate decision-making, and reduce the effects of design modifications.

Technological benefits

The overall modeling time was significantly reduced through dynamic modeling and creation of a digital BIM library of 1,500 parametric components. The use of digital 3D BIM solutions reduced the design and maintenance costs by 35% on the Irpinia-Orsara section. This eventually led to the team creating a Digital Twin model, which evolved throughout the construction stage. Also, clash detection was monitored using Bentley Navigator, which helped optimize design review, thereby reducing time and cost during construction.

Value-proposition of using digital technology

The use of BIM and reality modeling solutions in the project has helped save time and costs, besides achieving sustainability goals. The project has a defined methodology for calculation of carbon footprint, the lifecycle assessment of railway infrastructure, and for determining the environmental sustainability of the project (envision protocol).

Overall, the BIM library has improved through integration of nearly 1500 geometric objects in parametric design, and nearly 50 specialist BIM models have been connected to a single federated railway model (iModel). The team was able to use the LiDAR survey to create a Digital Terrain model, which was later integrated with the federated model. This has resulted in the efficient management of the project workflow, better coordination between various stakeholders, the ability to help identify various conflicts in the initial stages, and allocation of resources in an efficient manner.

Project Facts
Project Length 150 km
Project Cost USD 7.55 billion (EUR 6.2 billion)
Location Italy
Expected Completion 2027
Owner Rete Ferroviaria Italiana (RFI)
Tender Design Contractor Systematica
Commissioning Authority ITALFERR S.p.A.
Design & Construction Contractor –  Salini Impregilo and Astaldi, – D’Agostino Angelo Antonio Costruzioni Generali, – Ghella – Itinera – Coget Impianti – Salcef Group

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