NETWORK Rail is now using helicopters to inspect track for faults.

The vehicles are equipped with thermal imaging cameras allowing them to "identify the smallest of faults and inspect a wide area of infrastructure in a short space of time", the state-owned firm said.

The helicopter is capable of covering the route from London Waterloo to Weymouth station in around three hours, including hovering over equipment to capture thermal and high definition images.

Jason Bridges, chief operating officer, said: "We are using all of the tools at our disposal to improve performance across the south western rail network to provide a better railway for passengers – these new aerial surveys are a great example of this.

"Using this technique, as part of our Railway Upgrade Plan, we can identify and fix potential issues before they affect train services, complete thorough inspections of our infrastructure in a short space of time and improve safety for our people."

The firm said flights also reduce the need to send members of the workforce onto the track when trains are operating, improving safety.

A ‘fault spotter’ on the flight reviews the live footage and can feed information back to maintenance teams on the ground.

Jacqui Dey, operations and safety director for South Western Railway, said: "We welcome this new initiative by Network Rail. Anything that can prevent disruption to our network can only be of benefit to our customers."

Following a surveying flight on Monday, two faulty hook switches, which are used to isolate power to the conductor rail, were inspected as part of an overnight railway possession last night (Wednesday), avoiding any impact on the operational railway.

The surveying will be carried out approximately every four weeks.