Travel and transportation

Smart trains and the connected railway


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The Industrial Internet of Things has had a major impact on the transportation industry with the advent of innovations like autonomous vehicles and improved cargo management.

Source: Trainfart/Youtube

Source: Trainfart/Youtube

Rail has employed IoT for a while, though trains operating at such high speeds through tunnels and extreme weather conditions has presented challenges when it comes to deploying IoT systems. Fortunately, advances in networking have made smart trains a reality. Great new IoT use cases are possible to further improve operational efficiency, passenger experience and the operators’ return on investments.

Legacy infrastructure is gradually being replaced by train management systems in which trains become interconnected communication hubs, transmitting data among themselves and to network control centers and receiving instructions from control centers. Machine-to-machine communication, with some help from the cloud, enables operators to use equipment, tracks and stations more efficiently while dramatically reducing safety risks, according to Eurotech, a provider of embedded boards and systems.

Here are several potential use cases presented by Eurotech for using IoT to create a connected railway:

  • A journey planner application could recommend the fastest or most comfortable current trip, allowing for road conditions to the station, live train times, available car parking capacities, passenger loading, etc. Passengers would be able to make informed choices about what would provide them with the best experience according to their personal circumstances. For example, is it more important to have the shortest journey time or to be guaranteed a seat? The inclusion of historic data would enable evaluation for current trips as well as for future trips in a predictive way, based upon what is normal for the planned travel day and time.
  • Social networking apps could be used in conjunction with passenger loading information from trains to help spread demand peaks. The same base of information could be shared at a terminal to help passengers select the destination platform efficiently, considering the loadings of other inbound trains. Sharing the same information on the train could enable a more even distribution of passengers within the carriages, potentially allowing standing passengers to find a seat.
  • Status information from diverse on-board public-facing assets, such as toilets, food car chillers and ovens could be presented to service organizations along with current positional information, so the customer experience would improve while reducing the penalty costs associated with having these assets out of service.
  • Intelligent closed-circuit TV cameras would not only provide a record of events in case of an incident, they would actively provide real-time alarms for potential problems, allowing for more timely intervention responses and potentially reducing service outages.
  • Information about categorization of faults could be analyzed across multiple assets, even multiple operators, to spot trends and identify areas for preventative maintenance.

Safety is a key area of concentration

Train in construction

Source: findlaypublishing/Youtube

Safety is, of course, a primary element of IoT applications and solutions when it comes to train management. One safety use case is on-board train location and detection systems that enable trains to be “aware” of the positions of other trains. This reduces the risk of collisions while allowing trains to operate safely in close proximity to one another.

Speed monitoring and control is another important safety application. Systems have been developed that can display train velocity for drivers and report speeds back to central control systems. On-board monitoring systems are interconnected with outdoor signaling systems that can regulate train speeds, or even remotely command trains to stop based on track conditions, the positions of switches, the presence of other trains on the track and other factors, according to Eurotech.

Umberto Malesci, CEO of Fluidmesh Networks, wrote in a LinkedIn post that there are three major systems within railroads that will significantly benefit from automation and the IoT: signaling, interlocking and level crossings control.

Signaling systems control the movement of a train by remotely adjusting train speed and braking. More traditional signaling systems are based on radio-frequency identification along the train track, but wireless train to ground signaling is getting more and more common in both railroad and metro systems, according to Malesci. He said most of the new European high-speed railroads are equipped with European Train Control System level 2, which is a signaling standard that requires constant radio communication between the train and the group.

A silver train

Source: fromtokio/Youtube

Interlocking avoids conflicting movements on the tracks at junctions and crossings by using red and green light signals. The interlocking system works in conjunction with the signaling system to prevent a train from getting a signal to proceed if the route is proven to be unsafe. The IoT can further improve the system’s level of automation and its integration with the signaling system.

Level crossings control is the third system that impacts safety on railroads. According to the European Railway Agency, 619 accidents occurred at level crossings in 2010, causing 359 fatalities in the European Union that year; 2009 stats show 831 level crossings-related accidents caused 405 fatalities that year. Accidents related to level crossings represent 30% of all railway fatalities in the EU. IoT can help decrease those statistics by deploying cameras and sensors for increased safety.

Many more use cases

Beyond safety, Malesci gives a number of use cases where the Internet of Things enhances the operational efficiency of railways.

Train interior

Source: The Japan Times/Youtube

  • The automation of toilets could significantly reduce costs incurred by train operators, and at the same time, provide a better service to passengers who will be less likely find a toilet out of order. Currently, most train operators cannot determine the status of the on-board toilets in real time, and a significant amount of manual checking is required.
  • On-board video recordings could be more easily managed. Many rail operators must send personnel aboard their trains to manually pick up hard drives when law enforcement agencies request video recordings for incident investigations.
  • Food and drinks could be easily refilled at the upcoming station if inventory data is available in real time.
  • Temperature could be remotely controlled to avoid issues with refrigerators that might not be in use at all times, but whose temperature is critical to preserve food quality over time.
  • Predictive and preventive maintenance could dramatically increase the percentage of times a train is in use, rather than sitting in a maintenance or repair shop, and also improve passenger experience and safety.

According to a recent report by Cisco,  almost $30 billion will be spent in the next 15 years on IoT projects in the railway industry.

This article originally appeared on RCRWireless.

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