There are few areas of the rail industry yet to be touched by technology. For operators, suppliers, and passengers alike, the increased application of technology has brought much-needed improvements.
From more reliable rolling stock and predictable maintenance programmes to advanced journey planning and ticketless travel, the accessibility of modern technology becomes more widespread. As the number of developers rise and the requirement from the transportation sector for more tech increases alongside it, progress seems to be only going in one way.
But it’s not just infrastructure, maintenance, and ticketing where those improvements can be felt – cutting-edge solutions are bringing noticeable upgrades to safety, too. Here’s some of the latest approaches applied in different countries around the world which are helping to create safer and more secure rail networks across the globe.
Using the latest technology to help see an end to derailments, Canadian Pacific (CP) railway recently released details of a series of technology-enabled measures that it will introduce to make its rolling stock and network safer. Among the biggest is a detection system that uses a series of electromagnetic sensors to detect flaws in metal, then relays their exact locations to maintenance crews so they can be repaired before exacerbation leads to cracks or fractures. Planned for roll out in 2020, the system aims to prevent the kind of accidents like the derailments in Banff, Canada and the border of Minnesota earlier in the year, which reportedly came about as a direct result of broken rails,
On the other side of the pond, Network Rail – the manager of much of UK’s network – is continuing its pursuit of making journeys safer with a process that increases its ability to monitor, inspect, and fix track faults. Using a fleet of five state-of-the-art trains that can take 70,000 images a second while travelling at 125mph, their latest track inspection system will be able to cover nearly one million miles of track by 2024.
For those working on the front line of the rail industry and dealing directly with passengers, it’s a sad fact of life that they also have to sometimes deal with abuse from the very people they are paid to serve. Deutsche Bahn recognised the need to increase security for their workers in 2016 as a result of a 10% spike in incidents on the previous year, and equipped its workforce with body cameras as part of a €160 million security initiative to protect staff and customers.
More recently, the UK’s Virgin Trains – which is unfortunately losing its franchise at the end of the year – has also taken on the practice and introduced 275 body cams across its network to help act as a deterrent and secure convictions. The train operator said that incidents of threatening behaviour against its staff fell over 50% as a result of introducing the technology. More importantly, the body-worn cameras create a direct link with the British Transport Police which makes staff happier, with around 90% of them saying that they felt safer when wearing the devices.
In the other side of globe, Australian freight company Aurizon is focusing on level crossings by creating a series of eye-catching and informative videos. Targeting communities living near crossing and reaching over 14,000 primary school pupils, the educational approach aims to raise awareness and deliver a clear rail safety message to keep everyone safe.
In the UK, the director of rail for Costain, Ian Parker, told us last year they were developing a system to save lives at unguarded pedestrian level crossings. Known as Meerkat, the system draws on the extensive experience that the engineering company has gained on the road. “It’s a fully automated, self-sufficient solution that detects approaching trains and warns pedestrians using visual and audible signals,” Parker told us. “It’s a simple but effective solution that we hope to have in service within a year across the whole rail network.”
Still in the UK, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) – the government’s security department – announced in 2018 that it was looking to retrain veterans who have returned from service in cybersecurity. Known as TechVets, the programme is designed for helping the nation’s fight against cybercrime – something that can be relevant to the transportation sector, given the growing threat of digital attacks against operators and infrastructure.
Meanwhile in Israel, a country that has been the breeding ground for a growing number of transport-focused tech start-ups focused on fighting cybercrime like Cylus, the government has introduced a cybersecurity centre with the specific aim of mitigating attacks against its rail network. According to media in the country, more than 10 million hacking attempts are blocked every single month.
Lastly, French transport specialist Thales is following a similar path in Wales. The company opened a £30 million cyber centre, set up in collaboration with a local university, that could prove valuable to the UK rail industry. Designed as a base for “ground-breaking research”, the facility aims to provide SMEs and microbusinesses the opportunity to test and develop their digital concepts. Given the role technology is continuously playing in modern life, these kind of initatives are becoming the norm instead of the exception.