Updated: Dec 31, 2019
The industrial “internet of things” has had a major impact on the transportation industry, with the advent of autonomous vehicles and improved cargo management. One area that has seen less coverage is the connected railway. The fact that trains operate at such high speeds through tunnels and extreme weather conditions, presents real challenges when it comes to deploying IoT systems. But advances in networking have made smart trains a possibility, and one that could provide significant benefits when transporting goods, providing comfort for passengers and increasing operators’ return on investments.
Safety is a key area of concentration
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 Signalling 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.
A train that suddenly breaks down on the track can ruin the day of its passengers, lead to delays across the network, and essentially throw the entire system off-gear. However, recent developments in preventive maintenance practices prompted by IoT have helped to revive the reliability of even the oldest assets. By integrating IoT sensors crucial components like brakes, wheel sets, and engines, trains become more sensitive to their operations for more efficiency.
Maintenance of rail tracks also benefits from IoT. By deploying sensors across track systems, operators can be on top of track stress and conditions, temperatures, and other variables that have predictive values for maintenance teams. If problems with wagons and tracks can be identified proactively, the operators can take preemptive actions for safer operations.
Cost and Time Effective
Undesirable downtime due to sudden repairs can soon be a thing of the past for the railways. Predictive and preventive maintenance is feasible and more effective in the IoT era. Smart sensors and analytics across the train engine, coaches, and tracks allow rail systems to be remotely checked and repaired before a small issue magnifies into huge trouble. Asset health monitoring through IoT insights implies less of maintenance delays and helps in extending the life of rail infrastructure.
Advanced Analytics for Streamlined Operations
The operators can control their trains more efficiently by tracking them across networks and processing the data using analytics. Some companies also employ IoT to check the flow of passengers—those waiting at the stations, travelling in each train coach, and the times when the passenger flow is the highest. Analytics on such data can guide operators on optimization of travel schedules as per commuters’ needs and demands.
Weather also affects rail system in a region. It can impact the condition of rolling stock and its regular operations. The IoT savvy operators have started to incorporate predictive weather modelling in their operations to be ready for and avoid service interruptions caused by adverse weather conditions.
Optimized Passenger Experience
Consumers have fast adapted to digitization in the retail and banking space. The transport industry, including rail companies, is also transforming to meet passenger expectations with superior services. They offer e-tickets, scheduling information, and other solutions to travelers via smart phones and emails.
IoT can help take this experience a step ahead. It can help operators personalize the travel experience for individual passengers. For instance, services can be priced differently for different travelers as per the frequency of their traveling. Rail operators can enjoy greater passenger loyalty using IoT systems to understand customer experience history and make improvements for a more comfortable and convenient journey.
Few other Applications to improve customer experience
The automation of toilets can significantly reduce the cost incurred by the train operator and, at the same time, provide a better service to passengers who will less likely find a toilet out of order. Currently, most train operators are unable to determine the status of the on-board toilets in real time and a significant amount of manual checking is required.
Management of the video recordings on board
Many rail operators have to send personnel on board their trains to manually pick up the hard drive when video recordings are requested by a law enforcement agency for investigation of an incident.
Food and drinks can be easily refilled at the upcoming station if data is available in real time regarding the items sold.
Temperature can be remotely controlled to avoid issues with refrigerators that might not be working at all times but whose temperature is critical to preserve the food quality over time.
Predictive and preventive maintenance can dramatically increase the percentage of times a train is in use rather than sitting in a maintenance or repair shop, and also improve the passenger experience and safety
Better Product Development in the Industry
Rugged Board and operators can leverage IoT not only for better operations with the given infrastructure but also in the manufacturing processes of locomotives, wagons and train coaches. Conventional engineering solutions were not devised to support systems of systems. There can be delays and constraints in production when the process entails developing a requirements definition and then following it up with design, build, and tests. The actual feedback on product quality comes only later through sales and buyers’ complaints.