Smart Railways – How IoT is Transforming Train Travel and Operations

Sudeep Srivastava August 2, 2023

In the public transport system, the transformation in the rail network has been the most evident and innovative. Trains have transitioned from a stage where drivers used to have shift duties to drive the train from one station to another to now where they have become completely automated and driverless.

One of the biggest contributors of this revolution has been the connections provided by IoT in rails. With the introduction of the technology in the rail network, companies have started leveraging the advanced sensor abilities and data-backed insights from mediums like locomotives, train tracks, and platforms to lower the maintenance costs and ensure that the journey is secure, reliable, and seamless.

In this article, we are going to dive into the prominent role of the internet of things in railways and how the technology is being used by companies to get a competitive edge in the rail industry.

But before we move our dedicated focus on the different facets of IoT railways solutions, let us look into the other key technologies that are being combined with the IoT capabilities to transform the railway network.

Technology Combinations Powering Internet of Things in Rail Transportation

An IoT system, when integrated with next-gen technologies like automation, sensors, data analytics, etc. can lead to a situation where the entire rail network – from routes to in-train operations –  becomes efficient.

Automation and Connectivity

Intelligent automation system is being deployed in the network to track the passenger numbers, collect fare, and manage the train schedules in real time, making sure that the passenger journey is smooth. On the other hand, connectivity between systems on railway infrastructure, board trains, and operations ensure improved coordination between multiple locations and systems leading to minimal oversight.

[Also Read: AI and IoT: Two Powerful Entities That Will Change the Way You Do Business]

Sensor Technology

A direct impact of sensors can be seen in the correlation between connected trains and IoT. Sensors play a prominent role in improving network maintenance and security. Through them, companies can identify malfunctions and defects in infrastructure, equipments, enabling the maintenance teams to address those challenges before any accident or disruptions.

Cloud Computing

Cloud-based IoT solutions for railway systems enable companies to safely store massive amounts of data sets online instead of on-premise servers where they are open to hacks or malfunctions. The merger of IoT and cloud makes it convenient for businesses to access data remotely, while giving them the scalability benefit they require to add extra storage wherever required.

Data Analytics

The AI-powered technology gives businesses a direct insight into how the railways are operated. By analyzing and collecting the datasets that come in sensors, rail operators can find patterns on usage, performance. Some of the ways data analytics can empower IoT in the railways industry are – highlighting the underutilized routes which should be closed down, identifying services which would have to be increased during peak travel time, and more.

The potential of the internet of things in railways is evident with the rise in the smart railways sector, which is expected to reach $43 billion by 2027. The connection-powered technology is poised to leave an impact that goes beyond autonomous driving. It helps railway operators manage operations around equipment maintenance, build services-rich platforms, and offer customer-first experience to travelers for a smooth journey.

While this sums up the use of IoT in railways, let us dive into the details of IoT applications in railways and how the technology is making the industry future-ready.

IoT Use Cases in Railways

As the transport domain becomes technology inclined, we are bound to witness businesses utilizing the power of IoT in the railways sector to elevate their operations and make their travelers experience smooth.

Better Train Scheduling

IoT-powered railways come with improved train schedules. At the back of connected devices, companies can track trains in real-time and modify the schedule based on the traffic conditions and other external factors. This enables the trains to arrive at the destination on time and avoid expensive delays caused by unscheduled stops or detours.

Safer Rail Travel

By connecting on-train devices like cameras and Lidar systems, companies can identify obstacles on the tracks which can not just lower the safety risks but also save lives. Moreover, through the sensor technology, railway operators can detect potential on-train issues before they become problematic and lead to delays in service.

Asset Tracking

Railway network works with an unmanageable number of assets on an everyday basis, including equipment, tracks, passenger luggage, etc. Having a real-time update of all these assets is critical for keeping everyone safe and maintaining operations efficiency.

Using computer vision and IoT to track the assets in real-time, companies can help lower the dwell time of the stationary locomotives and ultimately increase the operational efficiency.

Data-Backed Maintenance Schedules

IoT-powered railways connect and analyze sensors on trains and tracks to track key metrics like temperature, speed, vibration levels, etc. to plan out maintenance schedules and identify potential problems which when left unaddressed can lead to derailment or delays. When incorporated right, IoT railways solutions can eventually lower the costs linked with downtime and repair.

Prevention of Overcrowding Complications

If there’s anything Covid-19 has taught us, it is that overcrowding is not just unpleasant but also very dangerous. Internet of Things in rail transportation can be incorporated to track passenger density via video analytics and strategic use of sensors placed throughout the trains and tracks. At the back of the information it generates, staff can take busy commuters to a less crowded side of the platform or even open additional ticket gates.

In addition to creating an impact on railway stations and rail network operations, IoT applications also help with improving the travelers’ experience.

Improved Safety with Lux Sensors

By integrating connected technology in the lighting system, a software can manage the general station ambience, ensuring that it is at an ideal illumination level.

An advanced use case of this feature lies in the easy management of the lighting situations like malfunctions, environment-driven problems, etc. in unmanned stations.

Monitored Ambient Conditions

For a railway network, the more travelers spend time in a station, the higher is the station revenue since they will be willing to spend money in cafes, book stores, etc.

Now the answer of how to provide them this comfort lies with IoT. When the heaters, fans, lights, and air conditioning units are linked by their sensors, it becomes easy for them to work together and make sure that an ideal humidity and temperature level is maintained, and in case something breaks, someone can fix it promptly.

Controlled Air Quality

If you have used the underground railway lines, you would know how the air quality, or the lack of it in a crowded environment, can impact the travelers experience and their long-term health. Trains tend to throw dust and particulates in the surrounding air, which tends to have a harmful effect on the people having breathing difficulties or illnesses.

With IoT connecting the air vents and quality mechanisms, measures can be taken to monitor the air quality and rectify it proactively.

As you must have gathered till now, the benefits of IoT in railways leaves an impact across the entire sector. But is the technology yet another offering that has less practical adoption opportunity or is the use of IoT in railways truly applicable?

The answer to this can be found by studying the future of IoT in railways.

The Impact of IoT in Railways – A Future Outlook

The future of connected trains and IoT can be best analyzed by looking into the companies that are working in the direction. While, on a holistic level, the IoT use cases in railways are in line with the applications we explored above, global railway networks are approaching IoT solutions in a way that the offering is closest to unmatched efficiency, high traveler satisfaction, and guaranteed rail safety.

Network Rail’s Intelligent Infrastructure Programme: By collecting and analyzing data of the Network Rail’s assets across its 20,000-mile network, the programme is shifting its operations from manual planning and maintenance schedules to a more machine-based proactive ‘predict and prevent’ strategy at the back of internet of things in railways offerings. It allows the company to see where assets are, how they are operating, if they are degrading, and when they would fail – all in real-time.

East Japan Railway Company: The traditional way of approaching rail maintenance for East Japan Railway Company used to be schedule-based maintenance (SBM). With the incorporation of smart railways using IoT, the focus shifted from the old approach to a new ‘condition-based maintenance,’ mechanism, where IoT and analytics are employed to monitor the real-time condition of the system and create usage patterns.

VicTrack: The Victorian government deployed IoT sensors for remotely monitoring the structural condition of high-priority bridges. The approach uses IoT railway solutions to connect sensors that lower disruptions by accurately measuring and estimating thermal response, corrosion, bending, vibration, structural strain, and loads.

IoT is also used to analyze the sensors through advanced analytics for delivering information straight to the operators and bridge owners remotely.

Dutch Railway Network: Dutch railway company Nederlandse Spoorwegen is working on ‘Smart Stations’ where it is employing different methods to measure traffic, crowd, and routes within its NS public properties.

They are exploring IoT applications in railways by combining Wi-Fi, bluetooth, and infrared sensors to map the location and people movement on the stations. The infrared sensors first do the initial count of travelers in a station, then they are tracked through their media access control (MAC) addresses of their bluetooth and Wi-Fi-connected devices.

Lastly, a well-planned placement of sensors helps in giving an accurate, replayable look into people and their chosen routes routing in a railway station.

Noting the work that is being done towards the adoption of internet of things in railways, one thing is clear – the inclusion of technology in the world’s most preferred mode of travel is going to change how we travel and how trains and tracks are managed.

To make it all possible, however, railway companies would have to involve the government and tech companies equally. The absence of any one of the stakeholders, would lead to a situation where the inclusion is not secure or unable to become mainstream.

At Appinventiv, we foresee a future where the inclusion of internet of things in railways will not just redefine rails and tracks but also become a key part of the industry 4.0 era and smart cities. But what is needed to achieve this is sector wide hardware support built with smart connectors and integrators along with an infrastructure system that would analyze the data sets and push out actions in real-time.

If your railway network has the hardware needed for establishing trains, platforms, and track connections, our IoT development services can help you build a smart network based on the capabilities of sensor technology and data analytics. Get in touch with us today to discuss your IoT railways solutions idea.

FAQs Around the Impact of IoT in Railways

Q. What is IoT in railways?

A. IoT in railways implies establishing connections between sensors that are present in trains, tracks, and platforms. By connecting the different assets in the rail network, companies are able to monitor the entire ecosystem in real-time while ensuring proactive maintenance and comfortable travelers experience.

Q. How is IoT used in railways?

A. Some of the top applications of IoT in railways include – dynamic route scheduling, planned maintenance, crowd management, assets tracking, and routes management. The use cases, however, are constantly expanding towards better traveler experiences and predictive maintenance.

Q. How can IoT help railways?

A. The practical benefits of IoT in railways can be witnessed through crowd management, lowered downtime and delays, improved safety, and elevated traveler experience. While these are micro-level ways IoT is helping railways, on a holistic railway network front, the technology is helping the industry become more secure, traveler-first, and predictive at the back of well-connected sensors.

THE AUTHOR
Sudeep Srivastava
Co-Founder and Director
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