The Internet of Trains ??Digitization in the Rail Industry

April 05, 2019


The Internet of Trains ??Digitization in the Rail Industry

Digitization will play a key role in accelerating the transformation of the rail industry in the medium term. Welcome to the Internet of Trains.

The $190 billion rail industry is poised to grow at a steady pace of about three percent until 2021. This growth will be evenly distributed across its key segments such as rolling stock, rail control, services, and infrastructure, as well as across geographies such as Europe, the U.K., Asia Pacific, Africa and North America. The 200-year-old industry is adopting emerging digital technologies such as IoT, AR, additive manufacturing, cyber security, 5G, etc. on an incremental basis to drive operational efficiencies, connected mobility and a smart network of train operations while simultaneously assuring safety and security.

With the adoption of new technologies also comes the challenge of integrating legacy practices with new ones and ensuring holistic data integrity across all formats and systems within the ecosystem. These challenges present a whole new set of opportunities for the industry to bridge the digital divide seamlessly and unlock huge operational benefits. UNIFE1 estimates that the cost of rail operations can be reduced by 20 percent if digitization is adopted. On the spend side, it is estimated that Germany alone will require investments worth €35 billion until 20252 to realize the benefits. 

India's Digitization of Trains

India, for example, is investing heavily to scale its current legacy systems into the next generation of technology through digitalization initiatives, Train Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS), or European Train Control Systems (ETCS), or Communications-based Train Control (CBTC) technologies.  The country is leveraging indigenous innovation and knowledge, but also strong global partnerships and best practices to facilitate the transfer of technology.

At the same time, India also faces special complexities that have to be considered during the implementation of new technologies – such as diversity of requirements (given the uniqueness of every project), vastness of the network (especially with respect to the monitoring and maintenance challenges), and uncertainties in project implementation (due to greenfield project challenges).

Digitization will play a key role in accelerating the transformation of India's rail industry in the medium term. However, one must bear in mind that the safety criticality of rail applications will have a significant influence on the pace and evolution of digitization, requiring an industry-specific version of the IoT – the "Internet of Trains."

The Internet of Trains

The Internet of Trains (or IoT for rail) is the concept of adopting IoT technology to suit the requirements of rail assets. Numerous IoT applications and investments are already underway in the rail sector, and generating optimism by addressing three key areas:

  • Intelligent Asset Management Reduces Maintenance Costs: This segment of the rail industry is largely services driven and labor intensive. Asset maintenance is a segment primed for IoT adoption as it replaces traditional scheduled or preventive maintenance with the concept of predictive maintenance.

    IoT-enabled condition monitoring systems are being adopted and piloted across the asset classes such as trains, tracks, signal systems, station rooms, other infrastructure to reveal dynamic health and performance. This practice generates huge data sets across formats, parameters and asset signatures, all of which require safety-critical analysis so that maintenance staff can proactively intervene. Figure 1 illustrates the impact of a predictive maintenance-driven asset management routine versus the methods largely in use today.

Figure 1. The impact of predictive maintenance on availability and maintenance costs.
  • Improved Reliability Increases Passenger Satisfaction: Train operators can extend integrated asset management capabilities to monitor parameters like train movement across networks, passenger flow at stations, weather conditions, etc. This enables operators to make timely decisions that streamline operational flow, reduce down time risk, and deliver more reliable information to passengers. The passenger experience can be enhanced further with personalized that connects to travelers in real time via their timetable and ticketing applications on their smart phones.
  • Integrated Engineering, Manufacturing, and Operations Optimize Product Development: Conventional rail industry engineering practices and processes were not devised to support systems of systems. With the adoption of IoT in operations and in manufacturing plants, engineers can now utilize the wealth of data generated and apply advanced analytics to derive valuable, actionable insights. By integrating application engineering earlier in manufacturing and operations processes, designs can be more efficient and cost-effective than those of today.

Digitizing Transport through Partnership

The application of these technologies in rail engineering spans the full value chain – including rolling stock, signaling, and infrastructure. Along with IoT, there are several other technologies/digital trends also crucial to the rail industry's future. A combination of solutions that encompass cybersecurity and augmented/virtual reality or image-assisted inspection systems (e.g. drones) will be required to ensure continued success on of  the rail industry’s raison d’etre – safety, reliability, and efficiency.

It is therefore imperative for the industry to partner with global rail solutions providers equipped with strong rail domain expertise, global reach, and a specializations in emerging technology to unlock the huge potential the digitalization opportunities present.

Cyient is an engineering design services company that takes a holistic view of these concepts.

Beatrice Lippus is Associate Vice President of the Rail Transportation Business Unit at Cyient. In her current hole, she is responsible for relationship management and is the sales leader of rail business. Beatrice has a Diploma in Psychology and Economics, and completed an Executive Program from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

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