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[Expert Advice] « IoT the powerhouse of the future railway network»

How does digital technology change railway industry?

The digital revolution is launched, nothing will stop it and there is no sector or domain that is not modified by this wave.

Technologies of information and communication start to impact step by step the whole value chain of the railway industry. This phenomenon is furthermore backed by the European Union trough the research program Shift2Rail which supports the creation of a “unique European railway space of digital technology”.

The experience widely initiated in the industrial Internet feeds the digital transformation of the railway industry. It paves the way for lines, devices, rolling stocks, signaling, level crossing and civil structure becoming smarter thanks to specific sensors that relay data which will enable to trigger proactive maintenance operations on trains, to avoid catenaries breakage, to monitor the tightening of nuts on railways, or to prevent critical temperature changes in order to optimize the network, equipment and rolling stocks operations.

To ensure the safety and level of service expected by travelers, the railway network needs to control the health of its devices, their location, their availability and all of this involve an effective maintenance. From this perspective, IoT enables the access to data which were unreachable until now.

Which data for what applications?

For some applications, it is a question of substituting the periodic inspection of the installations by the relay of alerts and key performance indicators: monitoring elevators, escalators, consumption of water, gas, electricity…

The LPWA networks (Low Power Wide Area Networks), are particularly adapted to those applications which don’t require a broadband network. They support sensors with very limited computing and energy resources which emit a small amount of data periodically without the need to interchange or communicate with other sensors or local devices/controllers.

For example: monitoring the fixing clamping force of critical elements such as fishplates, electric pylons, stamping press, or travelling cranes; monitoring of environmental parameters of real-estate asset “Train Station”, technical management of the real-estate asset “Train Station” …

Where “low-bandwidth, low-power and long range” IoT enables to collect simple alerts or indicators, “low-power, broadband with extended reach” networks provide an access in real-time to more complex, accurate and precise information. Indeed, a lot of critical applications require a sufficient bandwidth to collect data with a high volume of information and with a need for low latency. This is the case for instance with vibration data which captured on the mobile assets or the railway infrastructure and used as part of predictive and/or proactive maintenance.

Permanently or temporary installed on the infrastructure, or embedded on the mobile assets, those systems collect new data which enable a real-time monitoring of the railway infrastructure and an accurate tracking of mobile assets operations with the ability to locate where the events have occured.

For example: shocks detection and/or vibratory analysis on mission critical system of the train combined to GPS positioning informarion to locate events, clarify their causes and correlate information to enhance knowledge and highlight decision-making.

Real-time responsiveness and proactive maintenance: how to go a step further with IoT ?

The idea behind the notion of a connected and smart railway network is a network whose maintenance, operation and scheduling process are fed by data coming from the field in a continuous manner and with an exhaustive mesh coverage.  The aim is to automate and strengthen the performance, reliability and safety of the railway network.

For that the “low-bandwidth, low-power and long range” IoT enables to increase the coverage for the monitoring of the railway infrastructure and the associated equipment by collecting alerts and simple indicators where “low-power, broadband with extended reach” networks enables the capture and in depth analysis of parameters and events that impact the use and lifespan of mobile assets and stationary infrastructures.

The various IoT networks available now pave the way for the creation of predictive models for more in-depth maintenance and operation while offering the ability to intervene very quickly at the operational level.

Which collateral benefits of IoT for the railway sector?

With this access to new information, infrastructures operators, railway companies, maintenance and repair services operators and providers get an enhanced monitoring and an improved knowledge of the health of the network and equipment to better manage and control all operation processes and to optimize maintenance operations.

With better reliability in forecasted journey times, reduction of breakdowns, reduction of downtime, but also with the provision of new services, the quality of service for the end-customer is undoubtedly improved. At the same time, reducing tasks that create drudgery, IoT is a key driver to optimize working conditions of agents and operators and to give a fresh and new positive vision on their jobs.

The breakthrough of IoT in the railway industry shall boost its productivity, its profitability but also the attractiveness of its jobs and its competitiveness in the battle with the others modes of transport.

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