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Six key technology trends set to dominate rail and metro in 2016.

Posted by Luke Upton on Jan 7, 2016

 Six key tech trends set to dominate rail and metro in 2016.Welcome to 2016! A year described by some as a ‘maxi-quadrennial’ as it contains a number of major events that only ever happen every four years like the Rio Olympics and US Presidential Election. Their role on our industry may be limited (though Donald Trump is unlikely to be public transport’s biggest friend should he somehow claim the White House…) but one thing is for sure this year will bring further technological opportunities and challenges for rail and metro. The developments we have seen over recent years are impressive but it’s perhaps the pace of change that is so crucial. Innovations we could not have imagined a decade ago are now becoming commercialized for the mass market – drones, 3-D printers, robots, the connected home just to give a few examples. The building blocks of these developments are typically found in data analytics (let’s leave the term big data in 2015 ), cloud computing, artificial intelligence and manifest themselves through mobile devices.

The breadth of technological change, and its rapid pace is being felt by all in our industry. A leader in some areas – the theory behind the Internet of Things has long been practiced on trains – but slower in some sectors, there is much opportunity to improve performance, passenger experience and profitability. So today, we pick out six of the key technology trends that the SmartRail World team think will influence our rail and metro in 2016.

1. Cybersecurity – 2015 saw a wave of cybercrime and high-profile hacks. Rail operators are vulnerable on two fronts to this; losing control of the operational aspect of the trains themselves and of the increasingly large data they harvest be it of a technical, passenger or financial nature. Network Rail, the owner and operator of most of the UK rail infrastructure acknowledged the threat in 2015; "We know that the risk [of a cyber-attack] will increase as we continue to roll out digital technology across the network," a spokesman told the BBC. "We work closely with government, the security services, our partners and suppliers in the rail industry and external cybersecurity specialists to understand the threat to our systems and make sure we have the right controls in place."

A new trend that security experts are predicting to increase in 2016 is a rise in what they call ‘ransomware’ , whereby criminals gain entry to your system, encrypt the data and then demand a ransom to decrypt it. The battle to keep ahead of the cyber-criminals will undoubtedly be a part of the new year.

Learn more about cybersecurity at the SafeRail Congress in April 2017 in Washington D.C.


2. The Sharing Economy – a big driver in disruptive traditional business models and transport is no different. The most famous (or should that be infamous? example is Uber, which some public transport networks are working with, for example MARTA whilst others, as in Portland, Oregon are opposing. High profile companies like Uber, Lyft, Ola in a short period have already shaken up the personal transport landscape. The broader point of the sharing economy is where the interest lies for public transport – its rapid growth is rooted in an ability to leverage spare capacity and expand quickly without large investment. Capacity and investment are two of the biggest challenges in public transport – but the sharing economy is overcoming these. How can public transport learn from it in 2016?

Want to stay up to date with the latest in rail technology? SmartRail Europe will be taking place in Amsterdam in April 2017. We have lots of case studies and presentations for you to stay ahead.

3. Location Based Services – with public transport continuing to wrestle with budgetary challenges and no indicators of funding boosts from government, additional revenue streams are needed. One area of strong potential is location-based services which are proliferating quickly and use real-time geo-data from a mobile device or smartphone to provide information, entertainment or security. This is perfect for passengers at stations or on-board trains who can be sent highly targeted adverts or promotions and special offers based on where they happen to be. The chance to upgrade to first class whilst waiting on the platform? A saving on a coffee and pastry whilst on-board? All would available using location based services.


4. Drones - the steady development of the use of unmanned aerial vehicle's (UAV's), commonly known as drones within the rail industry will continue to increase.  2015 saw a major step forward in the USA with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) making it easier for companies to use drones in business operations. Already being used by railways around the world for infrastructure inspections and land surveys, security, train monitoring and as support in emergencies they are likely to be seen more and more in the skies above our track and stations. 

5. Mobile Payments – a major focus of rail and metro fare collection at the moment. It’s been floating around for several years but now that Apple, Google and Samsung are all behind it we can expect to see a big step up in usage in 2016. A digital focus attracts millennials and expect to see an increasing numbers of deals, discounts and rewards in mobile wallets in an effort to win customers over to this method of payment. In 2015, Transport for London, typically a leader in innovation began accepting ApplePay. Many more will surely follow in 2016.

6. Climate Change – a wide-ranging and complex challenge, but a very real one. There is an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather around the world and the transport industry needs to respond to the current situation and plan for a future based on this continuing. The rail industry made some impressive noise at COP21 and we should publicise our green credentials further. But changes in temperature, storms, rising sea levels, flooding and extreme temperatures all have implications for rail design, maintenance and operation. To ensure that disruptions and damage are kept to a minimum 2016 will see new ways of thinking, innovative technology and increased resilience are all key.

There’s more we could have picked but we’ve kept it at six. And we don’t have a perfect track record in our picks - The top 10 innovations that are shaping the future of rail and metro - has a few that didn't quite come through but if you agree, disagree or want to suggest some more please let us know – or Tweet us @SmartRailWorld 

 Interested in key tech trends you may also be interested in:

Asia's largest underground railway station opens for business.

What were the most read SmartRail World stories of 2015?

The top 10 innovations that are shaping the future of rail and metro (2014)

9 innovations that are shaping the future of your railway station (2015) 

Who is buying who in this year of rail industry consolidation? 


Topics: IT and WiFi, Telecoms, projects, quirky

Luke Upton

Written by Luke Upton

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