German prosecutors, investigating the collision of two trains near the town of Bad Aibling on 9th February which killed 11 people have made clear where they believe the blame lies. Rail dispatcher rules in Germany, as they do in many parts of the world, forbid the use of personal phones at work, but on this day the trains dispatcher, was according to prosecutors on his phone for “an extended period of time” until shortly before the crash.
A statement on the crash, one of Germany’s worst rail accidents in recent history, detailed that the dispatcher had during questioning admitted playing a game on his phone and that the distraction “probably led the dispatcher to give the trains the wrong signals and then, once he noticed his error, to fumble the emergency call by pressing the wrong combination of buttons, meaning the train drivers were unable to hear it.”
Investigators added that they have so far been unable to find any indication of a technical problem that might have caused or contributed to the fatal collision. The tragic events in Bad Aibling have put the spotlight on the role of mobile phones use for train staff and set SmartRail World Editor Luke Upton looking into the role of digital technology in improving safety and security on the rail network…
Unprecedented quantities of data, and instant mobile communications are just some of the technologies that have come into rail in recent years. Any train crash or derailment is quickly followed by a desire to assess and identity the cause. And with the immense amount of data now available the answers can be normally be found quicker than before. But how can the technology which delivers this data and communications help in a preventative way? To find out more, I spoke to Wi-Tronix, one of the most innovative companies in the industry and a specialist in monitoring high-value mobile assets, currently having over 10,000 monitored systems deployed across various Class I and short line railroads, including: BNSF, Amtrak, MBTA (Keolis Rail Services), SunRail, Omnitrax, and VIA Rail, to detail some of the technologies that exist to help rail become safer and more secure.
Firstly, to keep our focus on phones, it’s clear that incidents caused by distractions caused by them can be avoided. To ensure this, a Mobile Phone Detection System is a safety solution that helps create safer operations for rail crews, passengers, and the public by detecting in-cab mobile or cell phone usage. Wi-Tronix (@WiTronix) developed the Mobile Phone Detection System to further enhance locomotive remote monitoring and offer a safety technology that recognizes mobile phone signals which could indicate distracted operation. Railroads can use cell phone detection information to both identify and reduce distracted driving and monitor staff are complying to rules like FRA Emergency Order 26 which restricts on-duty use of cellular telephones and other electronic devices. Across Europe, some operators ban mobile phones being switched on in the drivers cab whereas others allow drivers to be able to use their mobile (in the right situations) as a legitimate form of communication.
We asked Mike Heilmann, Executive VP for Business Development at Wi-Tronix for some more insight into their work in this area; “For the past 11 years, Wi-Tronix has grown to support the world’s largest railways in meeting their safety and efficiency objectives. Our customer service and software development expertise thrives on the execution of our Software as a Service (Saas) business platform, allowing for innovative collaboration with our customers. We are excited to bring these technologies into the European market and serve as a key technology partner.”
On a similar staff focussed issue, technology can now better give engineers relevant alerts as and when they need them even at high speeds or in extreme weather. In-Cab Audible Alerts deliver real-time notifications to drivers over a speaker. Similar to audio checklists and warnings for pilots in the aviation industry, In-Cab Audible Alerts (pictured left) help improve an engineer's situational awareness and overall safety by offering direct, real-time alerts. For situations including over speed events, drivers get information delivered directly to them so they can take immediate action. In addition to safety, these alerts can also improve train handling by advising operators of throttle modulation, traction motor overloads, and stretch braking incidents
One of the other causes of accidents in the rail industry is for dispatchers to lose an accurate and real-time picture of where trains and other assets are on the network. A wireless processing unit from Wi-Tronix, Wi-PU™ is a mobile, ruggedized computer that lives on board the train and integrates with existing subsystems and utilizes smart technology to bring the information from on-board components across a secure network.
Integrated with the Wi-PU™ is the Wi-Tracker (pictured below) asset tracking system designed to give accurate asset locations and status. It delivers live operations information straight from the source utilizing GPS and GeoFencing technology to provide precise location position and status of your assets. Fleets can be followed with mapping, status summaries, historical details and distances travelled tools live on the Wi-Tronix website. The Wi-Tracker software enables critical operations alerts, ranging from emergency-brake applications to throttle position and engine-running status to further keep your operations running smoothly.
It’s an unwritten rule in rail media that when covering anything about rail innovation the issue of data takes a prominent position. But one of the challenges of your assets being thousands of miles away (and possibly travelling at high-speed) is ensuring your data is still available. Working with leading rail operators throughout North America and Australia, Wi-Tronix have developed the Wi-DownloadER, a fleet-wide download platform that enables periodic and on-demand access to Event Recorder/OTMR, Digital Video Recorder, and other system information. This information is delivered to the end-user in real time, eliminating the need for manual downloads. It monitors the health of your onboard DVR systems, gets video and still image snapshots, and provides historical records. Wi-Tronix customers benefit from customized alerts and business insight that can be accessed from any location, worldwide.
The priority of any rail operators, is, and has always been, the safety of its passengers and staff. And it’s fascinating to see some of the developments now available that take traditional methods of improving safety – keeping staff alert and focussed, monitoring train location and ensuring communication is always maintained. And digital technology, as showcased by Wi-Tronix here, can now enhance this further and bring it into the 21st century by monitoring and identifying critical pieces of information, not just after, but while they were occurring? And then ensuring the information is both available to all and actionable. Even if the situation isn’t critical, this information can still be used to improve performance, efficiency, diminish delays and keep the passenger satisfied.
The quickening pace of rail innovation is always impressive, so to conclude I asked Chad Jasmin (@), VP of Customer Strategy to offer a glimpse into where this exciting of the industry will head next; “The future of rail innovation with Wi-Tronix is building upon the conversion of big data and digitisation into actionable, business intelligence. On-board technologies are now being integrated into single-source solutions. This enables machine learning and will create virtual interactions between crews and operations centres – streamlining information and helping railroads take advantage of their data to improve the safety and efficiency of their operations.”
To learn more about these innovative solutions for our changing industry, click the above button.
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Transit and rail safety, will be a key theme at our SmartTransit show which takes place in New York in October 2016. Find out more about the show here.