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Rail-safety systems: A look at technology and how it's being used to make transport safer.

Posted by Dave Songer on Mar 20, 2019

Network Rail's train will patrol more than 1 million miles of track by 2024There are few areas of the rail industry that have yet to be touched by technology. For operators, suppliers and passengers alike the increased application of technology has brought much-needed improvements – from more reliable rolling stock and more predictable maintenance programmes, to advanced journey planning and ticketless travel. And as the accessibility of modern technology becomes more widespread, the number of developers rise and the requirement from the transport industry for more tech increases, that progress looks to be going in only one direction.

But it’s not just the areas of infrastructure, maintenance and ticketing where those improvements have been felt – cutting-edged solutions have also brought about noticeable upgrades to safety too. Here, we look at some of the various approaches applied in different countries in recent months, all of which are helping to create a safer, more secure rail network for everyone involved.

The infrastructure

Using the latest technology to help see an end to derailments, Canadian Pacific (CP) railway recently released details of a series of technology-enabled measures that it will introduce to make its rolling stock and network safer. Among the most major is a detection system that uses a series of electromagnetic sensors to detect flaws in metal. The system relays their exact locations to maintenance crews so they can be repaired before exacerbating and leading to cracks or fractures. Planned for roll out in 2020, the latest announcement comes a matter of weeks after a derailment in Banff, in the south west of the country, which reportedly came about as a direct result of broken rails. Another derailment occurred this year just over the border in Minnesota and was also caused by broken rails.

In related news, the manager of much of UK’s network, Network Rail, is continuing in its pursuit of making the tracks safer with a process that it says increases its ability to monitor, inspect and fix track faults. Using a fleet of five state-of-the-art trains that can take 70,000 images a second while travelling at 125mph, a rate that will enable it to cover nearly one million miles of track by 2024.

The staff

For those working on the front line of the rail industry and dealing directly with passengers, it’s a sad fact of life that they also have to sometimes deal with abuse from the very people they are paid to serve. Deutsche Bahn recognised the need to increase security for their staff in 2016 as a result of a 10% spike in incidents on the previous year by equipping the workforce with body cameras – part of a €160 million security initiative to protect staff and customers.

More recently, the UK’s Virgin Trains rail franchise has also taken on the practice and has introduced 275 body cams across its network to help act as a deterrent and secure convictions. The train operator said that incidents of threatening behaviour against its staff fell by more than half as a result of introducing the technology. Predictably, staff have been happy with the use of body-worn cameras – which create a direct link with the British Transport Police – with around 90% of them saying that they felt safer wearing them.

SafeRail Website Logo-1To learn more about how technology is used to improve safety across the world's rail industry, SmartRail World is hosting a range of events in Europe and the US. The next, SafeRail, is taking place in Washington D.C. on May 14th-15th. To read the agenda, see the speakers taking part and to register for the event, visit the show website.

The public

To the other side of globe now and Australia for another innovative use of technology in the area of safety, on an area of its network that is being given increasingly more focus: level crossings. One of the novel approaches to making them safer harnesses technology to create a series of eye-catching and informative films aimed at changing attitudes and spelling out the dangers to the community that live near crossings. The educational approach has been taken on by Aurizon, a freight company in the country that has also created a campaign to deliver a clear rail safety message to more than 14,000 primary school pupils.

In our latest 5 Minutes With… interview, SmartRail World spoke with the UK director of rail for Costain, Ian Parker, who said it was developing a system to save lives at unguarded pedestrian level crossings. Known as Meerkat, the system draws on the experience that the engineering company has gained from its extensive experience on the road, says Parker. “It’s a fully automated, self-sufficient solution that detects approaching trains and warns pedestrians using visual and audible signals. It’s a simple but effective solution that we hope to have in service within a year across the rail network.”

The future

Staying in the UK, the government’s security department, the Ministry of Defence (MOD), announced in 2018 that it was looking to veterans who have returned from service, training them up to be the next-generation cyber security experts. Known as TechVets, the programme is designed for helping the nation’s fight against cybercrime rather than transport specifically, however with the growing threat of digital attacks against transport it is more than feasible that there would be come crossover. In Israel, a country that has been the breeding ground for a growing number of transport-focused tech start-ups focused on fighting cybercrime, the government there has introduced a cyber security centre with the specific aim of mitigating attacks against its rail network. According to media in the country, more than 10 million hacking attempts are blocked every month.

The French transport specialist, Thales, is following a similar path in Wales. The company opened a £30 million cyber centre will be set up in collaboration with a local university that could prove valuable to the UK rail industry, being that the facility is designed as a base for “ground-breaking research” that will give SMEs and microbusinesses the opportunity to test and develop their digital concepts.

You may also like this:

Download: White Paper: Cyber Security for Industrial Control Systems: A New Approach.

Read: The challenge of protecting transit and passenger rail against terrorism.

Read: Cape Town deploys security squad to improve safety on region’s troubled network.

Watch: The US safety group helping keep selfie-seekers safer on the tracks.

Topics: IT and WiFi, technology, TransportSecurity

Dave Songer

Written by Dave Songer

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