Smart Technologies in Railways for Enhanced Transportation

From Mobile Revolution to Internet of Trains, Explore the Impact of Digitalization on Railways

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The emergence of the Internet, which has been available not only to just a handful of corporate users but also to individual private users since the 1990s, has been a crucial driving force in digitisation. According to Global Digital Snapshot, there were over 4 billion internet users globally in January 2018, accounting for 53% of the world’s population. The advancement of web-based technology has significantly altered the communication patterns of corporations, organisations, communities, and individuals. As interactive Web 2.0 Internet-based applications, social media has emerged as a dominating medium for information sharing. The number of social media users driving the growth of other industries has surpassed 05 billion.

People-to-people (P2P), people-to-machine (P2M), and completely automated data exchange between machines (M2M) interaction patterns are all facilitated by hyper-connectivity. Cisco identifies the beginning of the Internet of Things (IoT) era as the point when the number of devices linked to the internet surpassed the world’s population, which was reported in 2009. When seen as an ecosystem, Internet of Things delivers new services through P2M and M2M interactions rather than improving internet accessibility.

The Internet of Things is quickly expanding. According to McKinsey, around 127 new devices are connected to the internet every second, and the global number of connected devices is expected to rise to 43 billion by 2023, nearly tripling from 2018. While many innovative applications, such as smart-home systems and connected vehicles, have been targeted at consumers, others help companies in optimising processes ranging from production to customer segmentation. In coming years, IoT shall be the most valuable disruptive technology, surpassing mobile Internet, knowledge-work automation, cloud-computing, and advanced & intelligent robotics. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, connecting the physical and digital worlds could provide up to $11.1 trillion in economic value every year by 2025. IoT will also drive the development of new business models. Meanwhile, in order for IoT to provide corporate value, the suitable methodology for data analysis and automation must be used. Today, IoT is one of the primary facilitators of information and transformation processes around the world.

Mobile Revolution

The so-called mobile revolution occurred globally in 2014, with users gaining access to the internet through mobile devices outnumbering the users gaining internet access with a desktop computer. The number of mobile devices in use worldwide in 2021 was nearly 15 billion, up from just over 14 billion the previous year. The number of mobile devices is predicted to reach 18.22 billion by 2025, representing a 4.2 billion device increase over 2020 levels. The number of smartphone and tablet users seeking and sharing information, making purchases, and making bank payments online is constantly expanding, with an average user utilising about 23 GB of data monthly today. In recent years, the percentage of web traffic occurring from mobile devices has increased.

Overall, mobile devices are estimated to contribute more than sixty per cent of all internet traffic today. The Internet of Everything is a new concept that refers to a network of objects, data, processes, and humans that are constantly connected to the internet via devices such as computers, tablets, and smartphones, as well as software that supports continuous connectivity and sensors, both in individual households and in industrial periphery and context. The terms Internet of Things, Services, and People (IoTSP) are among the most frequently and widely used terminology in recent years. The Internet of Robotic Things (IoRT) will most likely be the next stage in the evolution of the notion of IoT.

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing, a technique based on diffused data processing in which services are offered by other entities and are available at any time and rescale based on demand, is predicted to facilitate data processing. This option to owning data centres necessitates no further investment in one’s own IT infrastructure. Private, public, and hybrid cloud computing are the three forms of cloud computing. To meet the requirements of all customers, the following cloud computing models are available:

  • Software as a Service (SaaS). This model allows for the renting of services provided by applications created by the solution’s supplier and consumed by consumers. This service not only provides hardware and software platforms upon which one can deploy personalised applications, but it also provides ready-to-use applications and programmes hosted by the operator of each solution.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS). This approach provides IAAS with a greater level of superiority: it includes a hardware platform, operating system software, and all associated servers such as application servers, databases, and so on. As a result, it provides an all-encompassing and complete software platform on which one can develop and construct or migrate individual or one’s own applications.
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). This package provides a scalable computing capacity. Its interface level is concerned with the operating system. It can then be used in its own way by installing server software, databases, and applications.

XaaS and BdaaS

Anything as a Service (XaaS) is another accessible paradigm that uses cloud computing in conjunction with one of the other models or a combination of them. As the amount of data collected, transferred, and stored grows, so does the demand for advanced analytical tools (data analysis tools) and Big Data as a Service (BdaaS). According to Gartner, an increasing number of suppliers provide a device mesh, which is an ever-expanding set of end points used to provide access to applications and information or to communicate with others in order to stay in touch with social communities, governments, and enterprises.

Industry 4.0, IoT & IIoT

The combination of IT technologies, operational technologies (OT), and IoT has paved the way for the emergence of concepts such as Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), which assume that automated production based on real-time data exchange with the use of a variety of technologies will result in a reduction of overall operational costs, improved performance, and the ability to offer advanced products and services, while still observing the behaviour and preferences of the consumers.

The concept of the Industrial Internet of Things necessitates the integration of IT and OT systems. The former is in the role of managing company processes and customer relations, as well as facilitating important decision-making, whilst the latter is in charge of monitoring automated production, as well as facilitating controls and relevant processes. IT and OT use independent software and are designed to handle various requirements and industry-related standards and operate in different ways.

Rail Transportation

In terms of meeting the needs of business and society, digitalisation includes a number of potential challenges. To overcome these issues, the rail sector has grown in all aspects of its operations, from production to infrastructure management and to transportation operations. Railways have been using TICT technologies since the 1970s. Digital goods and passenger car codes, for example, which had been adopted and introduced about fifty years back, are still in use today. After 2010, the same approach was introduced and implemented for rail traction vehicles only. Computer-aided design of rolling stock became a widespread practice in the subsequent stages of rail digitisation, as it corrected weight distribution while enhancing the vehicle durability.

The continual evolution of design tools has also allowed for improvements in the design of powertrains and all auxiliary systems, making modern vehicles more energy-efficient. Remote monitoring and predictive maintenance are made possible by digital data recorders and digital steering of specific subsystems as well as the entire vehicle, significantly enhancing rolling stock availability through fault reduction. However, a true breakthrough in digitalising maintenance is only expected to occur when a rising number of systems are interconnected not just within a single vehicle but also across the infrastructure and suprastructure, the entire train ecosystems.

The following are the key areas of digital technology deployment and implementation in rail transport:

  • Providing connected railways by ensuring dependable connectivity for safe, efficient, and enticing rail systems and networks.
  • Improving customer experience by providing better and additional value for customers.
  • Increasing capacity through improved railway dependability, efficiency, and performance.
  • Increasing rail competitiveness through the use of transport data.

Rail transport is being increasingly digitalised, which is assisting rail operators in ensuring safe and dependable train operations. The most recent examples of the digitisation revolution in railways can be stated as follows:  

Connected Commuter (Digital services for passengers): Significant advances in modelling open and direct communication with passengers have been made in recent years. Following are the various developments:

  • Websites that are more informative and user-friendly
  • Mobile applications that provide real-time information regarding vehicles in motion, as well as the ability to purchase and issue tickets and perform other functions.
  • Services for on-board information and entertainment.
  • Implementation of dynamic passenger and timetable information at stations and stoppages.

MaaS (Towards Intermodal Urban Mobility):  Each of the new mobility models is linked, which means that it gives quick access to the internet and ICT systems that provide real-time route information, as well as the ability to plan subsequent journeys, make reservations and bookings and purchase tickets. Mobility as a Service (MaaS) refers to such solutions which are based on electronic platforms and applications. Each of the new mobility models is linked and connected, which means that it gives quick access to the internet and ICT systems that provide real-time route information, as well as the ability to plan subsequent journeys, make reservations and bookings and purchase tickets. Mobility as a Service (MaaS) refers to such solutions which are based on electronic platforms and applications.

 PMaaS (Digital Services for Rolling Stock Predictive Maintenance): The use of digital data processing is revolutionising infrastructure and rolling stock maintenance. Analytics can detect impending part faults based on millions of data points recorded from sensors on important train components, ensuring that maintenance is only performed when required and necessary, specifically before a defect arises. Reliable information of which parts are likely to fail in the near future enables near-perfect and cent per cent availability, as defects are fixed and repaired when units are not in use, removing and avoiding breakdowns. This increases system reliability because the customary operating fleet reserves of 5-15% held as a backup in the event of a malfunction can now be lowered and controlled, improving effective capacity. Manufacturers of rolling stock are now able to provide a wide range of new digital services by merging and consolidating quantities of maintenance data with business processes and IT systems and leveraging cloud computing, such as:

  • Fault Detection as a Service
  • Predictive Maintenance as a Service (PMaaS)
  • Simulation as a Service.

GOA4 (Automation and Integration of Train Control Systems): The progress of autonomous systems in rail transport has been remarkable, particularly in public transport services such as driverless metro lines, light rail transit (LRT), people movers, and automated guided transit (AGT). Automation in these systems refers to the process by which responsibility for train operation management is transferred and shifted from the driver to the railway control system. There are four Grades of Automation (GoA) according to International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standard 62290-1. The highest level, GoA 4, specifies a system improvement in which vehicles operate completely autonomous without the presence of any operating staff.

 The various grades of automation and train control systems-

(i) GoA 1 – Driver in Cab (Type of Train Operations: Automatic Train Protection – ATP, Driver Advisory Systems – DAS)

(ii) GoA 2 – Driver in Cab (Type of Train Operations: Automatic Train Operation – ATO)

(iii) GoA 3 – Crew Member On-Board (Type of Train Operations: Driverless and Unattended Train Operation – DTO/UTO)

(iv) GoA 4 – No Crew On-Board (Type of Train Operations: Driverless and Unattended Train Operation – DTO/UTO)

Since the introduction of the first automated metro lines over thirty years ago, the growth rate for driverless metro has doubled in each decade – an exponential growth that is expected to quadruple in the coming and future decades. As of the beginning of 2018, there were about 1,000 km of automated metro in service, divided into 62 lines that served 41 cities in 19 countries. According to current projections based on projects approved for implementation, there shall be nearly 2,300 km of completely automated metro lines in operation by 2025.

Digital Interlocking

In recent years, digital interlocking has developed as a critical component for Automated Train Operations. The dispatcher’s switching commands are delivered to the points, signals, and track connections using network technology in the new interlocking system, being one of the important characteristics of the new interlocking architecture. As a result, the previously required individual connections to the various interlocking components and elements, partially via kilometre-long cable bundles, have been eliminated. With modern network links via a data line, signals and points can now be managed from considerably longer and wider distances.

Intelligent communication networks, as well as the associated standardised and modularised technology, are setting up the trend for the future and coming years. These enable to operate rail transport more economically, conserving resources and assuring higher efficiency for clients and customers. The new interlocking technology is thus a watershed moment in the digitalisation of rail infrastructure, establishing foundations for increased capacity and enhanced punctuality in rail transportation.

Internet of Trains (Creating Value for Multiple Stakeholders): The Internet of Trains, or the Connected Train, is an example of how the Internet of Things concept is implemented in rail and train transportation, in which the train’s smart subsystems connect data to the central data platform via cloud computing. To use the functionality of the Internet of Trains, reliable and uninterrupted communication is required between three different networks: one connecting train components to on-board controls, one used by the crew on-board (for example, VLAN-based), and one broadband mobile internet connection service offered to passengers.

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