Renaissance Of Rail Travel: Communication Innovations Enable A New Age

Sensors Insights by Richard Weatherburn & Khachig Arjinian


In many industrialized countries, there is a renewed interest in rail service, both passenger and freight, as a viable and desirable transportation alternative. This emerging renaissance is being driven by many factors including political, economic, environmental and more. To capitalize on the movement, rail service providers can take advantage of a new era in communications technology that supports the vision for more efficient, ecologically sound, and reliable transportation.

Train Travel On The Rise

In January 2016, Business Traveler cited a survey that found when a passenger's journey time is 2.5 hours or less, 80 percent of travelers would choose rail travel over air. This is most certainly the case in Europe where high-speed trains are the preferred mode of transportation between many major cities such as Paris and Brussels or Madrid and Seville.

In the United States, the success of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor service between Boston and Washington, D.C., indicates that the public is ready for more. In the US, high-speed rail could cover the distances between major cities in 2.5 hours or less. For example:

  • Chicago to Minneapolis
  • Los Angeles to San Francisco
  • Miami to Orlando
  • Dallas to Houston

Additionally, with recent headlines showing wait times at security checkpoints exceeding two hours at several major US airports, the number of passengers preferring train travel to move from Point A to Point B within the US will continue to rise.

Fast-Tracking Expansion: Meeting The Challenge Of Urbanization

The United Nations predicts that by 2020, more than 80 percent of the world's population will live in cities. This density will place great strain on already stressed transportation networks and increase the concentration of carbon emissions in congested areas. Finding better ways to move people and goods is a major factor behind the favorable view of rail networks as efficient and environmentally friendly.

The European Commission has taken bold steps to accelerate rail service expansion. Driven to reduce dependence on imported oil and cut 60 percent of carbon emissions from transport by 2050, the Commission plans to shift intercity passenger and freight travel from roadways to water or rail modes.

Critical to success will be the ability of rail service providers to expand capacity and provide highly differentiated services to customers. Innovations in communications technology are setting teams up to achieve both of these goals. Train-to-ground applications that exploit wireless connections make it possible for rail service providers to:

  • Increase capacity without expensive and disruptive capital projects.
  • Provide higher levels of customer service through information systems.
  • Ensure safety and security of passengers and property.

Critical to the renaissance of rail travel will be the ability of rail service providers to expand capacity and provide highly differentiated services to customers.
Critical to the renaissance of rail travel will be the ability of rail service providers to expand capacity and provide highly differentiated services to customers.

Next page

New Ways To Think About Capacity

Historically, the only way to increase capacity on rail lines was to add bridges, lay new track, and dig tunnels. Today, communications-based train control (CBTC) systems allow rail service to run shorter, lighter, faster trains more closely together to increase capacity. CBTC systems manage train headways, speed, and acceleration profiles in real time, instead of relying on fixed signaling blocks, which slow down the pace of traffic.

These systems also provide energy savings with driving profiles that accommodate for coasting, reduced acceleration curves, off-peak travel times and more. CBTC systems are comprised of several subsystems.

  • Wayside equipment: At the heart is the Automatic Train Supervision system, which acts as the command-and-control center managing the traffic according to specific criteria. Subsystems include Wayside Automatic Train Operation systems that control the destination and regulation targets for each train, and Wayside Automatic Train Protection systems that manage communications with all trains in the area.

     

  • On-board equipment: Components include Automatic Train Protection for continuous control of speed according to the safety profile, and Automatic Train Operation for control of traction and braking – either as assistance to the driver, or in full automatic mode.

     

  • Train to wayside communication: These systems, most commonly based on IEEE 802.11 wireless radio links, must meet extraordinary standards for performance to prevent disruption. Requirements for fast-secure roaming; error tolerances of less than 0.1 percent; bandwidth of 4Mbits minimum; maximum end-to-end latency of less than five milliseconds and more are part of Railway Onboard Vehicle Certifications, such as the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the Association of American Railroads (AAR), and the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AAR/AREMA).

Wireless communications and applications that automate rail operations, provide real-time information for passengers and support greater safety will ensure the smoothest ride into the future.
Wireless communications and applications that automate rail operations, provide real-time information for passengers and support greater safety will ensure the smoothest ride into the future.

Is The Train On Time?

In this highly connected world, passengers' expectations for information about their travel and potential disruptions are high. With modern train-to-ground communications links, rail service providers can give real-time updates on arrivals and departures. With immediate access to the most current information, passenger demands are met, and value-added services, such as location-dependent information and advertising, can enhance their experience.

Keeping An Eye On Safety

Monitoring video live from a moving train gives rail service providers a new ability to improve operations and provide passengers with higher levels of safety and comfort while travelling. Network/IP-based cameras are more widely used in these environments than analog cameras. These systems can stream continuously or only when activated by a trigger that indicates an incident needing a response, such as fire detection systems or passengers pressing a help or panic button.

Rail: The Choice In 21st Century Transportation

Whether used to move people or goods, rail service offers the efficiency, lower environmental impact and safety needed for 21st century transportation. As rail providers move to design and deploy strategies that allow them to seize the opportunity for expansion, modern communications technology should be top of mind. Wireless communications and applications that automate operations provide real-time information and support greater safety will ensure the smoothest ride into the future.

About the Authors

Richard Weatherburn is Belden's global vertical marketing manager responsible for the transportation market and has been associated with the transportation industry for more than 15 years. Initially as a project and program manager, he successfully delivered multi-million dollar projects across Europe and more recently as head of systems, product and portfolio for a Siemens business unit, he was responsible for the strategic direction of portfolio and product marketing.

Khachig Arjinian is currently the wireless-product manager within the Core Networking (Hirschmann) business unit at Belden. Prior to this, he was the engineering manager of Hirschmann's Mobile Machine Control Solutions business unit in Chambersburg, Penn.

Related Stories

Netherlands Railways Leverages Sensor Technology to Improve Traveler Experience and Optimize Operations

Transportation Sector's Top Risks: Cyber and Data Privacy

Schaeffler and IBM enter strategic partnership

Suggested Articles

Standards for airplane ventilation are actually tougher

Coronavirus to cause $70 million reduction in revenues for 2Q

The system works on Shaped Magnetic Field In Resonance technology