When was the last time you walked into a train station? More importantly, what brought you there? You may rely on regional trains as part of your daily commute to work, or have opted to take a train into the city for a weekend getaway. Either way, did you stop to think about what prompted your decision to take that mode of transportation over another?
People are ditching traditional travel methods — airplanes, cars, buses — for more efficient options, such as trains, which is contributing to a renaissance of sorts for the rail industry. The UN predicts that by 2020, more than 80% of the world’s population will live in cities. This urbanization, combined with society’s “always-on” mentality, has heightened passenger expectations for constant connection and communication mechanisms no matter where they go, especially when traveling by train.
To meet growing capacity concerns and deliver wireless networks that can meet on-board entertainment expectations, effective signaling is becoming vitally important for the control and reliability of local, regional, and national railway systems. Standardizing how these networks communicate is the only solution to advance this growing industry.
Problem and solution: Key trends shaping rail landscape
As more passengers flock to rail, operators are working to address four main challenges that, when overcome, can serve as key service differentiators for travelers and railway controllers alike. The on-board rail experience can be improved by implementing various network applications that rely on wireless technology and train-to-ground communication infrastructure.
• Strained capacity: To avoid both costly railway expansion projects for civil engineers and service interruptions for passengers who rely on the city’s rail transportation networks, communications-based train control (CBTC) provides an alternative method for expanding both physical and network capacity. CBTC uses train positioning information on existing infrastructure to manage train acceleration, speed, and frequency in real-time.
• Energy savings: A CBTC system not only reduces the costs of extensive railway expansion projects, but also allows for additional savings through less energy usage. Costs that were traditionally fixed on a block signaling system can now be reduced. For example, as automated systems, when there are fewer passengers at each station, the trains can be run at lower speeds and further apart, thus saving energy.
• Passenger connectivity: The days of printed schedules are gone, replaced with passenger information systems (PIS) that offer access to real-time status updates and departure information via digital methods. This helps customers stay connected to what’s going on around them and is only made possible through the critical functionality of train-to-ground communication systems.
• Passenger safety: As an on-board safety feature, video surveillance reassures passenger and operational safety. Operators can stream live footage of moving trains; this access to real-time footage not only improves the overall efficiency and reliability of rail networks, but also serves as a critical passenger safety tool, triggering appropriate action in the event of an on-board incident.
Choosing the right wireless solution for rail systems
Network engineers need an innovative wireless solution to create thorough train-to-ground communication for reliable rail networks. To find the right solution for the team’s unique needs, engineers should ask a few critical questions when considering a purchase:
• Industry-specific portfolio: Does the solution have a proven track record of use in the railway industry?
• Uncompromised safety and reliability: Does the solution offer robust safety and reliability features, and meet the standard requirements of the transportation industry? Can the solution be fully integrated with existing infrastructure?
• Future-proof solutions: What data rates does the solution offer? Will it be able to keep up with future system innovations and upgrades?
Thriving in the railway industry now means leveraging digital and wireless technologies to ensure more robust security measures and that rail travel remains a safe, efficient, and reliable means of transportation.
As more people and businesses rely on rail transportation to get products and passengers from point A to point B, the ongoing advancement of dependable wireless communication and train-to-ground networks cannot be stressed enough — they are the keys for achieving the level of control and reliability the industry needs to stay relevant and deliver on market demands.
Richard Weatherburn is Belden’s global vertical marketing manager responsible for the transportation market (www.belden.com).