Rail transport accelerates on track to new era of automation

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This article first appeared in Transport 360 magazine.

Although the pandemic has meant passengers are staying home, the retail supply chain has massively increased its utilisation of rail cargo.

To handle this growth and deal with the challenges of attracting passengers back to rail transport, train operating companies are increasingly adopting IoT systems and applications. To achieve this, they’ll need to automate and add industrial computers, sensors, monitors and gateways to gain visibility into passenger flows, offer improved experiences and run their trains to ensure passenger safety and minimised environmental impact.

Alicja Strzemieczna, the regional sales manager for Industrial IoT at Advantech Europe, explains the challenges the industry faces to George Malim, the managing editor of IoT Now, and emphasises how the company’s co-creation strategy is enabling development of specialised applications and services that power the new era of rail transport.

George Malim: What is Advantech’s strategy in the transport industry and what trends do you see emerging?

Alicja Strzemieczna: The transportation industry’s value is projected to triple from 2016 to 2023 and that represents very rapid growth that poses many questions for us and many others. The challenge is to make the best of the pandemic situation and also life afterwards. There are many technological trends driving innovation and IoT is just one of them but, in the transportation industry, IoT is a very general term that covers a broad spectrum of very specific applications, services and requirements.

Transportation itself is highly fragmented with companies owned by various global and local industry players who view strategic partnerships and acquisition to aid expansion as important ways to achieve growth but also to make use of their strengths and skills for other companies in the market. It is also influenced by trends in ecommerce and retail businesses. These have grown rapidly during the pandemic and that growth is definitely here to stay because people are now used to buying online a daily basis. We are now entering the era of omni-channel ecommerce, where customers expect to be able to research, browse, shop and purchase seamlessly on different devices and platforms. Online purchasing is only set to grow, placing great demands on the logistics and, by association on the transportation sector, too.

This change in demand profile places demands on IoT and also encompasses other important technology trends such as artificial intelligence, big data and predictive analytics. All of these have big impacts and the potential to power new ways of doing business, with the flexibility needed to adapt to rapid market changes. IoT is powerful, for example, in enabling the revolution in the fleet management industry which has enabled fleet owners and other companies to use IoT to remotely manage vehicles. This capability relies on telematics, cognition and advanced analytics and, taking this foundation in fleet management, we can extend to intelligent transportation which can assist in improving road safety and help guide traffic, averting accidents.

Global trends, such as digitisation, connectivity, sustainability, energy conservation, and the integration of IoT, have led to the advent of smart railways.

The global population is expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, of which 75% will live in cities, and all of these people will need access to reliable, connected transport. The role of the rail sector will therefore become even more important, and this will especially be the case in urban areas, with a strong emphasis on minimising emissions. Indeed, by 2050, it is expected that passenger mobility will increase by 200 to 300%, with freight activity growing by 150 to 250%.

The use of technology to optimise efficiency in both passenger and freight transport is critical, and IoT holds the key here. Timetable management, capacity optimisation, ensuring on-time service, and predictive maintenance are the primary reasons for the adoption of IoT solutions in rail systems. Rail network operators in developed parts of the world are already actively investing in the development of IoT-based analytics systems, with cloud-based systems currently the most prominent.

Continue reading this interview on page 10 inside Transport 360 magazine

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