Rail networks in the 21st century

Urs Seiler
January 14, 2019

Rail operators are evolving their networks to ensure safety and security, and deliver the best possible experience for their passengers.

Improved connectivity is enabling rail systems to evolve to meet the needs of a world on the move. Whether it’s bringing Wi-Fi to passengers on the New York City subway, or connecting the Gotthard Base Tunnel, rail networks are undergoing tremendous transformation.

The power of connectivity

IP connectivity and the Internet of Things (IoT) are creating a multitude of new opportunities in the rail industry. Sensors deliver real-time information to applications, which can provide operators with live information feeds, and passengers with up-to-the-minute travel updates.

Analytics gleaned from IoT device data can provide insight for transportation operators. For example, data from location-based services (LBS) can reveal information about passenger traffic patterns and staff whereabouts on the train, or at the station. And, while real-time data from IoT devices can flag travel problems before they cause delays or accidents, implementing predictive maintenance for rolling stock or track-switches is perhaps one of the most important developments to improve safety and reduce operational costs.

One network

As rail and metro communications networks move towards IP/Ethernet, rail network operators are assessing how best to deploy the infrastructure to deliver the connectivity required to provide an improved passenger experience.

Rail passengers waiting on a platform for blog post

A single, unified IP network infrastructure for most systems, enables better connectivity between people, smart ‘things’ and processes. A converged mission-critical architecture can reduce the number of networks that need to be supported and can dramatically simplify network command and control requirements. Integrating open platforms, such as cloud-based applications, into the operations control center can also accelerate day-to-day operations.

Mitigate the threat

The connectivity boom, and the growing number of entry points and devices to protect, has created real challenges for IT teams. Like all businesses, railways are vulnerable to cyber-attacks. These attacks can cut off access to commercial and business applications, compromise passenger information, and put railway operations at risk.

While it is nearly impossible to manage all of the different devices in individual subsystems, a converged network that integrates subsystems can limit the potential impact and reduce the risk of a threat becoming a much bigger problem.

To help manage the threat of cyber-attacks, network segmentation lets operators create virtual isolated environments on a single network. These data traffic containers, known as IoT containers, group together common devices with which, only a select group of users and servers, can interface. If we consider IP security cameras for example, cameras deployed in and around a station, in operations facilities, or at the track-side, would be relegated to their own virtual container. They would only be able to interface with the server that controls them, and they would only be accessible by authorized security staff.

With IoT containment, if one container sustains a security breach, the attack cannot infiltrate other areas of the network. This security strategy minimizes threats without adding the cost or complexity of operating separate networks.

Smart infrastructure is the future

A smart infrastructure will be required to manage the transformation of operations, and improve passenger services. As new technologies are deployed at the edge of the network daily operations will become faster and less expensive. Power over Ethernet will encourage device and sensor installation and simplify things, as it eliminates the need for wiring in difficult places, making it easier for rail operators to extend their digital reach.

As networks are converged, lower costs, easier rollout, improved security and a better passenger experience will all become a reality.

To learn more check, out our article, ‘On track: Connectivity and control at the center of rail’s future’, or, explore our e-zine ‘Fast Forward’ to gain insights on where the 21st century transportation industry is headed.

Urs Seiler

Urs Seiler

Sales Engineer ALE, Zürich Switzerland

Urs joined the Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise team in 2007. As a technical sales expert, he assisted in advancing data sales in the Swiss marketplace. Today, Urs continues to provide his expertise in the Transportation industry as a Sales Engineer focused on the rail segment. Urs has a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and an Executive Master of Business Engineering.

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