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5 Ways IoT is the Key to Railway Safety

Safety is the ultimate responsibility of railways, and often the biggest commitment to the general public and rail workers. Even with routine test simulations and preparedness measures, a steady increase in rail traffic has lead to a growing amount of accidents.

Whether carrying hazardous materials or passengers, in today’s digital environment, railway companies are expanding their efforts in safety intelligence by reviewing the possibilities of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Here are 5 ways, IoT can make rail transportation safer:

1. Video Surveillance of Trains, Platforms, and Stations

Although video surveillance isn’t a groundbreaking form of security, when tied into an IoT-enabled infrastructure, the intelligence becomes actionable. Using WiFi-enabled cameras connected to a network video recorder, data center or cloud, recorded streams can integrate with other sensors to paint a complete picture of people and events.

Using IoT-enabled video increases safety by overseeing workers, trespassers, passengers in trains and in stations, preventing vandalism, monitoring individual cars, and tracking conditions and component wear. Cameras can even measure real-time driver performance by recording the train’s gear, speed threshold compliance, or if the train is idling too long.

2. Sensors to Monitor Wear and Failures

Maintenance is generally approached in two ways -- as scheduled maintenance, which can mean replacing parts like brakes when they still have a lot of life left, or completing maintenance when a failure occurs. IoT adds in a third option by monitoring a fleet in real-time so that maintenance is always predictive.

Instead of being reactive, proactive monitoring could improve safety by sending an alert that the battery backup systems on monitoring systems or road crossing signalling systems have dropped to a low threshold and need to be replaced. This proactive data optimizes the overall safety efforts of a railway, keeps trains on the rails longer, reduces cost by avoiding unnecessary truck rolls, and can reduce the amount of maintenance work and stock levels of spare parts and materials.

3. Historical Data and Measuring for Inconsistencies

If a wheel’s brakes fails to release as the train starts to move, there is an excess of friction that occurs, which will begin melting the wheel. Using historical data and real-time monitoring of force detectors and thermal detectors, the anomaly wouldn’t get lost. Instead, using IoT, a sensor could send an alert to the central office to have the train removed and repaired before it could lead to a possible derailment or other hazardous situations. And moreover, collecting these data types cheaper, faster and more reliably from many data points at the same time enables cross-reference and correlation. Identifying anomalies, structural quality issues, and environmental influences will further improve safety and reduces operational cost.

4. Machine Data Everywhere Humans Can’t Be

Many of the IoT benefits stem from providing visibility into places where humans are not. Take for example, a power outage at a railroad crossing. When this happens, the area goes into “safety mode,” causing the barriers to close and engaging the battery backup systems.

With network connected IoT applications and sensors, if the power were to go out, it would trigger an outage alert that would kick off a series of events to ensure the safety of drivers, operators, and railway passengers.

5. Remote Adjustment Based on System Awareness

Networked IoT applications and solutions enable trains and railway operators to have awareness of factors including:

  • Positions of other trains to reduce the risk of collisions while allowing trains to operate safely in close proximity to one another

  • Monitoring and reporting of speed and velocity so that trains can be remotely slowed or even stopped based on track conditions, presence of other trains, or other factors.

Instead of relying on one data stream, IoT systems can combine multiple streams to provide actionable intelligence, allow for correlation across geographies, vendor equipment, personnel shifts, and environmental influences (weather) to counteract the shortfalls of human error.

Sensors Don’t Mean Safety

Don’t let sensors fool you -- alone, they don’t equal safety. Today’s locomotives are far from low tech and often already have hundreds or even thousands of sensors built in. Without a way for sensors to exchange data between one another and with central management portals, the data points aren’t actionable to improve operations, prevent derailments, track fires, crossing fatalities, or any other safety hazard.

Linking sensors using an IoT-enabled network that relays the right data at the right moment of time provides insight into the system’s overall operations and health.

Additionally, there must be planning devoted to deploying technology designed to withstand the toughest environmental conditions, connecting all sensors through a varied network ecosystem, and embedding control, enterprise-grade security, and easy manageability.

While most rail companies are comfortable with placing sensors, completing the level of effort to remove computing silos and enable data-sharing that IoT requires is not a trivial task.

IoT devices “live” at the edge of most data networks today. The choice of which data to send and which data to store locally is a serious point of contention inside many organizations. Is the underlying network capable of sending KBs, MBs of data? Can the data be prioritized? Can we mine the data at rest at the IoT site rather than uploading it into a corporate data lake? All are relevant points to take into consideration when deploying IoT at scale, but can be challenging to tackle alone.

That’s why Edgeworx works with rail and transportation related companies to help unleash the power of data and ensure safer rail or transit operations for all. To learn more, contact us at +1.647.793.4731 or visit our website

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