Improving rail safety with the Internet of Things and remote monitoring

The Internet of Things is one of the most hyped IT trends ever, with a recent Frost & Sullivan white paper likening its impact to the Industrial Revolution. That may be overstated, but there’s still tremendous potential for the IoT to remake transportation, manufacturing and retail, to name but a few of the verticals in which its effects are already being felt.

Consider commuter and freight rail. Trains are already extremely safe compared to automobiles, with only a fraction of the latter’s yearly accident totals. Still, operators are looking for better ways to avoid collisions, monitor emissions and stay updated on track status.

Embedded technologies and Opengear remote site management appliances are the ticket. Major vendors, most notably Cisco, have made a big push into rail, focusing on sensors, Ethernet switches and routers purpose-built for the industry. Opengear solutions outfitted with cellular connectivity and GPS help admins keep tabs on trains along with these IoT assets.

How the Internet of Things could improve train safety
In a previous entry, we touched upon how the IoT could transform ticketing systems, wireless connectivity and other commercial facets of rail. What could it do for safety, though?

Many of today’s trains still rely on trackside switches located in harsh, remote areas. These switches must be in the correct positions to ensure that trains run on the right tracks and at safe speeds, minimizing the risk of derailment.

To that end, operators often manually inspect switches, since there may not be nearby power lines or wireless connectivity to support automatic machine-to-machine monitoring. Plus, the switches themselves aren’t smart sensors that are connected to IP networks or dedicated energy sources.

With the emergence of the IoT and remote monitoring, though, there’s an opportunity to remake trackside infrastructure, from switches to power lines. Doing so could automate many of the routine safety checks and drive down both costs, derailments and operator stress.

“Having individuals close to bits of track is no longer economically viable,” Network Rail Telecom’s Clayton Nash told ComputerWeekly. “We need to move into centralized facilities, which means we need to be able to remotely view how the railway operates.”

The central role of rail in economies around the world makes it a prime candidate for integration into the IoT. As railways become smarter, Opengear’s remote site monitoring solutions provide secure, efficient access to equipment, ensuring that it functions properly and complies with all regulations.