Digital transformation is upending rail communications. Here’s how providers can meet the challenges of migrating to integrate all IP based networks.
Global passenger rail is expected to grow around 3.3% per annum up to 2025, with emerging economies adding up to 50% over the same period. As the world adapts to widespread digital transformation, rail providers will be no exception.
Effective seamless communications is the mainstream of railways, and most rail operators still rely on single-purpose legacy networks to support specific applications. Moreover, these networks weren’t designed for high data traffic. They also lack flexibility around the introduction of new services, including high-speed video, data, and voice.
Safety & security and reduction of interruptions & delays are top priorities of Rail operators. As service staff retire and suppliers cease support, keeping the legacy networks up and running is a growing challenge. This situation is also creating Issues in losing the rail customers to competitive other transportation industries. To overtake this alarming situation, while meeting the network capacity and management demands, many rail operators are looking to migrate to High-speed Radio and Internet Protocol/Multi-Protocol Label Switching (IP/MPLS)–based Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) for both Ground-to-Train (G2T) and On-board communications.
CBTC is estimated to be the largest segment in the Autonomous Train Market according to a major B2B analyst company.
This shift to a single, converged Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) creates a strong foundation for integrated networks and applications across railway operations. It will align with the industry’s need to enhance efficiency, reduce costs, and curb carbon emissions and noise.
In navigating the path from legacy networks to advanced Communications-Based Train Control systems, rail infrastructure developers face complex compliance requirements and a lack of skilled resources.
Here are the three key challenges and opportunities that Rail operators require to focus
A robust rail communications network will need to support new-generation applications and services. High-speed Fiber Optics and Radios – including DWDM, LTE and future OTN and 5G broadband technologies – will become crucial for powering mission-critical seamless operations and commercial onboard services. This includes new-gen digital applications for Data Communications Subsystems (DCS) in Communications-based Train Control (CBTC).
Designing, Deploying, Operating, and Maintaining this new ecosystem will require strong domain expertise in three key areas - Fixed, Mobile and Data Communications. It will also require the ability to predict and solve the unique challenges of rail environments, including minimizing service disruption in complex deployments, , and catering to evolving safety standards including cybersecurity.
To save costs, reduce risk, and plan effectively for unexpected challenges, rail companies will need to partner with technology providers that are experienced in delivering cutting-edge projects in mass transport environments.
Rail networks of the future will utilize a converged, all-digital communication infrastructure. It will incorporate Ground-to-Train, Train-to-Train, and onboard consumer services. Safety and security will be enhanced through use of sensors and videos utilizing Internet of Things (IoT), Machine to Machine (M2M) and Human to Machine (H2M) interfaces as well as emergency communications and sophisticated access controls. Providers will also be competing to deliver peerless passenger experiences, delivering such applications as e-ticketing, travel information services, on-board entertainment, and ubiquitous connectivity.
Moving into this ecosystem of integrated communications and apps will require a combination of domain knowledge, analytics skills, deep learning and problem-solving capabilities. It will draw on significant expertise in areas such as radio frequency (RF) optimization, benchmarking, installing and commissioning, network and sub-systems integration.
For a successful project, rail providers will need to work closely with IT and Network partners those are experienced in optimal end-to-end network planning, design and deployment. This includes seamless migration of existing Comms systems/sub-systems and integration of next-generation platforms, such as software-defined networking (SD-WAN), Robotics Process Automation (RPA), analytics, machine learning, and self-managed networks.
With spending on rail infrastructure increasing around the world, a shortage of technical knowledge and a lack of staffing resources is becoming a bottleneck for rail operators’ modernization plans. Operators will need to look at various outsourcing options and opportunities to accelerate when migrating their legacy networks.
Standards and regulations vary around the world, so operators will require providers with experience in platform-based product development that can be adapted to meet country-specific requirements. As well as needing diverse skillsets, rail services will need the ability to scale up relevant resources at short notice, driven by their rapid response requirements. Some of the outsourcing Rail-communication projects to Cyient demonstrated the value of skilled resources, compliance to regulations and on time delivery with high quality.
The modernization and consolidation of rail communications networks into a unified, app-driven ecosystem is a challenge every rail operator will need to address. Strategic measures in the form of technology partnerships and network process outsourcing will be critical to meeting the needs of future rail operations, as well as providing exceptional safety, security, and seamless passenger experience.