Opinion

A digital approach towards safe rail travel

Ashish Saraf | Updated on September 05, 2021

Screening passengers   -  MURALI KUMAR K

The pandemic has forced greater use of technology to ensure compliance with the health protocols

The outbreak of Coronavirus led many countries, including India, to set in action strict lockdown rules to contain the spread of the virus. The shutdown of public transportation was one of the central and immediate control strategies. The primary implication of this was the fall in transit ridership and rider confidence to use public transport again.

With the country now emerging from the lockdown after a brutal second wave of Covid-19 and resuming its public transport systems, proper precautionary measures and ramping up of the transport system in a secure manner is important.

This challenge is an unprecedented one for both consumers and transport operators. There is no model for this and with transport becoming a focal point of public anxieties about the pandemic crisis, operators need to ensure ways to restore confidence and operations to normalcy while providing safe journeys for passengers.

The centre of all the strategies will be rebuilding passenger’s trust. Digital technologies that provide transport operators and infrastructure managers with easy tools to align their operations with both short- and medium-term policy objectives will be of primary importance.

Real-time forecasting

Precise real-time forecasting of arrival times can help prevent overcrowding on platforms and stations. This can be achieved through the Train Connection Management function of the Traffic Management System (TMS). The solution works by detecting missed connections that would lead to many passengers waiting at stations. Simulations and forecasts make it possible to coordinate departures only when the destination has secured the necessary connections. Intermodal traffic can synchronise connections with digital interfaces.

Contact needs to be minimised not only between people, but also between people and infrastructure.

This starts with ticketing using mobile and hands-free fare media, including future developments such as long-range ultra-wideband (UWB) for gate control and utilising biometrics as identity and security.

Digital tools help to ensure that passengers and staff comply with health measures before accessing the infrastructure — both in the stations and the trains. Thermal cameras can detect people’s body temperature in real time, granting or denying access to critical areas. Video analytics solutions can monitor mask wearing on stations and trains, with alerts for non-compliance and by issuing customised announcements and alerts by situations.

Digitised freight handling

By implementing a 100 per cent digital intermodal freight handling solution, physical interactions are eliminated thanks to features such as instant processing, document auto-filling and digital signatures. Container transfers between different modes of transport get seamless and the paperwork is also reduced.

Going digital allows operators to have many different energy saving options. These range from in-cab driver assistance systems to full Automatic Train Operation (ATO). Both metro and main line ATO systems are designed with energy savings in mind. Automatic Train Supervision (ATS) systems, meanwhile, can be configured to optimise regenerative braking opportunities. Further efficiencies can be achieved via Traffic Management Systems (TMS) that coordinate traffic flows and make it possible to capture the regenerative braking energy of trains. TMS also optimises capacity, improves schedule frequency and eliminates wasteful stop-start cycles — reducing energy consumption and keeping emissions to the minimum.

Cyber-secured transportation

The pandemic is amplifying the risk of cyber-attacks. Operators need to ensure dedicated cybersecurity response services to monitor and safeguard their infrastructure during the crisis. There is a need to ensure that all new technology implementations — signalling, communications, supervision, and fare collection — are cybersecured by design.

Clearly, digitalisation is the future for rail technologies when it comes to improving operations and passenger experience while also encouraging green mobility. As an innovation leader in rail solutions, Thales uses technologies like biometric identity, IoT, 5G, cloud and web IT, data analytics and AI to design solutions for digital signalling, train autonomy, mobile ticketing, passenger flow analytics, data driven operation control and smart maintenance.

All these will positively impact the way we travel. Metro signalling technologies like SelTrac G8, social distancing monitoring and passenger guidance solutions like DIVA (distributed intelligent video analytics) and driver advisory systems for optimal energy savings like GreenSpeed represent some of the most innovative rail technologies from Thales.

The Covid-19 crisis has raised many questions about the way we operate. In the field of public transport, the question is more about the purpose of it all. This stretches beyond the basic requirement to move people and goods. It is also about the need to achieve objectives such as reducing emissions, driving growth, and enhancing social equity. For now, the priority is restoring services and rebuilding trust. Looking to the future, the trends point to a need for next-generation transportation systems.

The writer is Vice-President and Country Director for Thales in India

Published on September 05, 2021

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