The importance of communications systems in rail
Source: Prasanth Aby Thomas, Consultant Editor
For the smooth and efficient functioning of most modern transportation systems, a reliable communication system is necessary. In metro and railway systems
, these become all the more crucial due to the sheer number of components involved.
Managing train signaling systems, alarm systems
, ticketing, video surveillance
, and traffic management
together in an environment of increasing volumes of corporate and passenger voice, video, and data traffic is impossible without robust communication solutions. In fact, this is the right of the passengers, according to industry experts.
“Smooth communications between the right people are needed to run operations in a safe and efficient manner,” said Timo Harju, Business Development Manager of Vertical Markets at Airbus Secure Land Communications
. “Lack of proper communications can result in a variety of issues, depending on the operational mode of the metro operator.”
Karsten Oberle, Global Practice Lead for Railway business at Nokia agreed, adding that considering the critical requirements that exist to operate a metro rail system today, it is almost impossible to function without a reliable communications network or with a network using outdated technology. Unreliable communications technology can severely impact many aspects of operations, safety, and security.
What a lack of proper communications could lead to
Harju listed a few situations that would suffer if good communication systems are not in place. The interesting point to note here is that while communications systems are necessary for the daily operations of transport, certain unexpected incidents could make things worse. For instance:
Getting help for a passenger in the case of a medical emergency and hence arranging guidance and access to the station areas for the emergency medical services
Having damaged equipment attended to by the maintenance teams so that the train can leave on time.
Coordinating schedule changes or replacement of faulty trains
Calling maintenance for defective station equipment such as the passenger gates or other things
Making passenger announcements needed to inform passengers of any exceptions or changes in the train or metro service
Coordinating evacuations and/or closure of stations following security incidents
Ensuring safe shunting operations
These are just some examples of situations and activities where a communication system plays a key role. Oberle expanded on this further stressing that considering the critical requirements that exist to operate a metro rail system today, it is almost impossible to operate such system without a reliable communications network or with a network using outdated technology.
“Unreliable communications technology can severely impact many aspects of operations, safety, and security,” he said. “The possible problems that could arise include loss of situational awareness, part of a sub-system becoming unavailable, unreliable data links, poor or indiscernible voice calls, and issues with the image artifacts on surveillance camera footage. There are countless issues that can be caused by an unreliable network, and these issues will be in many operational scenarios that rail operators face during their daily routines.”
According to Quester Tangent, a company that provides network communication solutions for rail networks, trains have a service life that is 10 to 20 times longer than most high-tech electronics products. Because of this, rail networks today are fitted and retrofitted with a wide range of network types and technologies.
“With advances in vehicle technology, new trains are more data-driven,” the company notes. “Video surveillance, passenger information systems, health monitoring, and other applications place a high demand on train communication networks. And, expectations for managing and transmitting data quickly and securely have increased dramatically. More than ever, fleet operators and rail vehicle manufacturers need companies with an in-depth understanding of train communication networks to provide strong integration and increase compatibility with older fleets.”