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The fast track to keeping railways safe

The fast track to keeping railways safe
Railroads play an important role in the economies of many countries; therefore, railroad safety is of utmost importance, as any accident or derailment could have severe economic consequences.
Over 1 million kilometers of railroad tracks have been laid around the world — enough to wrap around the globe more than 30 times. It is no wonder that the role of railroads globally is an important one. Aside from passenger transport, railroads play a vital part in trade and economics as well. As such, railway safety is a crucial piece of railroad operations.

There have been several major train accidents this year, including many that resulted in the loss of life. Of these fatal accidents, the vast majority are the result of derailments. Most of these incidents are caused by human error or track malfunction/defects. There are, however, instances of planned attacks, such as the attack in March of this year on the Bhopal–Ujjain Passenger in India. In fact, earlier this year the Middle East Media Research Institute, based in the Washington D.C., uncovered and translated a how-to guide in Al Qaeda’s magazine on a DIY railway derailment device. The guide also singled out railroad networks in the U.S. and Europe for terrorist attacks.

In order to prevent future incidents, accidental or planned, securing railroads and ensuring that railway operators know what is happening in and around the tracks and train cars is of paramount importance.
Emin Simsek,
Business Development Manager, EMEA,
Bosch Security Systems

Challenges of rail safety

Railroad tracks and its associated structures are challenging to monitor. Some of the challenges of rail safety could be grouped by constructional and operational limitations, according to Emin Simsek, Business Development Manager of EMEA at Bosch Security Systems.

“Railways consist of different types of structures such as stations, trackside, tunnels/tubes, technical facilities including depots, warehouse and unmanned buildings. Trackside, tube or open lines, is an individual area. The variety of environmental conditions and structures such as underpass, overpass and tunnels are another field to be considered. Those bring different measures to be deployed, wide portfolio of a system meeting varying requirements and integration capabilities of multiple measures in larger areas,” Simsek explained.

Furthermore, the need to connect populated areas should allow easy access to railways. “This leads to an increase in the number of passengers where operators should find a balance among efficiency, additional usage of existing systems, and deterrence of deployed systems,” Simsek added. “Under these circumstances ease of operation includes the topics of installation, maintenance, additional hardware or software to deal with in terms of service duration and user friendliness.”

Another challenge is figuring out how to serve an increasing number of people (for passenger railroads) with physical constraints. Simsek pointed out that although the number of people traveling is increasing, you cannot simply expand stations — this also means using a limited number of edge products such as cameras and sensors. To deal with this, Simsek noted that smarter cameras, integrating subsystems and correlating data collected come into discussion.

Intelligence is another challenge. Questions such as does my system produce less false alarms; could I easily configure/calibrate my cameras; would I be able to make forensic search in different criteria and easily all come into light. “Regarding challenges that would have a direct effect on the human factor. If the installed solutions do not meet the requirements at a certain level, the operator might neglect using many features or respecting the alarms generated by the systems,” Simsek explained.

How security makes railways safer

Conditions on railroad tracks are constantly changing. From a video surveillance standpoint, varying light and weather conditions can prove to be challenging. However, these issues can be dealt with by adding IR illuminators, bullet or thermal cameras and intelligence to trackside surveillance cameras. By doing so, cameras can be turned into a proactive part of a security solution.

“Technology allows us to extend limits in video surveillance. The latest sensor technology combined with noise suppression gives excellent light sensitivity. Besides, a camera can identify several events and generate alarms simultaneously during continuous real-time image analysis. Accordingly alerting the operator by sending alarms when critical events are detected can turn cameras into a virtual member of security team,” Simsek said.

Bosch Security Systems responds to the varying environmental and structural constraints with a range of cameras to be applied in all conditions. Its Starlight technology allows a single camera to see details up to 0.0008 lux levels. Additionally, Bosch’s intelligent video analytics, with 17 different video analytics algorithms, has the capacity to deliver a high level of accuracy for mission critical applications. Its analytics is able to differentiate between genuine security events and known false triggers such as challenging environments where snow, wind, rain, water reflections and distance could make images even more difficult to interpret.

Preventing cyberattacks

Cyberattacks have been a hot topic in the news as of late. Several global cyberattacks have affected everything from personal credit files to more life-threatening health care systems. As a result, the need for stronger network security has been highlighted, as these attacks could have devastating results.

Earlier this year both the German rail operator Deutsche Bahn and French national railway system were hit by cyberattacks. Luckily, neither of these attacks resulted in any major physical damage, but it did cause some chaos and a few headaches. Railroads may become more of a target for hackers as the industry becomes increasingly smart and automated. In fact, the global smart railways market is estimated to grow from US$10.5 billion in 2016 to nearly $20.6 billion by 2021, at a CAGR of 14.4 percent during the forecast period.

Cyberthreats against security systems must also addressed. Simsek warned edge components should be ready for cyberattacks. “Although independent networks are established for security purposes, SCADAs, NVRs, etc., face various types of cyberattacks which could result in losses. Due to this fact, measures to protect camera data, recording units and other security equipment should be taken into consideration,” he said.

Future of railway safety

Railway safety encompasses everything from terrorist attacks and derailments to accidental level-crossing accidents, and therefore appropriate measures must be deployed to prevent all types of incidents. Railways around the world are deploying different technologies to keep their networks safer — for example, drones are being deployed to help keep an eye on hard-to-reach and remote areas. New technologies will hopefully give railway operators and station managers a clearer picture of what is happening on the tracks, and in the future the ability to prevent accidents from happening.
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