Towards a more rewarding travel experience
Travelling by rail is an experience that should be more than just getting to your destination on time. It should be a comfortable and enjoyable journey from the moment you arrive at the station. But in the UK, rail passengers have long been plagued by overcrowded trains, cancelled services, and steep fares.
Yet the future of rail transport is looking bright thanks to Network Rail’s plans to transform for a data-driven future and make a tangible difference to the reality of day to day rail travel.
Innovative changes for trains and stations are coming
For two years, Network Rail has been exploring new technology solutions to improve safety, passenger experience, and operational resilience. Called the Train and Station Innovation programme (TSIP), the initiative has enabled Network Rail to trial the tools that will help it develop a data-driven infrastructure, to give a full picture of rail conditions and make decisions based on real-time information.
Monitoring trackside environment and the performance of a vast number of assets along 20,000 miles of track connecting over two thousand stations is an enormous challenge. Through TSIP, smart cameras to detect people, vehicles, and objects (like abandoned luggage), and sensor technology to monitor asset and weather conditions, have shown the valuable data they can provide for rail users, railway operations and industry. You can read the full case study about the initiative here.
Turning data into smart analytics
Now, Network Rail moves to a new phase – the Advanced Smart Analytic Programme (ASAP) – to realise the solutions it has trialled. The new programme is applying the technology more widely – in unstaffed stations, remote storage sites, and busy transport hubs, like Manchester Piccadilly station.
It’s not just about collecting data, but also using it effectively. ASAP remains focused on how it interprets the information it captures, bringing it together with other sources, such as train times and Met Office reports, to get a complete analytical picture of what’s happening.
And to do this, it will use the SiYtE Smart Analytics platform trialled as part of TSIP. SiYtE is an easy-to-use dashboard that can instantly capture events and create alerts (on any device), track trends, and show insights to feed into real-time enhancements, and a safer and better experience for everyone using the railway.
Built on Cisco solutions
The foundations of Network Rail’s data-driven rail infrastructure are built on Cisco solutions. It features Meraki cameras, gateways, sensors and access points, along with Cisco switches, routers, fixed wireless access and LoRa WAN, forming an engagement that spans network infrastructure to security to Wi-Fi to IoT to analytics.
What this should mean is a better monitored and less expensive railway, with maintenance based around real-time data reporting on equipment faults, and alerting based on the risk and impact of weather and trackside conditions.
It will also mean a better passenger experience. Digital signage will keep passengers up to date on the latest travel information. Cameras will be able to automatically detect overcrowding on station concourses and platforms. Smart sensors can be used to detect and manage noise levels or air pollution. Crowd analytics can be used to create appropriate advertising on station media. This should make stations a more pleasant environment to dwell or pass through.
The use of data to inform actionable insight will be ongoing; it will drive continuous, incremental change. The transformation won’t take place overnight; it will be ongoing.
Here are examples of several eye-catching use cases.
Trespass and trespass-related crime cost Network Rail an estimated GBP£50 million a year. It takes several forms: fare-dodgers looking to avoid ticket barriers, criminals looking to steal or damage Network Rail property. Network Rail also has a duty of care to make sure that the most vulnerable don’t stray into dangerous situations.
Trials are currently taking place involving Cisco Meraki smart cameras being used to detect trespass. Alerts, accompanied by the associated video footage, can be sent immediately to station staff.
Network Rail will extend its trial of the solution at several UK stations to unmanned rail crossings. The modularity of the Cisco approach allows Network Rail to tailor solutions for various locations.
Network Rail forms only one part of a connected transport system. Many passengers will travel to and from rail stations via bike. If Network Rail is to encourage rail users, it is critical these bikes are kept safe.
Reading station has one of the highest rates of bike theft in the country. By positioning Meraki cameras around the bike racks at Reading, trained to detect people with bike movements, security teams can now view specific video, rather than hours of general footage. This has led to 13 arrests that would not have previously happened, and a 72 percent year-on-year reduction in bike theft.
Network Rail is now trialling a similar solution across its underground car parks. Here, many car thefts are carried out by gangs who enter on electric scooters or small motorcycles with two riders on each. The sooner Network Rail can alert British Transport Police to this type of threat, the sooner it can prevent a potential incident.
Commuting patterns make UK stations an exercise in dynamic crowd management. Network Rail must make sure hundreds of thousands of passengers pass through its stations as smoothly as possible. Any kink in the system—a late train, a change of platform, or disruption to connecting public transport—can cause chaos. By orchestrating a range of sensors and cameras, overlaid with train arrival times, Cisco Meraki smart cameras, used in conjunction with the SiYtE Smart Analytics platform can provide a real-time picture of crowding. This data can then be synchronised to the arrival of trains into the station to predict upcoming safety critical situations and advise advance action. Network Rail staff can then use this information to redirect passengers, open new exits, or delay fresh arrivals into a station.
Given the high numbers of passengers and dwell times, UK railway stations are also prime retail centres. Cisco Meraki cameras, working with the SiYtE Smart Analytics platform can help determine a demographic breakdown of each station across the day. Crowds can be assessed every two minutes, with no personal information held. This insight can then inform appropriate retail, promotions, and marketing.