Smarter trains: The platform for smarter cities

As technology innovation and user adoption continues, the economic impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to rise, with new reports estimating that the global investment will reach $3.9 trillion by 2020.

The world is more connected than ever before - with sensing, processing, and analysis happening all around us - even when we don’t realise it. We are starting to see more and more examples of this in our everyday lives: from fitness trackers and home automation, to the connected car and smart appliances, the Internet of Things is affecting the way we live, at a rapid pace.

In parallel, this technology revolution is also changing the way companies and cities operate. From machine-to-machine communication in smart factories to power quality monitoring and fault detection for the smart grid, we are seeing the same foundational technology elements of sensing, processing, and analytics improve quality, efficiency, and profitability for corporations and municipalities alike. In particular, we see more and more cities around the world test new strategies and technology to be smarter and more efficient. By implementing intelligent, networked systems with built-in analysis and control capabilities, these smart cities have the potential to be innovative beyond what was previously thought to be possible.

A prime example is the city of London, which was recently named the second most innovative city in the world by City Initiatives for Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CITIE), specifically taking into account the mayor’s “Smart London” plan. This initiative uses IoT technology to address future challenges such as population growth and energy demand, as well as current challenges like improving the safety and operational efficiency of their extensive network of passenger trains.

Serving 1.7 billion passengers per year and running more than 33 trains per hour, the London Underground railway system is a fundamental element of life for many Londoners. Because of the critical nature of the asset, a failed track circuit has a major impact on the service and constitutes the biggest cause of passenger disbenefit on the Victoria Line, amounting to £1.5 million in revenue loss since their introduction. To keep the system operational, engineers would periodically monitor the condition of every track circuit manually, which is not only a time and cost consuming activity, but also lacks the sophistication to detect all issues and anomalies. It became evident that an online, remote monitoring system would allow maintenance teams to detect issues and even proactively predict and prevent equipment failures before they occurred. This predictive maintenance capability is one of the biggest promises of the IoT, particularly for industrial applications.

Recognising the need for intelligent, networked monitoring systems, complete with sensing, processing, and analysis capabilities, London Underground engineers utilised an open platform technology solution to learn the behaviour of faulty track circuits, identify those that could potentially fail, and alert maintenance prior to these issues – all without shutting down a main source of transportation for London’s residents and visitors. The solution incorporates not only foundational IoT technology elements, but features the timing and synchronisation capabilities required by a distributed system. It can scale through software to meet evolving needs while integrating with existing systems to ease the cost and time spent to implement and deploy the online monitoring system. Industrial applications, such as the London Underground solution, will often have to work with legacy infrastructure demanding adaptability from enabling platforms.

Deployed within one year of concept design - and under the allocated budget - the intelligent online monitoring system performs real-time analysis of track conditions and empowers maintenance personnel to proactively detect failures across 385 deep tube track circuit assets on an ongoing basis, effectively eliminating the need for costly, inefficient manual tracking and analysis methods.

This smart train system also allows railway engineers to have better insight into the train lifecycle and condition of the tracks, providing more reliable operation and a safer commute for London’s residents and visitors. With the online monitoring system in place, London Underground reduced lost customer hours by 39,000 hours per year, resulting in an estimated savings of $500,000 annually.

London Underground plans to build upon this success and deploy similar monitoring systems to other track systems, such as the Jubilee and Northern lines. Just one more way that IoT technology and innovation helps us create smarter, safer cities.

Eric Starkloff, Executive Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing, National Instruments

Image source: Shutterstock/Stefan Bernsmann