Next-Generation Solutions for the Rail Industry

By Wasay Rashid

ARC Report Abstract


Like never before, technology is helping the transportation industry become more sustainable and reduce overhead costs.  Due to the dire need to improve operations and increase efficiency, the tech startup scene has started penetrating even some of the most conservative markets, such as railways. Just one example is reducing the frequency of human intervention needed to inspect rail assets. Clearly, if tech startups can add value, rail operators are likely to take notice.  

Technology has enabled companies to develop intelligent solutions for both trains and track infrastructure.  These include IoT-connected devices in rail systems. This Insight reviews several innovative tech startup companies that have developed suitable products for the rail industry. 

Current Situation

The rail industry is witnessing a rise of IoT and Big Data solutions, particularly around rail asset management. Big Data and IoT can enable rail operators to reduce costs by staying ahead of the maintenance game through information.  Rail operators can extract data from IoT devices and then evaluate those data to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their maintenance operations.  It is critical for rail operators to recognize the health and monitor the condition of assets before any failure of rolling stock or wayside assets that could lead to accidents or other safety incidents.  

Initiatives from the European Union

The European Union has launched initiatives to help establish businesses that are bringing railways into the digital age and incentivize young entrepreneurs to develop intelligent solutions for the 21st century.  However, much work remains to be done for rail to catch up with other industries, such as automotive, aviation, and trucking that have been much quicker and adept at implementing digitalization.

4th Railway Package

The 4th Railway Package is a set of six legislative texts designed to complete the single market for rail services in Europe. The overarching goal is to revitalize the rail sector in the EU and make it more competitive vis-à-vis other modes of transport.   This is intended to force the giants in the market to clear the way for new players. The technical pillar of the 4th Railway Package is designed to boost the competitiveness of the European rail sector by reducing costs and the administrative burden for cross-border rail services.

The 4th Railway Package will save businesses from having to file costly multiple applications, such as vehicle authorization and safety certificates, to operate beyond one member state. It will apply IT tools like the EU’s One-Stop-Shop mechanism for simplifying value-added taxes, which will act as a single point entry for all applications and will make the process easier, more transparent, and more consistent.

Horizon 2020

Horizon 2020, the biggest EU research and innovation program with nearly €80 billion in funding, will attract powerful ideas that could be transformed from lab to markets.  This cross-industry initiative promises breakthroughs and discoveries to help maintain Europe’s global competitiveness, drive economic growth, and create jobs. Horizon 2020 has the political will and backing of Europe’s leaders and the members of the European Parliament.

The goal of this program is to prioritize and help ensure excellent science, industrial leadership, and tackle societal challenges. This approach safeguards new projects get off the ground much earlier and achieve the desired results. 

Startup-driven Innovation

Many of the tech firms in this space are developing intelligent solutions that target some of the significant issues of railways. Applications and technologies include:

  • Predictive maintenance
  • IoT
  • Smart sensors
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Predictive Maintenance Startups

Maintenance costs are high for rail operators due to aging infrastructure and regular wear and tear on these assets. Real-time information gathering and monitoring enable a fundamentally enhanced understanding of critical components to support need-based maintenance. 

solutions for the rail industry Konux%20Smart%20Sensor%20on%20Track%20Bed.JPGKonux, a Munich-based startup, offers Industrial IoT solutions that combine smart sensors, data fusion, and AI-based analytics to increase asset availability and help optimize maintenance planning.  The system continuously monitors and analyzes the health of key switch components such as the track bed and railway frog and provides actionable recommendations. It has secured funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.  It has already catered to customers like Deutsch Bahn and, according to the company, helped that railway reduce costs by 25 percent by minimizing downtime and maximizing performance.

Semiotic Labs, a Dutch software company, offers condition monitoring solutions across a variety of industries.  The software predicts technical failures and provides information on when and why a system fails.  According to the company, its SAM4 solution consists of sensor-hardware, analytics, and a dashboard that offers actionable information about the health, performance, and energy consumption of connected assets.  The company has also secured the funding under the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.

IoT and Smart Sensors

Rail has already introduced much Industry 4.0-type technology and will continue to develop digitalized mobility solutions to help operators improve train punctuality and reliability and passenger experience.  Sensors for data acquisitions are getting smaller, more economically viable, and now consume less energy.  Some of these sensors have a long battery life that can be extended up to five years. 

IoT and digitalization are leading to an improved transport experience. For instance, a cyber-physical system and Industrial IoT-enabled Big Data allow different transportation modes to communicate with each other and with surrounding systems, leading to a truly integrated and intermodular railway ecosystem.

The Italian start-up IVM (Innovative Vibration Monitoring) designs and develops monitoring systems based on systems of integrated sensors. IVM’s products focus largely on measuring what happens at the wheel-rail interface. This company is exploiting new technologies to develop solutions for analyzing interactions in both static and dynamic conditions. These technologies allow the adoption of multiple sensors to increase the available data to be able to extract deep and hidden behaviors of the wheel-rail interaction.

Perpetuum developed a self-powered, wireless remote condition monitoring system for industry. It provides real-time information that can also help improve efficiency, safety, and quality of fleet management and services. Electromagnetic-energy harvesters convert mechanical energy produced by vibration to electrical energy, which in turn powers the wireless sensor nodes.  These nodes then transmit data back to the desktop or mobile devices of the asset owners. The thought-provoking part of this technology is that the energy harvester is designed to last up to 100 years without maintenance and the sensor node up to 20 years.  Thus, this type of smart sensors could easily outlast other battery-powered systems.

IoT integrated with software and hardware is a powerful transformation for the overall industry.  It has many use cases for rail transportation such as connected data environment for operations and maintenance.

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Keywords: IoT, Smart Rail, Entrepreneurship, Startups, ARC Advisory Group.

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