How real-time geolocation knowledge will help maintain your practice on time

An aerial view of railway lines in Paris, France.

Natthawat | Moment | Getty Images

Although centuries have passed since the appearance of the steam train, the railroad still plays an important role in modern life. Today's trains are an integral part of the global economy, moving passengers and valuable cargo between cities and across national borders.

However, when things go wrong, delays can be crippling and the frustration of passengers and companies is enormous.

As technology evolves, those responsible for running railroads try to incorporate new technology into their systems to quickly identify and fix problems.

Towards the end of last week, the SNCF Réseau, which manages the French railway infrastructure, and Capgemini announced a partnership that will use new technologies to improve the monitoring and resolution of network problems.

The idea is that using geolocation technology, problems on the railroad will be located in real time.

The system enables the teams at SNCF Réseau, among other things, to "localize" incidents on a map with infrastructure data and to guide employees to the exact location where they need to resolve the problem.

These on-site employees can then get in touch with their colleagues and inform them about the problem and the time of its solution.

According to Capgemini, the SNCF Réseau has been using the technology in the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes since the summer. The idea is that the system known as "New Generation Supervision" will be introduced in other parts of the country in 2021 and 2022.

Last Thursday, Olivier Bancel, Deputy Director General of the SNCF Réseau, said that the use of the system would "make it possible to improve not only the handling of incidents and, consequently, the regularity of traffic, but also passenger information".

He added: "Overall, we will move from very systematic maintenance to maintenance that is closer to the requirements, more precisely and in real time: network maintenance at the right time and in the right place."

France is not the only country where efforts are being made to use technology to improve rail performance.

Back in June, the UK government announced it would finance a digital railway signaling system for GBP 350 million (around USD 434.15 million at the time) to reduce delays and improve the outdated infrastructure.

As part of the plan, traditional signals on a section of the main east coast line will be replaced with a digital system that will allow employees to see the exact location of a train throughout their journey.

In a statement, the Ministry of Transport said the new "intelligent" signaling would recognize different types of trains "so that the train and the track can continuously talk to each other in real time".

"This 'in-cab' system means an end to conventional signal transmission at the edge of the track – first used in the Victorian era," added the department.

Change trains

The trains that companies use are also starting to change. The hydrogen fuel cell technology offers an interesting insight into the possibilities of rail travel in the coming years.

In September, for example, tests with a hydrogen-powered train were carried out in Great Britain, with a first trip between the Long Marston and Evesham sites in the West Midlands region of England being successfully completed.

The HydroFLEX train, developed by a team from the University of Birmingham and Porterbrook, a vehicle manufacturer, uses a fuel cell that combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, heat and water.

The train was fitted with a number of kits in one of its cars. The technology includes a hydrogen tank, the aforementioned fuel cell and lithium ion batteries for storage. It is hoped that the technology will be available to retrofit trains that are already in service by 2023.

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