Industrial Automation

Built to Last: What Futureproofing Means for Rail Operator Networks

Sven Burkard
Legacy equipment and communication protocols can stand in the way of futureproofing rail network infrastructure. Find out how rail operators can overcome these obstacles.


Technology today is like a moving target. Guessing what’s up ahead is like a game of roulette: You place your bet and then wait to see what happens. What will passengers demand from rail operators in the future? Automatic compensation for cancelled trips? The elimination of lines? Trains running merely seconds apart? Video incident capture at every point in their trip? Only time will tell.


The ability to quickly accommodate and streamline these forthcoming upgrades is one of the many reasons that rail operators are now prioritizing the concept of futureproofing. But something else is driving agencies toward futureproof infrastructure, too: Futureproofing provides a bigger bang for the buck, or more value for the money.


Futureproofing your rail network infrastructure means not only preparing for what’s to come so you aren’t constrained by existing infrastructure, but also minimizing the costs associated with those upgrades. You can readily adopt and integrate emerging technologies and applications while knowing that you can achieve business outcomes in a cost-effective way.


What is futureproof rail network infrastructure?

A futureproof industrial network is one with the right hardware, setup and design to handle increases in demand, changes in usage and an influx of data.


Thus, these characteristics are important when designing a futureproof rail network:

  • Flexibility to respond to changes in real time and the ability to quickly add new applications or advanced capabilities without interruption, strain or downtime
  • Scalability to adapt to ebbs and flows in demand and workflows
  • Security to protect information and network-connected operations while guarding against malicious intent
  • Easy management to support simple moves, adds and changes
  • Vendor-agnosticism to support any and all platforms, integrations, applications and technology


Taking the phased approach to futureproofing

Establishing a futureproof rail network isn’t like flipping a switch. For example, you don’t have to turn a non-communications-based train control system into a driverless train system overnight.


Instead, it’s a step-by-step process that can be done over time to help you meet your goals in a practical way.


For instance, you can explore connected rail solutions as separate elements:

  • Train network
  • Wayside network
  • Station network
  • Backbone and OCC network

This not only alleviates pressure on your budget, but also gives you time to consider your options amid technology crossroads that may require you to commit to one approach over another. (Think DVDs vs. laserdiscs or VHS vs. Betamax: There were clear winners in each of these technology battles, and taking the wrong step was costly and difficult to support. In the case of rail operators, a technology crossroads may involve a decision between 5G and Wi-Fi 6.)


What rail operators need to plan for next

With all this talk of futureproofing, what exactly will rail operators and transit agencies need to prepare for? Although no one knows for sure, there are many applications just over the horizon that are set to transform operations. Being ready for them now will reduce costs and support faster deployment later.


Condition-based and predictive maintenance

A futureproof network can support the data, analytics, monitoring and machine learning required to support predictive maintenance, which anticipates maintenance needs before systems malfunction or downtime occurs. As a result, equipment or components can be maintained or replaced before a disruption.


Real-time data access

Connecting passengers, drivers and systems gives everyone access to accurate and reliable updates about things like fares, boarding and exiting, delays, travel times, occupancy, etc. This keeps passengers happy and helps workers make more informed decisions about daily operations on the fly.


Remote monitoring and control

To keep operations running smoothly, employees need to be able to access, monitor and control data about train performance, location, events, etc. no matter where they are—behind a desk, onsite with a technician or across the city.


Mobile connectivity for passengers

Travelers and commuters want to optimize the time they spend in transit. A network that can support enhanced Wi-Fi connectivity helps them do that—whether they want to stream HD video content, generate an RFP for a project, scroll through social media or respond to emails.


Improved physical and network security

A futureproof rail network will support whatever technology is necessary in order to respond to situations that require immediate action: a fire, vandalism or crowd formation indicating a potential bottleneck, for example. For the network, it is constant vigilance, zero trust, constant monitoring and proactive NAC (network access control) to isolate network access that cannot be immediately validated.


Take control of your systems at your pace

Every rail operator or transit agency faces obstacles on their digital transformation journey, whether they involve legacy equipment and existing infrastructure or communication protocols. But those challenges don’t need to hold you back from the inevitable digital transformation that lies ahead.


Belden can help you create migration scenarios that bring different systems and protocols together—without having to replace or upgrade all your systems and equipment—to ensure interoperability and communication. A solid migration strategy helps you successfully build a foundation on your own timeline.


Our long product cycles ensure that the technology we offer won’t become obsolete or need to be replaced in a few years. It’s built to support whatever demands you need to support over the long haul.




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