As the Australian rail industry continues to expand at a rapid pace, industry leaders are leveraging technology to try gain a competitive edge. But with a mix of technology-driven innovation out there, how can the industry find the right solutions to help them grow in line with competitors?
The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development expects rail freight task in Australia to double over the next 20 years, bringing huge opportunities, but also challenges, for the industry.
Resurgences in industries such as manufacturing and mining are playing a part in this, as well as a number of Federal Government-supported rail infrastructure projects – either confirmed or in the pipeline across the country.
This is encouraging, but even as it expands, the rail industry faces many of the same challenges as other industries such as retail and other forms of transport. Pressure on costs and resources, doing more with less and meeting constantly rising customer expectations, all while maintaining the highest levels of safety for rail workers are among these challenges.
Enter technology and innovation. While the rail industry might be considered a relatively slow area of technological enhancement compared with the likes of automotive or aviation, there have been notable changes in recent years that have had a positive impact. These include computer systems to reduce slip control, distributed power to automate operator actions and modern brakes to reduce heat fade.
The challenge for industry leaders is deciding which technologies should be implemented when so many are available. The most successful deployments will come from innovation that addresses the two most fundamental needs – increasing productivity and protecting rail worker safety.
Motorola Solutions recently conducted research supporting this – of 130 IT leaders from industrial and commercial sectors including rail, 91 per cent want to leverage data to monitor and communicate with workers to help keep them safe. 73 per cent want to increase productivity through simplifying or automating manual or complex tasks.
Reducing complexity with simple measures
Businesses in all industries in Australia and globally are adopting new third-party platform solutions to navigate the ever-changing economy. Industry-focused solutions continue to outpace more traditional industry spend as businesses evolve and adapt to new revenue streams.
For the rail sector, finding the right blend of technologies to increase safety for workers while boosting productivity generally lies within simple, small and precise data sources.
Impressive new innovations such as transferring energy created from braking trains to power grids and moving platforms that can dock with high speed trains will continue, but applying modern technology and analytics to existing communications systems including radio networks can also yield great results.
GPS and Bluetooth can now be used on digital radio networks to track the location of each worker on the train.
If the radio handset carried by a driver were to tip to its side for a period of time, potentially indicating the driver has fallen, an automatic alarm can be triggered to alert others to the incident, potentially helping to resolve the situation before people on the train are hurt.
Data from these networks and devices can also be used to develop more precise maintenance schedules, automatically register when workers have arrived and are ready to move, and automate manual tasks to save time and money.
Imagining the rail worker of the future
The need for mobility and to communicate with personnel on the train or back at the station will always be vital to the rail industry. As the Internet of Things (IoT) develops and new innovations emerge, we can imagine many more opportunities to enable higher levels of worker safety and productivity.
We can imagine the future “connected worker” in the rail industry will be of a different style to what we currently have.
Using technologies such as body-worn video cameras, heads-up displays and biometric sensors will mean important data can be sent and received seamlessly and potential hazards identified with ease, all without any distraction to the worker while completing their tasks.
The future of Australia’s rail industry is bright, and technology and innovation will continue to play a major role in this, so it’s important to refine what helps businesses increase productivity while keeping workers safe.
This article was originally published in Railway Digest.