Certain things always make us jittery about rail journeys - What if the train gets late and I miss an important event? What if the toilet runs out of water when my situation is most desperate? What if the station is overcrowded and I can't get my way around? After all, Indian Railways is one of the most extensive rail networks in the world, and management of 7,112 stations across 67,312 km is no small feat. Moreover, the rapid growth in rail transportation constantly throws myriad challenges at operators and commuters alike.
In order to adapt to these ever-evolving industry dynamics, Indian Railways is exploring Internet of Things and advanced analytics. A significant step in this direction was the 'Hitachi Social Innovation Forum – 2017' aimed at finding ways to enhance urban transportation. This event emphasised how Hitachi has benefited the railway sector for more than 100 years with its efficient technology & product systems, and also discussed various IoT initiatives that Indian Railways can undertake in the fields of maintenance, optimisation, customer service and safety.
Safety is in fact one of the biggest motivators for implementation of IoT. Infused with smart technology, trains act like interconnected communication hubs – they monitor weather conditions, track conditions, other important variables, and exchange data among themselves, which guides them in readjusting their operations and reduces safety risks.
Internal maintenance is another aspect that comes at par with safety. Centralized inspections, detailed track records of fault histories, and facilitation of easy information exchange between field sites boost work efficiency. Smart sensors provide real-time alarms before the occurrence of potential problems allowing timely intervention and solution. For example, if a train's water tanks are equipped with level sensors, technicians can access them via a web app and fill-up the water at the right time ensuring that toilets remain functional and customers remain satisfied.
Customer satisfaction can be assured through an array of IoT based programmes. From smartcard management systems and on-board entertainment to virtual agents that combine a ticket office, vending machine & a multi-language call centre – the possibilities are endless! Technology can also assist in measuring people flow at each compartment at every station, and use that information to handle rush hours. For instance, if a particular station is overcrowded or a particular train is overbooked, then a second train can be deployed on that route to cater to additional customers.
Talking of customer spill-over, approximately 18,000 trains ply across India carrying 23 million passengers each day. This obviously generates a huge amount of data but there is no proper platform for analysing this information. Indian Railways recently convened a roundtable as a part of its big data convergence plan called One-ICT. To quote the Director of Hitachi India in this regard, "Besides bringing about vast improvements in operational efficiency, a one-stop-solution IT platform can unlock the business potentials of Indian Railways by optimising freight and passenger operations."
Another stepping stone towards achieving operational efficiency is the formation of the HSRC - High Speed Rail Corporation of India. Work is underway to launch the country's first bullet train on the 508-km stretch between Mumbai & Ahmedabad, and while Hitachi remains a key player in the development of this Shinkansen bullet train, it has also bagged other prestigious rail projects.
Hitachi has signed a contract with the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Ltd. (DFCCIL) for the supply & installation of signalling & tele-communication systems traversing India's biggest industrial cluster between Delhi and Mumbai, covering the 915 km distance between Rewari (Haryana) & Vadodara (Gujarat). Hitachi is also supplying and installing an automatic train control system along the 1,337 km section from Rewari to Mumbai. These orders are the biggest ever placed in India for Japanese signalling & tele-communication.
Indian Railways is all set for a facelift, and Hitachi India in collaboration with the Rail Systems Company of Hitachi is wellequipped to provide solutions for subways, monorails and other urban transportation with the aim to make your journey as good as your destination!