Skip to main content


Social Innovation

Rail to the Rescue

By Jian Sun, Director of Business Development – Systems Innovation, Hitachi Rail

Solving Mobility Issues — Economically and Environmentally

Fifty-five percent of the world’s population lives in cities. According to the United Nations, by 2050, some 68 percent, representing 2.5 billion more urban residents, may do so. i Cities are faced with the challenge of how to accommodate growth and manage their transportation systems. There are constraints in funding, particularly in light of the extraordinary and unanticipated costs of providing safe essential services during the Covid-19 pandemic, and in dealing with infrastructure and development. Investments in mobility infrastructure are needed to retain a great quality of life that includes ever safer, more convenient and more sustainable mass transportation solutions within and between cities.

We believe economies will recover and growth will continue. With that, the world’s urban transit systems enable billions of people to move between home and work or school. We also need to transport goods in a safe and efficient way, and believe that solving these mobility issues in a sustainable manner is essential for vibrant societies and healthy economies.

Communities that want to future-proof themselves will prioritize sustainable mobility.

With Covid-19, there has been a material impact to the US economy and public transit authorities across the nation require some $32b in federal emergency funding to avoid consequential decisions in their existing operations and, of course, future planning.

According to the Association of Public Transportation Authority’s most recent members’ survey (released September 16), 60% of U.S. Public Transit systems will need to reduce service without the emergency aid.

For Hitachi, as a supplier and a socially responsible business, we recognize that transit is essential infrastructure linked to the core of the economy and the nation’s quality of life.

Stepping forward with multimodal connections

Rail plays a fundamental role in meeting these challenges. Rail is a future-proofing solution because it provides safe, high capacity, low-emission solutions for mass transit in high-density urban areas, acting as a greener alternative for transporting suburban commuters to and from metropolitan areas, and it is easily linked to other multimodal forms of transportation with connections to airports and ferries. Smart cities can become even more sustainable with autonomous, on-demand and networked rail services.

Although the transition to electric and autonomous vehicles may improve sustainability, it arouses its own challenges such as infrastructures for power distribution and charging stations. It won’t address more pronounced problems such as congestion or further stresses to aging highways, roads and bridges that comprise the nation’s infrastructure. Electric vehicles can improve environmental conditions in cities, but the positive impact is somewhat limited if the power to charge the vehicles is generated from fossil fuel–based power plants. Autonomous vehicles can improve mobility, with the caveat that more vehicles will equal more congestion. Generally, the smaller size of road vehicles makes the implementation of sophisticated air filtration, ventilation, and sanitization more difficult. Railway vehicles are much more flexible in accommodating the countermeasures to combat pandemics like Covid-19.

Rail, is a safe, effective way to move large numbers of people quickly and reliably — and modern, intelligent rail systems are evolving to be economically sustainable and are more environmentally friendly. Intelligent rail is a key asset for end-to-end, multimodal service.

New transit models bring sustainability (and affordability) to rail

Intelligent rail systems strive to deliver environmental, economic and social value to customers, whether they are passengers, transit operators or the public sector. In partnership with these three critical groups of stakeholders, the rail industry must continue to conceive, design, build, co-create, implement and otherwise offer solutions that relieve congestion and reduce pollution. To ensure the livability of a smart city, the industry must deliver intelligent rail solutions that run efficiently, reliably and safely — and improve the quality of life for everyone.

Modern rail systems are much more than just well-built, safe trains — they are intelligent, fast-moving ecosystems. Intelligent rail delivers end-to-end, multimodal service that solves mobility problems while making the best use of available funds.

For example, Hitachi developed applications to screen passengers in the waiting area. When paired with trace tracking, such applications can indicate the sanitization index that prompts an operator to take high-risk vehicles out of service for cleaning.

Hitachi developed an intelligent asset management platform in anticipation of a customer’s need for integrated digital rail solutions. As a result, Hitachi can provide seamless support to transit authorities or rail operators with on-train and wayside digital solutions, real-time monitoring and supervision, alarms and warning notifications, condition-based maintenance, data management, analytics and advanced data processing, remote control and management, life cycle asset management, and planning and decision support.

Intelligent rail helps cities optimize investments that have already been made so that they can deliver “the mobility of tomorrow.” The goal is to improve the end user’s experience without compromising on sustainability.

For today’s transit operators, the mobility-as-a-service model of public-private partnerships leverages limited budgets in ways that improve the operation and maintenance of transport systems. Rather than having to make large, upfront expenditures, in the public-private partnership model, cities partner with companies like Hitachi to build, operate and maintain these intelligent rail systems. Not only does this approach change the funding model for key projects, it also means that private companies have a long-term, stake and investment in the outcome. The better the system performs, the more passengers will want to use it, which results in continuing revenue for the operators.

An example of this model in practice can be found in Ontario, Canada, where Hitachi is a member of a consortium that is implementing such a project. The consortium is designing, building, financing, operating and maintaining the Hurontario LRT, a light-rail system in the greater Toronto area. The system, due to open in 2024, will better connect passengers to other modes of transport in a cost-effective manner.

Similarly, Hitachi is building a new driverless metro in Honolulu with the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) in Hawaii. Designed as the heart of the island of Oahu’s multimodal transport system, HART will be America’s longest automated, driverless, urban light metro system. By 2030, it is expected to handle more than 120,000 passenger trips each day while reducing significant use of motor vehicles. ii

Hitachi brings decades of expertise and experience to enable such intelligent, modern rail systems — not only in railway signaling and systems technology but also in information technology, electronics, software development and in IoT technology. With our long history of successful systems design, engineering, integration and operation, we are helping smart cities everywhere to implement and run sustainable, integrated transportation systems.

Rathburn Road Aerial View of the new Hurontario Light Rail to be developed by Hitachi and the Mobilinx Consortium for a portion of Ontario, Canada.

Connected mobility solutions improve quality of life for everyone

One of the most exciting elements of intelligent rail systems is their ability to collect and analyze data to help the customer better predict when and exactly where to concentrate their maintenance and repairs — and even warn if a failure is imminent. When a physical device requires repair, intelligent rail systems help the operators understand where the wear and tear on the system is located so that they can plan for the repairs ahead of a breakdown. Hitachi’s intelligent rail systems can deliver predictive maintenance that helps the operator avoid potential shutdowns — reducing the inconvenience to passengers while saving money. In manufacturing, McKinsey estimates that predictive maintenance will create between $500 billion and $700 billion of value for businesses. iii

The diagnostics tools in predictive maintenance solutions will identify issues and can help operators fix software issues remotely. This means the system can detect and adjust to real-time conditions. For example, a major cause of train delays in subway systems occurs when the doors will not close. With IoT components such as sensors added to the doors, intelligent rail systems can self-diagnose, identify and locate the problem that needs to be fixed, dramatically reducing such delays.

An integrated, connected intelligent rail system can also use its data to meet increases in passenger demand. For example, Hitachi’s driverless metro system in Copenhagen adjusts the frequency of service by monitoring passenger numbers in real time. It detects people flow, adjusting the schedule of trains at peak times by sensing the number of people on the train platforms. It automatically sends more trains as needed. That means shorter waits, less congestion and a much smoother trip home after a big sporting event, for instance. And this translates to happier passengers who are more likely to use that transit system again.

Transit authorities could also reduce congestion and improve the travel experience for passengers by partnering with local vendors in creative ways. Imagine getting an alert on your smartphone offering a free cup of coffee while you wait for the next train. Additionally, dynamic scheduling in this mobility-as-a-service model means your phone can sync bus and train times, so passengers can step off the train and quickly onto their bus for home. It also adjusts these multimodal schedules by taking into account road conditions, traffic patterns and the weather.

Driving social innovation with Hitachi Rail

By sustainably managing the movement of people and goods across different modes of transport, cities can dramatically improve service to their citizens. The quality of urban life is also enhanced when citizens can attend and participate in their rich mix of culture, arts and sports without having to worry about their trip home. Hitachi Rail meets these needs through intelligent rail systems.

Hitachi works as a partner to its customers and invests in innovative solutions. Our goal is to improve the journey for passengers, operators and public authorities. We collaborate with our customers to co-create solutions through continuous value engineering to identify the approach that best meets their needs. Our focus on social innovation is at the heart of the design, implementation and operation of our systems with our commitment to powering good.

Hitachi estimates that its intelligent rail services and solutions helped 18 billion people travel from one point to another last year. However, that’s just the beginning. By leveraging our social innovation business model, it’s believed that carbon emissions can be reduced by as much as 10 percent, congestion by as much as 20 percent, and road traffic accidents by 25 percent.iv By improving their mobility systems in scalable, sustainable ways, our cities can now enrich the quality of life for all citizens.

Learn more about how Hitachi Social Innovation is Powering Good.

Jian Sun
Director of Business Development – Systems Innovation, Hitachi Rail

Jian Sun Ph.D. leads Business Development for Hitachi Rail STS in North America. A systems’ thinker, Dr. Sun’s responsibilities include developing technical solutions for the rail business and promoting integrated solutions across Hitachi Group companies. He focuses on helping customers with railroad digitization to augment their existing signaling systems, enhance their operations and improve the passenger experience. Sun is a Member of the Institution of Railway Signal Engineers.