Operating heavy trains travelling at high speeds, and transporting thousands of people every day, ensuring the safety of staff and passengers is the highest priority for rail operators across the UK. Increasingly, the application of innovative new digital technologies is helping to drive higher safety standards than ever before. And as we begin to see next-generation communications networks rolled out across the nation’s railways, there will be even more opportunities to improve performance in this area.

Using connectivity to amplify the impact of innovation

Innovation is moving apace across the rail industry and better connectivity is playing a key role in many areas. Recently, a UK train operator company shared the results of an initiative that has reduced assaults on staff by more than half in just six months. These impressive results were achieved as a result of 275 ‘bodycams’ – body-mounted video cameras – being issued to staff to wear while on duty. Once docked, the devices upload all the footage onto a cloud-based platform, allowing it to be shared instantly with British Transport Police. By doing so, the train operator has introduced both an effective deterrent, and a way to secure convictions.

The addition of ubiquitous wireless networks to railways would provide opportunities to drive the effectiveness of solutions like these even further. At present, in the event of an incident, staff members use a discreet button to begin saving to a hard drive, with footage starting 20 seconds before it was pressed. But with a high-speed data connection, this button could instead be used to alert control room staff to the problem, relaying live footage, and providing the opportunity to deliver real-time assistance. Moreover, the addition of Internet of Things (IoT) enabled wearables devices could even automate this process in the event a staff member is unable to do so.

Other countries are already seeing the benefits of this kind of connectivity. In Canada, the wireless network installed by BAI Communications has allowed the Toronto Transit Commission to launch SafeTTC, a free mobile app enabling users to report non-emergency events like harassment, safety concerns and suspicious activity. The app then generates alerts as soon as the rider reconnects to an internet or cellular signal so staff and authorities know almost in real time when and where problems arise, allowing them to provide support.

Similarly, thanks to a communication network deployed by BAI Communications, Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway can monitor train activity using real-time wireless CCTV. Alerts generated by system alarms, passengers or control centre operators ensure incidents are captured and appropriate action is taken in response to mitigate any possible safety issues.

Fibre and 5G powering safer railways

Rail companies are already using technology extensively to drive ever-higher standards for both staff and passengers. With high-quality wireless communications, there will be even more opportunity for innovation, particularly in safety improvements. And with the Government’s recent Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review providing proactive recommendations for connecting the UK’s railways, and 5G trials being planned for the Manchester to Leeds line, it won’t be too long before they’ll be able to use the power of connectivity to realise these benefits.

By Billy D'Arcy Chief Executive Officer, BAI Communications UK