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Disrupt or Get Disrupted – A Closer Look at Transit & Rail

Gannett Fleming Insights - Transit & Rail
Author: Yousef Kimiagar, MMSc, PEng, PMP, FIRSE, Vice President and Transit & Rail Systems Manager

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is transforming industries, economies, and societies to the point that technology is no longer a constraint to achieve goals. The real constraint is the stretch of our imagination and the implementation costs compared to business benefits. Cognitive technologies in the transit and rail (T&R) industry are leading to more efficient, responsive, and agile services.

According to BusinessWire, the global railway industry will invest $30 billion in the next 15 years to develop Internet of Things technology. Nearly 50 billion smart devices will be connected to the internet by 2020, and worldwide data will grow to over 7 zettabytes (that’s 10 to the 21st power!).

As a result, smarter and more sustainable trains will be designed, tested, and calibrated in a virtual environment, and factory boundaries will extend to customer sites. This will empower manufacturers to monitor, collect, and analyze real-time data from millions of data points when predicting service delays and interruptions. Benefits will include improved performance, reduced maintenance costs, increased return on investment, and enhanced safety.

Recognizing that over 70 percent of train accidents occur because of human error and fatigue, increasing automation also will save lives. Although the number of worldwide automated systems has doubled in the last decade, only 12 percent of total automated lines are in North America, where agencies are exploring ways to keep aging systems operational and safe.

New York City, for example, is accelerating communication-based train control (CBTC) system implementation and considering radar, LIDAR, onboard cameras, ultra-wideband radio, and new sensor technologies. Union Pacific Railway Company uses portal imaging with a 360-degree laser view, cameras, and sensors to collect and process train data, diagnose real-time potential problems, and pre-schedule maintenance activities.

Harvard Business Professor John Kotter said, “status quo is more dangerous than the unknown.” Knowing that disruption is certain, we should focus on opportunities to invest in emerging technologies and intensify interconnectedness and collaboration between global transit agencies, rail operators, and consultants. This creates an ecosystem of shared values, knowledge, and innovation that enhances the customer experience.

Embracing outcomes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is necessary for T&R agencies to remain competitive in a global economy. Only by working together in the new T&R ecosystem can we build collective intelligence and avoid being overwhelmed by disruptive forces beyond our control.

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