Accelerating Towards the Digital Railway
Rail Infrastructure Relies on Outdated Communications Infrastructure
Over 200 years ago, Richard Trevithick developed the first high-pressured steam locomotive and used it to haul a train along the Penydarren tramway. Just 15 years later Stephensons’s Rocket won the Rainhill Trials and became the template for most rail transportation for the next 150 years. Anyone still around from those days would probably find today’s rail infrastructure very familiar, with locomotives still hauling trains over standard gauge metal rails.
However behind the scenes, the rail network has evolved rapidly as technology, regulation and customer expectations have evolved. Today, rail is fundamental to a country’s economic prosperity with passenger and freight numbers growing rapidly. For example over 1 million people commute into London on a daily basis, and an additional 2 million commuter’s use the underground system. With these increased commuter and freight numbers and the need for greater flexibility, rail networks are facing acute capacity problems which, if not addressed, will impact a country’s growth potential.
ADDRESSING RAIL CAPACITY CHALLENGES WITH THE DIGITAL RAILWAY
The digital railway brings to rail a massive technological revolution. One which is centered on making the existing infrastructure more productive, so that it can meet the needs for increased capacity and flexibility. The digital railway increases capacity by using traffic management systems like the European Railway Traffic Management System (ERTMS) and in-train signalling like the European Train Control System (ETCS) to allow trains to be run in closer proximity.
An example of this, the European Railway Traffic Management System (ERTMS) is shown below.
SOURCE: Network Rail
OTHER CHALLENGES THAT DIGITAL MODERNIZATION MUST ADDRESS
With rail being so important, we are seeing governments increasing regulation with the aim of ensuring better rail services whilst reducing the associated carbon emissions. Severe penalties are imposed on those operators not able to meet these demands. Another issue the rail operators have to deal with is the increased level of attacks being made to the rail infrastructure. These can be malicious attacks aimed at causing physical disruption to the track infrastructure or cyber-attacks targeting the control infrastructure. In addition, we see consumers expecting to be provided with a high quality, seamless, digital experience providing them with train information, entertainment and internet connectivity whether they are at the station or in the train.
CHALLENGES ADRESSED BY RAIL MODERNIZATION
THE TELECOMS NETWORK - A KEY ENABLER FOR RAIL MODERNIZATION
Over the last decade there has been a rapid evolution of telecoms based services and applications. With telecoms being used to instantaneously connect huge data pipes from centralized control and processing locations (e.g. data centers and the internet) to millions of remote sites and users. This has enabled new technology such as big data analytics, video streaming and the start of the Internet of Things (IoT). These new services and applications when applied to the rail network, will enable the rail network to evolve into the digital railway.
However, the common enabler for these new services and applications has been the acceptance of IP as a ubiquitous transport medium. So if rail is to modernize it must also embrace IP for its telecoms network.
SUPPORTING MULTIPLE RAIL COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS
Modernized rail is supported by a vast network of different information systems, from mission critical OT systems like signaling through to best effort services like internet connectivity for rail users. Each information system has different requirements e.g. huge capacity is required to backhaul the HD video used for trackside monitoring whereas signaling is low capacity but has extreme latency requirements.
The telecoms network must be inherently multiservice providing a unified, highly-secure, flexible IP platform to support these diverse IT and OT services without compromising on any of their requirements.
Where necessary, the telecoms network must be flexible enough to provide native support for the OT systems or be able guarantee performance of the OT systems across the IP network.
With all this complexity, an intuitive network management system is required to simplify the management for each of these systems.
MISSION CRITICAL RAIL SYSTEMS MUST BE ALWAYS UP
The rail control systems must be “always-up”, failure of the mission critical systems can result in severe delays and penalties, or worse…. This means the network must be designed to be fully hardened and protected against multiple failures. But this is not enough, advanced operations software is needed to monitor the network performance in real-time and help anticipate any failures.
RAIL NEEDS BOTH PHYSICAL AND CYBER SECURITY
The open, exposed nature of the rail infrastructure means that it is extremely vulnerable to physical disruption. This disruption maybe from deliberate vandalism, environmental factors like landslide and foliage ingress or accidental intrusion like people on the track. The telecoms network must provide the connectivity to allow the HD video that is used to monitor the track to be backhauled to centralized tools that are looking for and reacting to these physical disruptions.
The critical nature of rail means that it is a prime target for cyber-attackers. The telecoms network must provide a holistic solution to address these security threats. Point of entry tools like encryption, firewalls, intrusion protection, SCADA anomaly detection must be allied to centralized threat assessment systems to provide the holistic telecoms network security required for rail networks.
Each rail control system and each rail network will transition to IP at a different rate, based on their own specific needs. In any single network we are likely to see a combination of OT services being run natively, OT services run across the IP network using circuit emulation, IP based OT and IT services using IP/MPLS and/or MPLS-TP. The telecoms solution needs to be agile enough to support all these service types and still provide a risk-free, tailor-made transition path for each rail sub-system and each rail network.
In short, the telecoms network must allow risk-free transition of the existing rail communication systems to provide a unified, highly secure, always-up, secure packet platform that is able support all of the communication needs of the digital railway.
I look forward to the day ….
When I can look to my phone and it will tell me when and where my train will arrive, provide me options if I am late or early and then autonomously allocate me a seat in real-time. The train itself will be on time and not over-crowded, because the capacity issues have been fixed.
In the event of a physical disruption to the track causing delays, the disruption time will be limited because of early detection. I will be provided with potential alternative routes and in the worst case I will have full connectivity to the internet to work or to the entertainment systems to relax ;-)
To learn more about ECI's solutions for rail and other critical infrastructures, click here.