Is IoT the key to better rail journeys?

By Toby Hawkins
Toby Hawkins, Sales & Marketing Director at mpro5, breaks down the top five applications for IoT in improving customer experience for rail travel.

The rail industry is perfectly placed to leverage the Internet of Things (IoT) in their stations – so how will this fourth-generation technology affect using the UK’s railway?

 As UK rail reforms are coming into play soon, including the rollout of Service Quality Regimes (SQRs), it will be vital that train companies have new systems measure and improve customer experience.

In this article, I will look at five ways IoT can enhance both passenger operational effectiveness, and safety, specifically within train stations.

1. Reducing crowding

Over-crowding is a significant safety concern, especially in bottleneck areas when people are rushing to catch trains or exit the station in case of emergency and particularly as Covid-19 and social distancing is still on everyone’s minds.

Using sensors and video analytics, it’s possible to monitor passenger density (or Fruin Levels in “rail speak”) throughout train stations, making it much easier to respond to over-crowding as it happens. With video analytics running on connected cameras, crowding can be detected in real-time and alert train station staff to move passengers along or perhaps open additional gates/exits, depending on the level of footfall.

Like with all data collection, it becomes exponentially more useful and accurate. Over the long term, patterns can be identified from the data collected to improve station layouts accordingly and pre-emptively control expected crowds. 

2. Using Lux sensors for safety

Lighting plays a vital role in passenger safety. The correct lighting levels allow customers to confidently travel through a station with minimised risk of an incident.

Light sensors, also known as Lux sensors, are widely used to measure the illuminance of light for safety reasons, but also for general ambience of the station environment.

At unmanned stations, having automatically triggered responses to faults can be invaluable and make a real difference to passengers who would otherwise not use the station, or be put at risk. If a lighting failure occurs, sensors can trigger reactive maintenance from the appropriate team to fix the problem swiftly.

3. Monitoring ambient conditions

Thermal comfort (temperature and humidity) is a key factor in passenger experience and can be measured and monitored in real-time using IoT devices. Sensors can measure the temperature and trigger an action to rectify or react to an issue when thresholds are passed.

For example, a drop in temperature below the acceptable threshold within a station could trigger a response from maintenance to fix a faulty heater or to turn up the output of other heating units.

Ambience and dwell time are closely linked. A few degrees in temperature either way could mean the difference between a passenger using your station as a transport hub, spending money in the retail and food outlets, or seeing it as somewhere they need to pass through as quickly as possible.

4. Monitoring air quality

Now more than ever the health of passengers is a key concern. Monitoring air quality is important in any station environment, particularly for passengers with certain health conditions including respiratory illnesses. Moving trains can throw up dust containing potentially harmful particulates such as PM2.5 and this needs to be carefully managed.

Sensors provide train operators with the ability to measure PM2.5 concentration and alert team members when air quality is poor and potentially hazardous. Those with health conditions that could be at risk can be advised not to travel if dust particulates are above a moderate level, to help prevent a serious reaction, and medium term trend analysis can even alter the frequency of track cleaning programmes to minimise dust build up.

5. Ensuring washroom cleanliness

It might not be the most glamorous of uses, but survey data tells us that the cleanliness of washroom facilities is something passengers really notice and care about. Smart Cleaning leverages the power of IoT to deploy cleaners reactively and more efficiently. By monitoring washroom usage with doorway counters, cleaning operations can be planned in alignment with the rate of usage, rather than a rigid schedule. Furthermore, cleaners can act more effectively and efficiently when there’s a known increase in usage. Conversely, when washrooms are quiet, rather than cleaning staff being “shackled” to their station, they can spend their time elsewhere on other key passenger impact areas such as brightwork and touch points.

Using IoT sensors and the powerful associated data allows for cleaning on demand. This is the future of cleaning operations in stations, letting teams stay ahead of the curve, ensuring the passenger experience is always the best it can be. 

The internet of things (IOT) and data more generally is an important and positive consideration for the train industry, as it comes to terms with successfully implementing SQRs and works towards enhancing customer experience and safety. The Williams Shapps railway reform is focussed on simplicity, customer experience and data, and therefore both real-time and long-term trend analysis is critical to its delivery.

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