The internet of things (IoT) – the concept of adding intelligence and direct communication between machines to improve their efficiency – is set to cause mass, cross-industry disruption.

The number of IoT devices grew 31 percent year-on-year in 2017; and by 2020, the global market value is projected to be $7.1 trillion.

But while the digital revolution is accelerating, the rail industry acknowledges it needs to do more to keep pace.

Paul Harris, Chair of the ARA’s National Telecommunications Committee, highlights that the sector’s propensity to customize technologies can hinder their timely implementation. “By the time rail functionality is embedded into existing commercial technology, the original technology is often already obsolete”, says Paul, ahead of ARA AusRail 2018.

“The world was revolutionised by the emergence of 2G GSM mobile phones. But by the time GSM-R [the rail variant] was established, the technology was considered old news in the telecommunications industry, which has since progressed to 4G and will soon be using 5G”.

In an increasingly customer-centric transport sector, the knock-on effects of using outdated technology may be damaging.

“Older technologies undermine efforts to improve customer experience”, says Paul. “It is vital that the rail sector broadens its outlook and keeps up with global technology standards to remain competitive”.

“By not doing so, we are creating a vacancy for transport providers who are deploying the very latest ‘smart tech’ to deliver improved passenger and freight experience, reliability and efficiency”.

The rail industry, through the UIC, has successfully avoided a repeat of GSM-R by working with the 3GPP Standards Group to ensure rail functionality is standardised in Long Term Evolution 4G and 5G systems.

However, the UIC’s biggest challenge is the adoption of the technology by rail. “This model needs to be repeated for the many other technology systems – so that rail can quickly benefit from these standard systems as it comes to the mass-market”, says Paul.

In response to these issues, the ARA, Rail Manufacturing Co-Operative Research Centre and Deakin University have developed the Smart Rail Initiative – a long-term vision to support technology implementation in the rail industry.

The initiative will address the sector’s culture and focus on the timely adoption and deployment of new technologies, in line with normal lifecycles; with a view to maximizing the benefits that technology can bring.

Paul Harris will share details of the Smart Rail Initiative at ARA AusRail 2018 – to be held 27-28 November in Canberra.